Exercise maps growth plans

TRENTON — Will the next 50 years bring growth to this region mainly in and around urban communities, or will development more closely resemble “strings of pearls” formed along major highway corridors through more rural areas?

The projected population growth looked like LEGO blocks and yarn at a regional planning exercise held Wednesday at the Jones County Civic Center. About 25 Carteret County representatives were among the roughly 300 who placed the toys and knitting materials on 30 tabletop maps to represent new residents, jobs and roadways in the “unprecedented” population growth regional planners are projecting for the coming decades.

The event, EnvisionEAST 2050 was staged by PlanIt EAST, a regional planning forum created to implement the 467 recommendations of the study completed in 2008 by the Eastern Region’s Military Growth Task Force. That study showed a need for a regional planning approach to dealing with the 485,000 to more than 1 million new residents forecast for the region by 2050 and their impact on agriculture, military installations, transportation, water resources and housing.

The $500,000 exercise, a sanctioned event by the Urban Land Institute, was paid for by the N.C. Eastern Region economic development group, Defense Department and state funding and private donations. Organizers said the theme for the event was “growing by choice, not by chance,” and participants represented various facets of each community.

Participant Mark Mansfield, a Carteret County Realtor and member of the County Board of Education, said such planning is essential.

“I don’t think we can go where we need to go and protect what we need to protect without it,” Mr. Mansfield said. He said expanded passenger rail service is an example of the type of new infrastructure that could have a positive effect for the region, especially the coast.

Nearly all of the MGTF’s Regional Growth Management Plan recommendations were determined to be beyond the abilities of individual counties or municipalities to address on their own. The recommendations led to the formation of PlanIt East and it’s why a regional approach is so important, officials said.

“We’re getting together and collaborating and showing one another that we need one another,” said N.C. Environmental Management Commissioner Steve Keen, a speaker at the event.

Carteret officials who served among the 42 PlanIt East delegates were Doug Brady of Waterfront Lifestyles Properties, retired county agricultural extension agent Ray Harris, Pine Knoll Shores Mayor Ken Jones, County Economic Development Council Director Myles Stempin and Morehead City Mayor Pro Tem Harvey Walker.

County participants also included Realtor Sharon Garner, Newport Town Manager Dick Casey, Karen Amspacher of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center and others.

Other areas represented in the exercise were Craven, Duplin, Jones, Lenoir, Onslow, Pamlico, Pender and Wayne counties.

Participants were organized into 30 teams of 10 and assembled around the tabletop maps to each reach a consensus on a vision for growth. Each team used yellow LEGO bricks to represent new housing, white LEGOs for new seasonal homes and red bricks for new jobs and placed them on the maps, which were overlaid with a grid, along with yarn to represent roadways and transit proposed by participants and green stickers to represent preserved open spaces. Placement was based on each team’s consensus on principles guiding their proposed growth patterns. Existing land uses were also color-coded on the maps.

At the end of the exercise, a team of about 80 facilitators entered the data from each grid into a computer program that analyzed the choices made by all teams for same-day feedback at the end of the session on the alternate visions for growth.

The final report on the session will be posted on the PlanIt EAST website at planiteast.org. But preliminary feedback gave an indication of the overall preferences expressed during the exercise and the demographics of those who shared various opinions.

Some tables preferred a corridor approach to growth, which was likened to a “string of pearls” along major highways. Others chose a continuation of current development trends.

A concept of compact urban development, with population centers such as New Bern and Goldsboro seeing concentrated population growth, appeared to be most favored among the so-called “young professionals” participating in the exercise.

The urban alternative would preserve larger areas of existing farmland, one of the major concerns discussed at the event.

Younger participants also favored increased transportation options in these urban areas and an emphasis on compatibility with surroundings.

Compatibility with surrounding military bases was also a stated concern. Retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Carl Jensen, a speaker during the lunch portion of the session, said preserving agricultural areas ensures continued compatibility with military operations with the added benefit of providing food for the troops, as well as protection of natural resources. He said state and federal dollars could be used to “contract” with landowners to ensure farmlands are not developed in ways that are incompatible with military aviation.

“This will protect the agrarian culture of eastern North Carolina in a way that is profitable for the state and its residents,” Maj. Gen. Jensen said. “There’s no doubt North Carolina will remain a military-friendly state and an economic powerhouse.”

 

Contact Mark Hibbs at 252-726-7081, ext. 229; email mark@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @markhibbs

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