Pandemic delays county plan

CAREY JOHNSON, Times Staff Writer

LOUISBURG -- One casualty, at least initially, of COVID-19 has been the county's Comprehensive Development Plan.

The document, which will serve as a guide for county development for the next 20 years, was originally on the Franklin County Board of Commissioners' March 16 agenda, but was jettisoned in favor of brevity.

• In January 2019, commissioners awarded McGill Associates a $166,000 contract to develop the plan, which would help officials and staff determine where and how to direct resources that impact, among other things, transportation, infrastructure and services -- all the things that come along with growth.

McGill Associates and county staff solicited public input and crafted the plan, which was slated to be presented to county commissioners last week.

However, because of coronavirus concerns regarding gatherings, county commissioners pared back that March 16 meeting.

But during a March 12 budget preview, County Planning Director Scott Hammerbacher gave the board an idea of how the plan will be used by the county.

Their are two key aspects, Hammerbacher said:

• The plan is a policy, not a regulatory document, meaning it will not be the document that tells people when, where and how they can develop property;

• It is useless, he said, unless the county figures out a way to incorporate those policies into a plan of action.

"... Right now, it's just a plan," Hammerbacher told commissioners. "The critical component of this will be that it does not just sit on a shelf.

"One of the main ways to translate this policy document into a regulatory document is to update our Unified Development Ordinance (UDO)," he said. "Our UDO was last updated in 2001.

"I would say it's probably not very user friendly."

The comprehensive development plan, coupled with an updated UDO, Hammerbacher said, will be vital.

"... To have this plan [and an updated UDO] come into fruition is a necessity going forward for us, otherwise, really, we've wasted some money and resources on this if we're not able to accommodate that.

"So, that will be critical going forward on that."

It was not exactly clear when the comprehensive development plan would next be before the public for comments and then before commissioners for approval.

But, once that happens, Hammerbacher advised the board that his budget includes a request for funding to update the UDO.

"The Comprehensive Development Plan is policy ... it will not change how people can use their land in any way, shape or form, if it's adopted," Hammerbacher said.

"What could change, going forward, is if we make this plan, we translate that into an ordinance [the UDO], which is regulatory.

"Then that would be the next step."

That plan, said County Commissioner Harry Foy, will be critical.

"The plan that says, 'no you can't or yes you can,' that's the part I'm wondering about," he said. "... There are a lot more details to this."