A group that says it promotes good growth will hold at least three drop-in open houses in the Lake Norman area to hear what residents value in their local communities and where they’d like to see them improve.
Connect Our Future is a collaboration of 14 counties in North and South Carolina that aims to create economic framework for the region through engaged communities, making it more competitive in attracting jobs and development while improving quality of life.
Project manager Sushil Nepal said that framework considers “big picture” issues ranging from infrastructure, housing and food systems to air quality, energy and job growth.
“That’s the basic premise: how to best grow, control cost of government, make sure infrastructure is in good shape and improve quality of life.”
Nepal said the ultimate goal of the project is to use community feedback to provide the region with an ideal growth scenario. Public participation will be vital in all three phases, he said.
Connect Our Future began holding a series in October of nearly 30 drop-in open houses throughout the 14-county region that will continue through February. Nepal said the open houses are the first of three phases that include creating the region’s base plan, building an improved plan based on community feedback and finally developing the framework for continuous improvement.
The open houses will be held in drop-in format, Nepal said, which means there won’t be a formal presentation at a given time. “We’ll have a set of presentation boards displayed that will walk them through the project,” he said.
“(Project members will be) there as a staff to talk, one-on-one, to better educate them and learn from community members what the real important things are.”
Bill Thunberg, executive director at Lake Norman Transportation Commission and former Mooresville mayor, said resident turnout and input is critical.
“Feel free to say what is important to you, what your fears are and hopes are. … It’s more important for us to work together and preserve the things we love about our community as we deal with the growth we have in a sensible way.”
Thunburg said the levels of collaboration between economic, education and workforce development groups in the region are the highest he’s ever seen. “I think we may have crossed a line here, a tipping point, where people see these things are related and we can help each other in our goal to build more prosperous communities.”
Nepal said the first phase will also use small groups, social media and online surveys to identify the needs and values of communities. The target date to finish phase one is in February, he said.
The second phase of Connect will take those values and translate them into “indicators” that can be used as data in alternative growth scenarios. “We’re trying to create tools from public feedback on future alternative scenarios,” Nepal said.
“Open houses will impact what kind of growth scenario we’ll be choosing.” Nepal said the alternative growth scenarios will also be vetted through additional public input at a community level, including a consortium of public officials and municipal staff from all 14 counties, should they elect to sign on.
Nepal said this phase will be the longest and is tentatively set to run through early 2014.
The third phase of Connect will be creating a master document that provides the ideal growth scenario for the region to each county, for local governments to modify and implement according to their needs, Nepal said.
“It’s very grass root, bottom up … Do we know the outcome? No. The process will define the outcome,” he said. “Whatever the community wants will be reflected in that document.”
Thunburg said that concerns from other communities in the 14-county region won’t take precedence in the ideal growth scenario over the concerns of local communities. “We’re going to be providing information, not solutions,” Thunburg said. “This will come back to the local level. They’ll be tasked with addressing them.”
Trenda: 704-358-5089; Twitter: @htrenda
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