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North and South Carolina Counties Use Crowdsourcing to Plan Region's Future

CONNECT Our Future is an initiative that's designed to gather information from the public and help officials prepare for expected growth.

by Charles Warner, McClatchy News Service / April 9, 2014
Union County, S.C., Advanced Technology Center Google Street View

Even if they were unable to make it to Monday’s CONNECT Our Future forum Union County, S.C., residents can use the Internet to help plan for the future of the county and the rest of the greater Charlotte region.

CONNECT Our Future is an initiative undertaken by the Catawba Regional Council of Governments in South Carolina and the Centralia Council of Governments in North Carolina. The purpose of the initiative is to gather information from the public in the areas served the two councils to help officials in those counties plan for the growth that is expected to occur in the region over the next 40 years.

The region covered by the imitative is the greater Charlotte region which is composed of the North Carolina counties of Anson, Cabarrus, Cleveland, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Rowan, Stanly, and Union, and the South Carolina counties of Chester, Lancaster, Union, and York. The region’s population — which currently stands at approximately 2.4 million — is projected to grow by 50 percent in 20 years and to double within 40 years, an increase of 1.8 million people and 860,000 new jobs.

This growth is expected to affect all the counties in the region because of their economic interconnectedness. The region is centered on the urban area of Charlotte, N.C., and linked with the ring of suburban communities that includes Rock Hill in South Carolina and Gastonia in North Carolina and rural areas like Union County in South Carolina and Lincoln County in North Carolina. This interconnectedness means that all the region’s constituent counties will be affected by the expected growth and officials in both councils of government are working to prepare for it.

To prepare for that growth, the councils undertook the CONNECT Our Future initiative which over the past 18 months has developed four distinct growth options. Those options are being reviewed through a series of public forums taking place over the next few weeks.

One of those forums was held at the Union County Advanced Technology Center on Monday and those who attended were presented with iPads to go online and review the four growth options and then record their views of which of those options they felt would best meet the needs of Union County.

“We’ve got a tool that has been created, a Web-based Internet tool,” Cole McKinney, Regional Initiatives and Technology Director for the Catawba Regional Council of Governments, said. “We’ve got iPads for people to use to give feedback on conceptual growth scenarios.

“What we’ve done is we’ve taken all the input we’ve gathered from the public thus far, including what their top 10 priorities are in relation to dealing with growth in the region,” he said. “What we’re asking our participants to do is to identify what their top five priorities are from those 10. Then we’re allowing them to see how those priorities are being met or not met in each of the growth concepts and apply a rating on how well their priorities are being met for each of the four scenarios.”

McKinney said that even if they were unable to attend Monday’s forum, Union County residents can still participate by going online. Like those who attended the forum, McKinney said those who decide to go online will be able to select their top five priorities, see how they are met or not by each of the four options and rate them.

“We are looking for three pieces of information,” McKinney said. “Your top five priorities, how well those priorities are being met for each of the growth scenarios, and the county you live in.”

Once the forums are completed, McKinney said that “all the information collected at the county level will be taken back to the policymakers within each of the counties so that they can see how well their existing plans align with the public’s priorities.”

McKinney said the initiative is hoping to have all the information compiled by April 15.

Growth Option 1

Maintain Suburban Focus

This shows how the region might develop if current zoning and land use practices are continued, or if current community plans are not followed.

• Most new housing and jobs are in large subdivisions or employment centers located outside existing cities and towns, on farmland or open space.

• Most people need cars to get from their houses to jobs, shopping or recreation.

• The region’s most urban areas provide opportunities for people to use mass transit, walk or bike from homes to nearby work, play, or parks.

• Water, sewer, roads, schools and other infrastructure investments will be focused on supporting the new growth outside existing cities/towns.

Growth Option 2

Follow Community Plans

This shows how the region might develop if adopted community plans are followed.

• Most new housing and jobs are within existing cities and towns, but many parts of the region continue suburban or rural growth.

• Limited transit is available in urban areas. People in the rest of the region will rely on cars to meet travel needs.

• Housing choices and types will stay about the same as today.

• Farmland will be preserved in some counties.

• Some communities will shift infrastructure investment to support growth within existing cities/towns, while other communities will invest more in infrastructure to support “outward growth.”

Growth Option 3

Grow Cities, Towns, Centers And Transit

This shows how the region might develop using all the ideas that have emerged from the public throughout CONNECT.

• Most growth happens within existing communities. There are more areas — called “activity centers” — where people can walk, bike, shop, access parks and use transit for daily trips.

• Urban, suburban and rural living choices remain available, since land outside activity centers is open space, farmland or rural living.

• Mass transit serves some counties, and other counties have express bus connections.

• Infrastructure investments focus mostly on growth within cities/towns, or supporting new activity centers.

Growth Option 4

Focus On Regional Transportation

This shows how the region might develop based on ideas of people who came to the community growth workshops held in each county. It addresses the great interest in regional transit, transportation connections, and walkability.

• Most new residents will live in the many “activity centers” in or near existing communities. Housing, work and shopping options are close by.

• People are able to walk, bike or use local bus service or transit to get around.

• There are many opportunities for suburban or rural living in most counties.

• Regionwide, major investments in transit means people can travel between most counties using transit and roads. Local bus service is also available at destinations.

• There’s more focus on supporting infrastructure systems within cities, towns and activity centers.

©2014 The Union Daily Times (Union, S.C.)

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