Planning for the far future

Barbara Wilson, the environmental coordinator for Marine Corps Installations East, and Jacksonville City Manager Richard Woodruff place Lego blocks on a map to represent future growth during the EnvisionEAST-2050 event in Trenton on Wednesday.

Lindell Kay / The Daily News
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 21:10 PM. 

During the planning event in Trenton on Wednesday, 300 delegates were asked to map out their mental imagery of what the region will look like in 2050, to include more than a million new people moving into Southeastern North Carolina in the next four decades. The delegates spent hours mapping out where they wanted to see new roads, railroads, people, green spaces and jobs, which were represented by different colored yarn and Lego blocks.

Thirty groups were formed and asked to suggest alternative scenarios to accommodate growth through the year 2050. The different maps are being calculated, and a report of the findings is expected to be available within three months.

A computerized survey of participants conducted by organizers showed that the top priority for the area over the next century should protection of agriculture, military and tourism with a secondary priority of protecting open spaces and natural resources.

The delegates agreed education and leadership were necessary to maintaining a high quality of life with an influx of new residents. Creating multiple growth centers also scored high as a way to manage such a large population.

“We’re going to need railroads,” Jacksonville developer Cliff Ray said. “We need that connection for residential and commercial growth.”

Ray was one of 300 representatives with various backgrounds including business, development, community, government, environmental, academic and military attending from Onslow, Carteret, Craven, Duplin, Jones, Lenoir, Pamlico and Wayne counties.

Spearheading the move to be prepared for the future is Mark Sutherland, executive director of N.C. Eastern Region-PlanIt EAST.

His organization has conducted a comparative community analysis to learn from other regions that went through unplanned growth. That analysis found the establishment of super highways to be starting point of a population explosion. Southeastern North Carolina is seeing the beginnings of that with the near completion of the expansions of both U.S. 70 and 17.

“We are looking at what was done right and what was done wrong,” Sutherland said, adding that 30 years ago the nine county Southeastern North Carolina region was mostly farm land with low density housing and similar incomes. That’s changed and will change even more.

“We found that there is no turning back,” he said. “The tipping point for massive growth was always improved access.”

Sutherland said the growth is a regional issue because many residents will be living in one county but working and playing in another.

Communities that didn’t plan for change lost their agribusiness and military capacity due to housing encroachment.

Inherent in all the planning must be a consensus to preserve military training space, or area Marine bases might have to relocate, said Retired Maj. Gen. Carl Jensen, former commanding general of Marine Corps Installations East.

“There’s a lot of changes in store for out region,” Sutherland said. “Jones and Pamlico are going to lose population but also be the recipients of workers in Onslow and Carteret needing an affordable place to live.”

Sutherland said it’s a regional problem to determine where these one million new people will live and where the estimated 400,000 new homes will go without consuming 225,000 acres of farmland in Onslow, Carteret and the other counties.

“We have to grow by choice, not by chance,” Sutherland said. “What we do here today will equip decision makers 20 years from now.”

The event was conducted by Reality Check, a collaborative regional visioning process of the Urban Land Institute. Planning sessions have been held previously in the Triangle area, Charleston, S.C., Hampton Roads, Va., and eight other areas. Named EnvisionEAST-2050, Wednesday’s event is one of about a dozen that have been conducted across the country since 2005.

The $500,000 project was conducted by PlanIt EAST, which is a private-public partnership headed by N.C. Eastern Region with additional funding from the Defense Department’s Office of Economic Adjustment, the State of North Carolina, each of the nine member counties and several private donors.


Contact Daily News Senior Reporter Lindell Kay at 910-219-8455 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter and friend him on Facebook @ 1lindell.


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