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‘Skeleton’ of a plan

Derek Roland’s presentation about the effort to create a comprehensive planning document for Macon County suggested that a progressive document might come out of the planning process. But it was evident from the ensuing question-and-answer session [see main article] that it would form a basis for difficult discussions to come.

“The process is in its beginning stages,” Roland said. “The board came up with a plan skeleton, with ideas for what they thought should be in it.”

Roland said the planning board intends to work extensively with citizens of Macon County, holding meetings in communities.

“Land use is the central issue,” he acknowledged. “The key is knowing where we are now, knowing how much growth we can sustain, what the current infrastructure is and future needs will be.”

From 1990 to 2009 the county’s population grew 44 percent, Roland said, adding that that hot rate represents a trend to consider, though the growth rate has fallen off and projections take that into account.

“For 2009 to 2029 growth is projected to be 30 percent — 46,191 people, or 89.61 people per square mile,” he said. “That’s considerably below the state average of 120 people per square mile, but it’s still much more that in 1991.”

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Given those projections, Macon residents need to determine the future of their community, Roland said. At the moment, though, building permits — a leading indicator of growth — are off 35 percent from a year ago, he said.

“That presents a perfect opportunity to plan,” Roland said. “Growth’s not coming in faster than we can blink an eye. We have time to sit back and put something in place. So we have a chance now to determine growth rather than growth determining what it’s going to look like for us.”

You can’t stop ... growth

Growth, while inevitable and desirable, is also what presents the challenges that good planning seeks to address, Roland said.

“The comprehensive plan seeks to identify land currently suitable and feasible for growth, with the least impact on taxpayers,” he said. “The questions are: ‘When will growth begin to strain the county? At what point will it put strain on infrastructure, public facilities, on agriculture, on land we want to preserve, and on public services?’”

Roland said the board wanted to identify the things that set Macon County apart from the rest of the world — its recreational opportunities, its scenic beauty, its streams, trails, farms.

“We want to identify what we want to preserve,” he said, adding that current generations shouldn’t have to talk to their children and grandchildren about the beauty that used to be here. They should be able to point to it, and reminisce about the good times they had there.

At the same time, the county needs to develop economically and create jobs for those future residents.

Our children should be able to work here and prosper without having to go to Charlotte to get a job,” Roland said.

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