05/24/07 — Land use plan gets another look after feedback

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Land use plan gets another look after feedback

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 24, 2007 1:45 PM

Members of the citizen steering committee that helped create the Wayne County Comprehensive Plan showed Wednesday that they were listening when nearly 100 people came from across the county to the May 2 open house to review and comment on the proposal.

For the most part, consultant Glenn Harbeck of Glenn Harbeck Associates in Wilmington explained, the feedback on the plan was positive.

"There was very strong support across the board in many of these areas," he said.

But there were some areas of disagreement, and it was the committee's reaction to those that he explained to the county commissioners and the planning board on Wednesday.

On six policy proposals, which are different from action proposals, there were changes made. He also explained that there was one entire vision area that showed disagreement, but that after examining it, the committee decided to leave it alone.

"I was thrilled to see (the disagreement)," Harbeck said. "If we'd had 100 percent agreement, that would have meant people weren't reading -- that they were just rubber stamping.

"This plan has been vetted by the public fire."

And, committee member Patty Gabriel said, because they felt they had a good cross section of people at the meeting, they are comfortable with their reactions.

"After the meeting we had a roundtable discussion with the members who were there and looked over those areas that had the most controversy and tried to analyze what we thought were the most controversial parts," she said. "Some of the wording we were able to redo and some of them where we felt there was a lot of disagreement, we looked at striking."

But before Harbeck got into the specifics of how the committee responded to the community's remarks, he explained again to the two boards, how the Wayne Comprehensive Plan is meant to work.

It's not, he told them, the traditional land-use plan and map trying to set out, zone by zone, what the county is supposed to look like in 20 years.

It is, he continued, a small, sleek document that's easy to hold, easy to read and easy to follow, offering guidance to the county as it continues to grow and change.

"This new kind of plan is a plan based on policies, rather than a fixed map, and those policies can be used over and over again as guidance for decision making," Harbeck said. "The actions are the things that can change every year. As your priorities change from year to year, your actions should change."

And so, he continued, it was with little hesitation that the committee was able to simply delete the most controversial action statements from the plan, such as a proposal to consolidate and unify the zoning ordinances of the county and the municipalities, and one to develop pedestrian and bicycle facilities around schools.

Other action proposals, like one discouraging single-family lots and driveways from fronting on and having direct access to major roadways, the committee changed to simply bring the county's standards in line with those set by the state Department of Transportation.

The policies, though, involved a little more debate.

Among those that the committee simply deleted, was one that encouraged buffering between major roadways and those residential developments backing up to them, as well as ones that would encourage incentives for law enforcement officials to live in specific neighborhoods and encourage the county to purchase land and easements in strategic, high hazard areas.

Two other policy proposals that were adjusted encouraged developers to include more green space in their developments and called for residential and commercial development in clusters and planned developments, rather than in strips along roadways.

There was, however, one entire focus area that received considerable disagreement that the committee declined to change -- support of downtown revitalization.

"There was a significant disagreement across the board," Harbeck said. "There was a significant number of folks in the unincorporated areas of the county that didn't want to help the downtowns in any way."

But, he added, the committee felt that it was important enough for the county to support the downtown areas -- without pledging any sort of financial assistance -- that they left those proposals alone.

The next step is for the county Planning Board to review the plan at its June meeting and hopefully send it along to the commissioners for their consideration. Board Chairman Wayne Aycock said he was looking forward to discussing the plan with the members.

"I think the plan we're looking at is really important to Wayne County for the next 20 years. We're looking at the future of our children and grandchildren," he said. "We're going to look at the whole plan and especially at where the problems area were."