County to meet with towns before year-end
Coordinating development and transportation projects in a county with 14 municipalities and more than 600 square miles is a challenge, especially when towns are close together – like in the western part of Union County. That’s why county leaders rely on area plans to keep things in line.
With some parts of the county seeing as much as a 300 percent population growth, there’s been pressure put on road systems and water and sewer capacity at a time when economic woes have sapped some resources. Meanwhile, there’s a strong push by many to preserve agricultural roots in rural areas. These are all issues county Planning Director Richard Black deals with each day in his area plans, and will be refocusing on when he speaks to town leaders over the next few months.
“Area plans are smaller scale and more parcel specific and can more directly involve the stakeholders, such as landowners and developers, up front,” Black said.
Not all projects for area plans involve land use – some cover safety issues, or water and sewer and drainage. And towns aren’t always involved.
“Highway 601 South has a tremendous capacity for traffic, and could be developed for business, but there’s not a lot of capacity for water and sewer there right now,” Black said as an example.
Black also mentioned that area plans can include economic incentives for farmland preservation in unincorporated areas of the county, which has deep agricultural roots. “But with area plans, there’s usually a common thing that pulls towns together, such as the Monroe Connector/Bypass, or the intersection of Highway 84 and Rocky River Road,” he said.
Black will meet with towns before year-end to get a list of projects and priorities to take before Union County commissioners.
“The ball’s in my court for making this happen,” Black acknowledged, adding he’d like to see towns have several prioritized project plans in place and begin tackling some of them early in 2012. Towns will select a steering committee to help drive the plans, Black said.
The Waxhaw Parkway – along Highway 75 – is an example of a project for the area plan Black says he believes would be a priority with the town of Waxhaw. Last year, Mayor Daune Gardner called to accelerate the project – which has started but is far from complete – after a CSX train derailed, blocking roads in the community in July 2010. The completed Waxhaw Parkway will include bridges built over railroad crossings and provide better access around and through the town for commuters and emergency workers.
Pooling resources helps accelerate projects
The bench on Black’s planning team is not deep, with only three planners doing work that requires six in similar sized counties, according to Black. Resources for funding also are thinner.
“Everybody has short budgets, and some towns can’t do a project themselves, but working together they’ll have resources to do it,” he said.
Part of what Black does includes bringing towns together to pool resources along with the county and N.C. Department of Transportation. Black mentioned he would like to work with towns to get a county transportation planner in place. But, Black said, sometimes a town takes the lead in the planning.
Greg Mahar, planning and community development director for Waxhaw, said the town doesn’t currently have any joint planning efforts with the county but has been working with its neighbors on a road project to improve the intersection of Highways 75 and 16.
“Traffic doesn’t stop at town borders,” Mahar said. So Waxhaw, Marvin, Weddington and Wesley Chapel pulled together on the intersection improvement project, funded by an $80,000 grant from the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization, as well as a $550,000 federal grant provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Mahar also mentioned plans for ADA-compliant sidewalks to make it safer for kids going to school, a project funded by a $242,000 federal grant.
“Our board of commissioners has been very proactive in keeping our roads in good shape,” he added. “The board set up a pool of money to go toward local improvements.”
Waxhaw’s Local Area Regional Transportation Plan can be seen online at www.waxhaw.com under “Adopted Plans” on the Planning and Community Development department page.
Other projects Black said could fit into an area plan include interchanges along the Monroe Connector/Bypass, which spans municipalities and is scheduled to be completed by 2013. He said these interconnects would include Highways 75, 84 and 218. He also mentioned Old Charlotte Highway as a possible priority for an area plan project. Black said he is eager to work with the towns to develop a joint vision for the county.