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Local residents needed to help shape region's future

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By Reece Murphy

Organizers of a 14-county Charlotte region initiative called CONNECT Our Future are asking Lancaster County residents for their input in helping develop a strategic plan to guide the region’s growth over the next 40 years.

Three CONNECT Our Future Community Growth Workshops are 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3, in the University of South Carolina Lancaster’s Carole Ray Dowling Building, 509 Hubbard Drive.

Preregistration is requested by going online http://bit.ly/LancasterCounty or by calling (704) 714-4438.

CONNECT Our Future is a strategic assessment process that seeks input from community members, businesses, nonprofits and other organizations on a regional growth framework.

The process is intended to provide information that will help Lancaster County and the 13 other North and South Carolina communities surrounding Charlotte control the region’s growth in coming decades – an estimated 1.8 million new residents and 860,000 new jobs by 2050.

Cole McKinney of the Catawba Regional Council of Governments said organizers of the workshops are looking for a wide sampling of Lancaster County’s demographics to participate in the workshops so as to get a good understanding of what county residents love about their communities.

“It’s essential we have those characteristics of Lancaster County that are valued by the community’s demographic groups,” McKinney said. “It’ll be an opportunity for them to say, ‘These are the things in our community we’d like to retain, things that we want to protect.’”

The Charlotte Region is among the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the nation, and one of the only ones without a regional growth framework.

The CONNECT Our Future initiative focuses on several facets affected by future growth: jobs and economic development, land use, transportation, housing, energy, natural resources, public health and food systems.

The workshops are part of Phase II of the initiative.

During the two-hour workshops, participants will be divided into teams of 10 that will discuss their ideas and help develop maps of how they believe Lancaster County may grow over the next 40 years.

Each table will be led by a facilitator who will help participants understand and work on the task. Participants will map where they believe residents will have to work, live, play and move around in Lancaster County. They’ll also be asked to consider how they would enhance and protect Lancaster County’s quality of life.

The information gleaned from the participant-created maps, along with information gleaned from the maps of other regions, will be combined and used to develop several possible scenarios to guide growth in the region.

In keeping with the initiatives goal of helping local communities “plan and change by local choice – not chance,” local residents will be asked during Phase III next year for their input on which alternative growth scenario they prefer.

McKinney said to date, participation in the process has been great, and encouraged residents from across Lancaster County to come out and join in the workshops.

“This is the primary chance for folks to come in and say ‘This is why we live here and this is how we’d like to see our community grow over the next 40 years,’” McKinney said.

Phase I results

As part of February’s Phase I, CONNECT Our Future held three open house meetings and three small groups meetings in Lancaster and Indian Land to solicit input from county residents about what they feel is special about their communities.

During the open house meetings, attendees were asked to fill out a questionnaire that asked such questions as “What is a place that illustrates the best of your community, or our region?”

The No. 1 response from county residents was Lancaster’s historic downtown area, followed by the county’s neighborhoods, parks, community assets such as libraries, schools, etc., and the county’s natural assets.

Residents cited Andrew Jackson State Park, Landsford Canal State Park and the Catawba River as examples of the area’s natural assets.

Community parks and greenways was the No. 1 response to the question of what Lancaster County residents thought was most important for the future of the community and region.

Residents thought the county’s schools, colleges and regional campuses were another critically important cog in the community’s future, followed by arts and community centers, state parks, forests, preserved lands, and shade tree neighborhoods.

When asked about the transportation feature they’d like to see most, 25 percent of county residents said they’d like to see new and more rail transit across the county. Twenty percent said they’d like to see more sidewalks, trails, other safe places to walk.

A total of 18 percent of county residents said they’d like to see improved roads followed by 16 percent who wanted to see better connected streets that provide a choice of routes, and 11 percent who wanted more new roads.

The biggest concern of 17.46 percent of residents was growth and if the county would have the infrastructure and roads in place to support growth.

Economic issues – jobs, economic development, poverty and unemployment – were the second largest concern followed by managing growth/sustainable developments.

Residents rounded out the list of their concerns with transportation collaborations that would benefit the entire region.

For more information on CONNECT Our Future, as well as more Lancaster County and other regional responses to questionnaires, visit www.connectourfuture.org.

 

Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151.