By CHUCK McSHANE
MOORESVILLE – What will the 14-county Charlotte region look like in 2053? What should it look like? Those were the main questions on the agenda Tuesday night at the first of two Lake Norman-area “CONNECT Our Future” open house meetings.
About 25 residents showed up at the Charles Mack Center to study informational posters and talk with planners about the three-year, long-range planning project, which is funded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and money from local governments and private sources. The project focuses on how to deal with shared regional problems in the Charlotte region over the next 40 years, including transportation and other infrastructure, air and water quality, land use, economic development and the cost of local government.
Officials say the Charlotte area grew faster over the past decade than any other U.S. region with more than 1 million people.
“The key question we want to answer with this project is, ‘What do we need to do to preserve what we like?’” said Bjorn Hansen, a transportation planner for Centralina Council of Governments (CCOG). CCOG, its South Carolina counterpart the Catawba Regional Council of Governments and local elected officials from nine N.C. counties, including Iredell and Mecklenburg, and five S.C. counties.
The open houses are designed to gather ideas about what residents in different parts of the region value, and what residents think about the project.
“We’re not here to say this is good or bad,” Sushil Nepal, the CONNECT project manager for COG. “We’re not just looking for good feedback. If residents have negative feedback, we want to hear that, too.”
The open houses are the first phase of the project. CCOG planners and staff from member towns will project growth scenarios using demographic data and the information on community values gathered at the open houses. After presenting these scenarios to the public in 2014, project staffers will develop a regional framework for growth, which area municipalities can use in their future planning efforts.
“These are not going to be specific to any one town,” Mr. Nepal said. “The local communities are all different and the towns can choose to how to use the information for their own purposes. We (CCOG) don’t have any decision-making power.”
Planners expect the Charlotte region’s population to double, adding 2 million people over the next 40 years. That new population will be more diverse, older and poorer, according to CONNECT presentation documents. Successful similar projects have saved other regions tax dollars on infrastructure and other spending. The Kansas City region identified more than $2.5 billion in savings, while Salt Lake City found more than $4.5 billion in infrastructure savings, according to one poster at the meeting.
The 25-person turnout at Tuesday’s meeting was light compared to some others, Mr. Nepal said. An open house in Rock Hill attracted more than 90 residents, and 50 showed up for a Salisbury meeting.
“The turnout was a little less than we expected,” he said. “But given the size of the community and the fact that this isn’t something that is going to necessary in someone’s back yard, we’re happy with it.”
Pam Cook, who lives in Troutman and works in Davidson as a Realtor for Saussy Burbank home builders, showed up to get an idea of how the region’s growth would affect her business. Cook sees the growth first-hand daily.
“Most of my recent sales have been to people from outside the area,” Cook said. “I am interested in what people in the area want in terms of growth. From the survey perspective, (the project) sounds good.”
CONNECT Our Future is funded by a $4.9 million Sustainable Communities grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and $3 million of in-kind funds from CCOG member towns and cities.
“Those matching funds are not hard cash,” Nepal said. “They include things like staff time and meeting space.”
Davidson, Huntersville and Mooresville are participating in the CONNECT project. Cornelius voted not to join, but town staff are providing information for the project. This means Cornelius will be included in the comprehensive framework but will not have a representative.
FEB. 7 in HUNTERSVLLE
Huntersville will host a CONNECT open house on Feb. 7 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Town Hall. For more information, visit www.ConnectOurFuture.org.
See previous coverage of “CONNECT Our Future” on DavidsonNews.net.