08/08/07 — County to review growth proposal

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County to review growth proposal

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on August 8, 2007 1:46 PM

After nearly two years and with the Wayne Comprehensive Plan already endorsed by the county Planning Board, the Board of Commissioners finally took the next step Tuesday morning of scheduling a public hearing.

Set for 9:15 a.m., Sept. 4, the hearing is the final hurdle the plan must clear before it can be adopted by the commission.

The plan, which has been described as the document that will guide the county's decision making for the next 15 to 20 years, was put together by a 15-member citizen steering committee and was vetted in a community forum in May.

"I think every local government needs to have a long-range vision," said Glenn Harbeck of consulting company Glenn Harbeck Associates in Wilmington. "Oftentimes we get wrapped up more in the day-to-day decisions and forget the long-range perspective.

"I don't want a plan that's going to lock me into a corner, but at the same time, I want a plan that will provide some sort of reasonable guidance."

Wayne County's plan, which features 12 vision areas ranging from transportation to housing to public safety to water and sewer issues, includes both policies and action items. It also includes a growth strategy map, which identifies what areas of the county may be best suited for certain types of developments.

"The policies are what you're adopting. The map is what you're adopting. The implementing actions are totally optional. This is not an ordinance," Harbeck explained to the commissioners. "It provides some guidance. It's not mandatory. We can override this policy, provided we have good reasons for doing so."

The key, he continued, is to make sure the plan is used in every aspect of future decision-making processes. And in fact, county attorney Borden Parker explained, the plan must be used.

"You're not going to be able to put this on the shelf once it's adopted. You have to make reference to it (when making decisions)," he said.

The commissioners also heard from Sheriff Carey Winders about efforts he's making to target drugs, gangs and crime in county schools.

Like the rest of the county, he said, the biggest problem is drugs, though there are 16 identified gangs in the county.

And right now, he added, his best program is COPE (Community Oriented Prevention Education), which targets elementary school students.

It focuses on teaching them respect and about the dangers of drugs, gangs, peer pressure and violence -- lessons Winders said he'd like to also teach middle and high school students.

"We give it to them in elementary school. We'd like to reinforce it in middle and high school, too," he said.

But in order to develop such a program for the older students, his office would need to find more people, more time and a way to fit it into the school system's standard course of study.

Fortunately, Winders continued, there is a school resource officer in each of the high schools -- yet another program he'd like to expand to middle schools, if not for manpower and monetary constraints. In addition, his office has also spent time educating teachers and administrators about the signs of gang activity.

But the one issue that he feels the school system and the county can address is his ability to search schools for drugs and drug paraphernalia.

Currently, while principals are free to search any locker on their own, his deputies are required to have a warrant. He also is required to give the school a 24-hour notice. But that, he explained, is where the problem has been occurring.

"Our problem is when we'd come, everyone knew we were coming," Winders said. "We've got to build that trust and confidence back up."

And that, said county Manager Lee Smith, is something he, the sheriff and the school system's staff will be working on -- either finding a way to either keep such searches quiet or eliminating the need for advance notice by working around school testing days and other activities.

"This needs to be followed up next week and the week after that and the week after that until we get it done," Commissioner Jack Best said. "I know the school board wants the same results we do. I'm willing to vote for anything it takes to eradicate drugs in our schools and in Wayne County."

Finally, after holding a short public hearing, the commission voted unanimously to allow the rezoning of 2.98 acres of Case Farms' property along the northern side of Pecan Road at its intersection with Mitchell Road. The property, which is inside Seymour Johnson Air Force Base's accident potential zone, will be zoned partially heavy industry and partially airport industry. The decision lowers the amount of land inside the accident potential zone not zoned for airport industry use from 4.5 percent to 3.5 percent.

"I think it is a win-win situation for everyone. Case Farms' future lies in this expansion," said Sam Robertson, complex manager for Case Farms.

The rezoning will allow the company to continue its five-year plan to start five new processing lines. TThe company, which has been in Wayne County since 1998, is preparing to begin construction of its second line.

By the time the fifth line is done, approximately 500 new jobs will have been created.