Union County adopts growth management plans

Published: Oct. 25, 2014 at 1:35 AM EDT|Updated: Nov. 24, 2014 at 2:35 AM EST
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CHARLOTTE, NC (Adam Bell/The Charlotte Observer) - Union County's days of being among the national leaders in growth have receded, but that doesn't mean the county intends to ignore growth management needs.

In fact, a series of long-range plans adopted by county commissioners in the past few weeks should serve as a road map for growth and related issues for years to come, County Manager Cindy Coto said Friday.

In their votes, commissioners: updated their comprehensive plan; adopted a transportation plan; approved a U.S. 74 corridor revitalization plan; and rewrote their land use ordinance.

"The whole intent was to put out a 20-year vision for the county," Coto said. "We had not been real good about planned development in the past, especially in the high growth years" in the early 2000s.

Coto said the county's growth rate is much more moderate now. Even so, the county is hoping to see more commercial and retail growth to help balance a tax base that has overwhelmingly leaned on homeowners for its tax revenue.

Bill McCoy, former director of the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, called the moves a good start for a county that had seen haphazard growth for years in the county as well as its municipalities. "It's very positive that somebody is thinking about these issues...and that they are trying to do better this time," he said. "You have to start somewhere."

Here's a rundown of the plans:

• The comprehensive plan. Although the county had updated its plan last in 2010, that process began in 2006, and officials wanted to revise the work using more current data. Among other areas, it looks at future housing needs for single-family homes as well as multifamily units and mixed-use town centers. Recommendations range from supporting retail development to creating development guidelines that emphasize walkability and developing a tax credit that supports economic development priorities.

• The transportation plan. This is the first time such a plan has been developed for the entire county, according to Coto. Officials hope to use it when seeking state or regional transportation funds and for providing a framework for transportation improvement planning. One aim is to improve roads for multiple uses, including mass transit, bikes and pedestrians. Short- and long-term needs were studied, including starting a countywide child, pedestrian and bicycle safety program, improving intersections and widening certain roads.

• The U.S. 74 plan. The road is also known as Roosevelt Boulevard, Independence Boulevard and probably a lot of unprintable names. Even with the on-again, off-again plan for the state's Monroe Connector-Bypass back on to provide a toll road that helps ease congestion on U.S. 74, the road right now is still "an absolute mess," in Coto's words. The revitalization plan covers such changes as improving turn lanes, making it easier to access local businesses and adding aesthetic improvements with landscapings, signs and other changes.

• The land use development ordinance. Also known as the unified development ordinance, the old plan was more than 12 years old. Comprehensive revisions reflect changes that included growth in urban and suburban areas. It helped organize and modernize zoning, subdivision and environmental ordinances. But no changes were made to the zoning map itself and no one's individual property zoning was changed.