UNION COUNTY — The development of a “regional growth framework” for a 14-county region that includes Union County was the goal of an open house sponsored by the Catawba Regional Council of Governments at the Union County Advanced Technology Center Thursday evening.
CONNECT Our Future is an initiative that deals with the future growth of a 14-county region that includes the North Carolina counties of Anson, Cabarrus, Cleveland, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Rowan, Stanly, and Union, and the South Carolina counties of Chester, Lancaster, Union, and York. The region’s population — which currently stands at approximately 2.4 million — is projected to grow by 50 percent in 20 years and to double within 40 years and the goal of CONNECT Our Future is to develop plans that will enable the region to successfully cope with and benefit from such growth.
The initiative is being undertaken by the Catawba Regional Council of Governments which serves the South Carolina counties and the Centralia Council of Governments which serves the North Carolina counties. The initiative is a reflection of the economy of the region which is centered on the urban area of Charlotte, N.C., linking it with the ring of suburban communities that includes Rock Hill in South Carolina and Gastonia in North Carolina and rural areas like Union County in South Carolina and Lincoln County in North Carolina. The economic interconnectedness of the region means that all of its constituent counties will be affected by the growth that is expected to occur over the next four decades and officials in both councils of government have undertaken the CONNECT Our Future initiative to solicit public input on how to deal with its impact on the region in the years ahead.
That input is being solicited through a series of events sponsored by the councils of governments, the latest of which was an open house at the Union County Advanced Technology Center. The open house was itself a process in which those in attendance were invited to provide information and to learn about CONNECT Our Future, its background, the need for a plan for the next 40 years, and the process of developing that plan.
“What we’re in now is the first phase of the process,” Robby Moody, senior planner for Catawba Regional Council of Governments, said. “After they sign-in for the open house, we have a map on which people can place dots representing where they live, work and play.”
In addition to this demographic information, one of the information boards that lined the conference room in which the open house was held stated that the first phase of the CONNECT Our Future process is designed to gather information from residents about their community, what they value about it, and the challenges it faces. This information will in turn “be used to develop evaluation criteria for measuring growth options and provide input into the needs of the region.”
The open house process began at the map and demographic survey but continued around the room as participants were invited to read the information boards that formed a rough semicircle.
“What someone will do is come through and read the boards at their own pace,” Moody said. “The boards provide them with information on the need, the project, and the process.”
The boards that provide information on the need look at the impact of population growth on water supply, agricultural land and open space, jobs, transportation infrastructure, and housing.
The boards about the project itself describes CONNECT Our Future as “a three-year process for the 14-county bi-state region in which our communities come together to address problems we share and plan for the growth we face. It is funded by a $4.9 million HUD grant and $3 million in-kind local match already committed by organizations throughout our 14-county bi-state region. We will work together to create a regional growth framework to address the issues we face, and to build on the needs and the plans that already exist in our communities.”
Cole McKinney, Geographic Information System director for the Catawba Regional Council of Governments, said that the development of the framework and its availability to the communities of the region is the goal of CONNECT Our Future.
“At the end of the project there will be a regional growth framework,” McKinney said. “That’s really just a guide as to how we collectively agree to grow.
“The most important part of this is that it is all voluntary,” he said. “There is no requirement that the localities incorporate this into their plans. The tools and the directions and all the components that come out of the project will be available to the counties.”
The boards dealing with the process explain that it involves input from residents, business people, and elected officials from throughout the region. They also list the next phases of the process, the second of which will take place in mid-2013 with public forums on community growth options; the third, which will take place in late 2013 and early 2014 with public forums on regional growth options; and the fourth, which will take place in mid-to-late 2014 with open houses on the framework for growth.
Once participants have finished reading the information on the boards, they are then asked to fill out a survey — hard copy or online — on what they think is important for the future of their community and the region. The answers provided by participants at Thursday’s open house — and at the rest of the 30 open houses being held as part of Phase One — will be the basis for measuring how the region should grow.
For more information on CONNECT Our Future, go online at connectourfuture.org.
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com.