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Perusing the large Lancaster County map in front of him, Gregory Powell quickly found his Indian Land neighborhood, peeled off a small smiley face sticker and placed it over his home.
Within a few minutes he’d also placed a few red heart stickers as well, marking off places he likes to visit for fun, ranging from restaurants to retail stores.
It may seem like a strange way to spend a Wednesday morning, but it was actually one of two exercises conducted during a community meeting to discuss a new Lancaster County Comprehensive Plan.
Held March 26 at Lancaster High School, and moderated by Catawba Regional Council of Governments senior planner Robby Moody, the meeting was the last of four community sessions offered to get county residents involved in the Comprehensive Plan process. Previous sessions had been held throughout the county this month at Andrew Jackson, Indian Land and Buford high schools.
Powell, a resident of Sun City Carolina Lakes, was one of about 20 people to attend Wednesday’s session, hoping for more information about the future direction of the county.
“It’s fantastic. You need to know what’s happening where you live. I came down to find out what’s going on. This is my last move (into a home) and I’ve gotta get involved,” he said.
After finishing the map exercise, Powell moved on to another activity, this one featuring a board with the words “I want to see...”, followed by columns for “more of” and “less of.”
Powell watched as his fellow residents scribbled a long list of wants, from better public transportation to improved roads to more restaurants, as well as items they wish would go away, including crime, potholes and long commutes.
“Personally I’d like to see more food and jobs. I hate having to go out of the county to spend my money and I try not to when I can,” he said.
Next to him was Doris Anderson, who lives in Indian Land’s Belair community and attended the meeting to gather concrete information about county needs.
“I like to see they are making an effort to have community involvement,” Anderson said.
She hoped to leave the meeting with specifics she could talk about with her neighbors.
“Residents need the background and knowledge of what’s happening, otherwise we just have rumors going around,” she said. “That’s the future of Lancaster County – knowledge.”
In the year 2050
Making decisions based on future forecasts is a large part of developing a comprehensive plan, Moody told the crowd.
Based on statistical projections for the county, Moody said all signs point to a population boom within a few decades, rising to almost 120,000 residents by 2050.
In comparison, he said employment will climb more modestly, with the number of residents employed in the county moving from 26,000 in 2010 to 32,000 in 2050.
“What this means is, people are growing faster than jobs and that’s not always good news for a healthy economy. It doesn’t mean jobs aren’t here, it means people are going to work outside the county,” he said.
“We have an opportunity with the comprehensive plan that if we don’t like what we’re projecting for the future we have the chance to make some changes.”
He also walked the crowd through a list of mandatory elements found in comprehensive plans, such as considering natural resources, community facilities, housing, economic development, population and transportation.
Using a PowerPoint presentation, Moody said the comprehensive plan will also take into account several other county planning documents, including the county’s strategic plan, the 14-county CONNECT Our Future project and the U.S. 521/S.C. 9 Corridor Study.
He hoped to use the county’s strategic plan as a model for tracking the county’s needs.
“Lancaster County is one of the few counties that does a report card of how they’re doing with these priorities. The county is actually keeping track to see are they doing the things they say they’re going to do,” Moody said. “It’s refreshing and it’s one thing we want to do with the comprehensive plan. We want to keep track of our progress.”
In the audience was county resident Melvin Threatt who expressed concerns to Moody about how the comprehensive plan would eventually be used.
“We did that corridor study and it cost about $350,000 and to my knowledge the county hasn’t used it and hasn’t even looked at it,” Threatt said. “My concern, Robert, is if you make a comprehensive plan, will they even look at it?”
Moody said he understood his concerns, but said the plan would only be effective once residents and leaders come together to put it into action.
“You need to have willingness from leaders. Hopefully you as citizens and leaders can find points of commonality,” Moody said.
Though she was happy with the high turnout from residents at the sessions, County Planning Director Penelope G. Karagounis was also pleased to see students make their presence known during the workshops.
“They’re the ones who will be here in 40 years. They want a sense of community. They also expressed wanting a shopping area or a movie theater. They all said there’s no place to come together, to hang out with each other,” Karagounis said.
Also a concern for many of the students was where they would find jobs after they graduate.
“They love their community, but they don’t see any opportunities here,” she said. “We found that the Buford youth love living on big lots (of land), but they also want more urbanized areas like a shopping center, ball fields, things like that. It was very eye-opening.”
Moody said the perspectives of young people and adults are a good mix to have.
“Residents tend to lean more toward wanting jobs while for students, its more entertainment, shopping, recreation,” Moody said. “It’s helpful, though, for the adults to hear what’s on the students’ minds and what they think is important.”
Next up, Moody will host another community meeting at 5:30 p.m. April 17, at the Native American Studies Center in Lancaster.
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416