2050 411

Of­fi­cials want in­put at first base­line plan meet­ing

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - ROB DEWIG rdewig@cov­news.com

Don’t let the 2050 plan scare you, New­town County Coun­cil Chair­man Keith El­lis says.

At least not yet. At this point, noth­ing is set in stone. Ev­ery­thing can be changed. If enough people don’t want or like cer­tain parts of the plan, those parts can go away, ac­cord­ing to El­lis.

“We must have a plan of some kind,” El­lis said Fri­day, “but I want a plan that the people are happy with and we want them to par­tic­i­pate, to con­firm, to mod­ify that plan to fit their de­sires. And we will lis­ten.”

The first op­por­tu­nity for pub­lic in­put on the plan set to guide what the county will look like in 2050 will be Mon­day night at 6:30 at Live Oak El­e­men­tary School in Cov­ing­ton. The ses­sion hosted by The Cen­ter for Preser­va­tion and Plan­ning will in­clude a pre­sen­ta­tion of the plan’s ba­sics and plenty of time for sug­ges­tions, ques­tions and crit­i­cism from the pub­lic, said Kay Lee, The Cen­ter’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

As the first draft of the plan was un­veiled, so was com­mu­nity frus­tra­tion. Many as­pects of the plan have caused se­vere con­cern among some of the county’s cit­i­zens.

None of the people in­volved in con­struct­ing the plan

ex­pects it to pass as writ­ten. The one avail­able now is just the first draft. There will be at least three drafts, and the process is ex­pected to take more than six months.

“What we did is cre­ate the ideal,” Lee said. “Now what you have is the op­por­tu­nity to say ‘All right, we have some­thing new we can ex­pand on.’”

Lee added that changes are likely, ex­pected and nat­u­ral: “I think that’s a key point, keep­ing in mind that if we want to pro­tect our clean wa­ter and build com­mu­ni­ties and avoid the sprawl, all those things re­quire thought and plan­ning and co­or­di­na­tion.”

Scott Sirotkin, di­rec­tor of the New­ton County De­vel­op­ment Ser­vices Depart­ment, said “the county be­lieves pub­lic in­put is es­sen­tial to de­vel­op­ing the best code pos­si­ble. These meet­ings are an im­por­tant op­por­tu­nity for cit­i­zens to hear de­tails on the con­sul­tants’ first draft and to give their com­ments and sug­ges­tions.”

And like El­lis, Sirotkin said those sug­ges­tions will be lis­tened to: “The cur­rent draft is the first of sev­eral drafts that will be de­vel­oped dur­ing this process. I would ex­pect a num­ber of changes will be made for the next draft based on the in­put re­ceived over the next few weeks.”

For in­stance, grand­fa­ther­ing. As writ­ten, the 2050 draft in­cludes no lan­guage al­low­ing ex­ist­ing struc­tures to re­main where they are.

“The county’s cur­rent zon­ing or­di­nance con­tains pro­vi­sions for le­gal, non­con­form­ing - of­ten called grand­fa­thered - uses, lots, build­ings, etc. I an­tic­i­pate the same or sim­i­lar lan­guage will be in­cluded in 2050,” Sirotkin said.

The plan it­self is an im­pos­ing paper monster, scores of pages of def­i­ni­tions, al­lowed land uses, lot sizes, reg­u­la­tions and more. But it’s sim­plic­ity it­self com­pared to the reg­u­la­tions now in place in the county, Lee said.

To­day, there are six gov­ern­ments with 60 de­fined land uses, com­plete with 700 sep­a­rate line-item uses, Lee said. That com­pares with five land-use districts un­der the new plan – ru­ral and con­ser­va­tion, neigh­bor­hood res­i­den­tial, cor­ri­dor and cen­ter, over­lay and legacy districts.

“Once you look at … how many dif­fer­ent land uses there were then you start to sense the ben­e­fits,” Lee said.

The need for the plan goes be­yond sim­pli­fy­ing zon­ing rules, she added. Fore­casts are for a pop­u­la­tion of 327,000 by 2050, mean­ing “sprawl” – think un­con­nected sub­di­vi­sions and strip malls – will be a re­al­ity un­less some sort of plan­ning is adopted and en­forced.

The 2050 plan has four goals: pro­tect the county’s clean wa­ter, build com­mu­ni­ties, con­nect those com­mu­ni­ties, and co­or­di­nate pub­lic in­vest­ments. The lat­ter sim­ply means en­sur­ing the ob­vi­ous, like co­or­di­nat­ing road con­struc­tion so pave­ment doesn’t end at a mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s borders.

Lee said the co­or­di­na­tion among the var­i­ous mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, the county, the school board and the solid waste board has been “a great suc­cess” in the 10 years since the idea for a mas­ter plan was broached. Now with the gov­ern­ments work­ing to­gether and out­side con­sul­tants brought in, the first draft of that plan is in place.

Some sec­tions of the plan are al­to­gether blank, in­clud­ing his­toric preser­va­tion and ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“The 2050 plan has raised the bar” for ex­pec­ta­tions, El­lis said. “The ques­tion is, where do the cit­i­zens want that bar to be? I am go­ing to be even-handed, even-keeled, bal­anced, steady. In other words, I want (people) to crit­i­cize, but be re­spect­ful. We’re go­ing to lis­ten, to hear and ad­just our plan to meet” cit­i­zens’ con­cerns.

“We en­cour­age them to come and tell us what they like. That would help us fig­ure out what we don’t like. Help us. Be a part of the process.”

The plan and sim­pli­fied ex­pla­na­tions of what it en­tails are avail­able on­line at 2050plan.org.

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