We’ll have a public meeting next week on our new land-use plan.
After you stop yawning, I hope you’ll read on because the meeting is important. This updated plan will shape the future of our town, and the meeting gives you an opportunity to shape the plan.
The meeting will be Tuesday at Town Hall, starting at 4 p.m. You can drop in any time before 7 p.m. Town officials and the consultants we hired to help us will be on hand to explain the process and get your ideas about the type of development you’d like to see and where you would like it to go. We’ll even have food available and activities to keep the kids occupied.
Big deal. Another plan, you say. There are so many already attracting silverfish somewhere. You’re right. We have transportation plans, recreation plans, bike and trail plans, watershed plans and even a high-falutin’ Renaissance Plan and Gateway Plan. We’ve acted on some while others are propping up a bookshelf somewhere in Town Hall.
The land-use plan is different. Unlike all those others, it’s the only plan mandated by state law. It’s the only one that the Board of Commissioners must attest to when making any development decision. We can’t approve a project that doesn’t adhere to our land-use plan without also modifying the plan. The state can’t issue permits for projects that run afoul of our plan.
So that makes this plan different…. Or at least it can be if you want it to be.
A Bit of History
The Coastal Area Management Act, the now famous CAMA, was passed by the state legislature in 1975. Controversial then, it’s one of those high-minded laws that would be impossible to fashion in today’s highly polarized political culture. The law, a mirror of a federal law passed in 1972, attempted to address the rampant, virtually unchecked development that was threatening to overtake our coastal culture and overwhelm our natural environment.
At the heart of the law is the requirement that each of the 20 coastal counties prepare plans that would balance growth with environmental protection and would become the foundation for local development ordinances. In that way, the plans would serve as blueprints for future development. Fashioned by local people, the plans were meant to be their vision of what they wanted their communities to be.
The law gave cities and towns the opportunity to opt out of their county plans if they prepare ones that are more customized. Swansboro, like many coastal communities, decided to write its own plan.
The theory behind the plans was sound: Local people deciding how they wanted to live. The reality, though, was predictable. Decisions to control local growth often angers powerful, monied interests. Protecting shorelines, for instance, worth billions in real-estate value and millions in tax base requires courageous, inspired political leadership.
That’s a commodity that’s always in short supply. Instead, like water, most of the original land-use plans followed the course of least resistance, meeting the minimum CAMA requirements while erecting the fewest possible development barriers. Most counties dragged their feet to meet the deadline for their plans’ adoption. A couple even refused to fashion plans, forcing the state to undertake the job.
The original law recognized that good planning is ongoing and required that the plans be amended every five years to adjust for changing circumstances. Most communities were as enthusiastic to update their plans as they had been to write the originals. They assigned the task to consultants with orders to get the job done to meet the law’s requirements. A cottage industry soon developed. The plans became little more than boilerplate documents. Whole sections were lifted from one plan and inserted in another. Few contained any real policy directives. When development decisions violated any of the few policies, the governing bodies merely amended the plan to reflect the new decisions.
Recognizing that grim reality, the legislature a few years ago amended CAMA to remove the update requirement. Counties and towns now can volunteer to update their plans, and the state may provide a little money to do so.
So Here We Are
Swansboro’s commissioners decided this year to amend our nine-year-old plan. They appointed a steering committee made of up taxpayers, who represent a cross section of interests, to guide the new plan’s development. The committee, which I chair, hired Stewart engineering of Raleigh to help us. We’ve met a couple to times to begin forming the boundaries of the new plan.
Now, it’s your turn. This plan will only be as good as you want it to be. This isn’t the committee’s plan or the consultant’s plan or the commissioners’ plan. This is Swansboro plan. This is your plan. What do you want in it? Should we protect wetlands and green space, for instance? Should we limit development in flood-prone areas? Should we allow apartments and high-density development? And, if so, where should it go? What about development along N.C. 24?
All are important questions that need answers. Your answers. Tuesday is your opportunity to provide them. I hope you take advantage of it.
I also hope that you attend the steering committee meetings, which are open to the public. We meet the second Tuesday of the month in the auditorium of One Harbor Church. Come and help guide Swansboro’s future.