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What is FOCUS trying to do? Why are we making a plan?

Almost 400 thousand people live in the tri-county region. Another 100,000 people will be added to the three (3) counties, 29 towns and numerous communities in Southeastern North Caroline. FOCUS is an important opportunity to look ahead and answer questions such as, “Where will those new citizens choose to live? “ How will they get around the region?” “How can we grow in a way that is both economically competitive and resilient?” “How will changes affect our quality of life?”  Will our kids want to live here? Can they find well-paying jobs? Am I going to lose what I love best about the Southeastern North Carolina area?

What is FOCUS?

In 2011, a Consortium group of twelve (12) government and non-profit organizations with the support of 32 additional organizations partnered in an application for funds from HUD, DOT and EPA. Awarded 1.13 million dollars, the grant requires a single deliverable, a Regional Plan for Sustainable Development (RPSD). The core of the region consists of Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender Counties centered around Wilmington.

The FOCUS of the planning initiative is” Your Ideas; Your Region; Your Future.” The Plan will identify options for communities and citizens to make our region stronger and better. To achieve this, the plan will look at alternative strategies in the areas of economy, environment, housing, opportunity, transportation and healthy communities.

Who is doing the RPSD?

In addition to the Consortium members working in collaboration with Cape Fear Council of Governments, the plan content being developed with FOCUS groups representing different areas of the region (coastal, rural, suburban and urban). Importantly, public input will also guide content for the plan.

To achieve a successful integrative process, FOCUS will look at strategies in the areas economic, environment, health, housing, opportunity and transportation, with members of the region who are technical experts in these areas. A Regional Advisory Committee (RAC) comprised of local elected officials will also help oversee the process.

What is sustainability?

The word sustainability means different things to different people and different communities. People sometimes define it as “taking care of our current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs” or ”Thinking about what kind of place you would like your grandchildren to live in.” Sustainability is a way to think about the future and to make informed decisions now that help ensure access to the things we will need and will want like clean air and water, good jobs, safe neighborhoods, quality housing, transportation options, and open space and parks. A critical part of the involvement process is to learn what sustainability means to the communities around the region and to use their input to help shape a regional vision for the future.

Why is public involvement important?

To be a success, the plan must reflect ideas from residents, businesses, community organizations, and neighborhood groups from around the regions. The entire two year planning process will include extensive public engagement that will help to shape the plan’s vision, goals, and recommendations. Residents can share their ideas as part of the upcoming public meetings to be held in each county, respond to a survey and participate in on-line forums.

What is the difference between FOCUS regional plan and the Transportation 2040 Plan?

The FOCUS regional plan will create an overall strategic vision across multiple topics, including transportation. The Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization (WMPO) Long Range Transportation Plan will more specifically consider transportation investments. The Transportation Plan is now mandated every four (4) years, identifying transportation investments that will be made in the next few years, as well as long term transportation strategies. Both plans will begin with ideas received from the public during this first phase of citizen outreach, input gathered from public meetings, surveys and on-line discussions. Such input will help set overall priorities and goals and shape strategies and recommendations. Additionally, the Transportation Plan will cover the urbanized areas but not to the full three (3) county territories. You can learn more about the WMPO Long Range Transportation Plan here: http://www.transportation2040.org/

How does the FOCUS regional plan relate to local plans?

The regional plan does not replace any plans undertaken by local communities but looks to build on previous and current local work. In this guidance document local governments will be able to choose from a menu of options that complement their own plans and initiative.

Additionally FOCUS, regional in nature, will consider many variables and considerations that local communities may not have to incorporate into their plans or ordinances.

Is the goal of the FOCUS Regional Plan to make the whole region look and function the same way?

No. A goal of the plan is to preserve the special character of all the region’s diverse communities. The plan will include policy options for communities in urban, suburban, rural, and coastal areas. Communities can choose to adopt the options that are the best fit. The region will be most competitive if the development patterns are based on assets and complementary to each other.

Does the plan impose any mandates?

NO. The planning process will not require local governments to adopt any policies recommended in the plan. The plan is not about limiting current or future choices but about understanding and expanding them where possible. For example, strategies might include giving people better access to different types of housing or job opportunity. People will their own decisions about where they live and how they travel, but new ideas related to neighborhood design or transit, including walking and biking, could make even more options available for residents.

Who is going to pay for all the ideas generated by this plan?

Ideas do not cost money. Since the plan does not require communities to implement strategies, local governments will not have to take on new projects or costs unless they choose to implement an idea. A goal of the plan would be to give local governments more information about public investments made for transportation and other infrastructure projects. Better Information can help support better decisions that are more coordinated, efficient, and effective. If local government(s) chooses to undertake a project, the plan can also help attract capital funding including grants or private investment.

Is this just about the environment?

Protecting natural resources is an important element of the plan. But the initiative will also explore strategies in areas of job creation, infrastructure, housing, health, and transportation, and how they are interrelated in successful regions. The plan poses bigger questions; “Do we like where we live? How can we sustain our region, when we know that the population is going to grow, that the world is changing and that the future will be more competitive?”

Why should I care what happens in other counties?

Some decisions made at the local level, especially those related to transportation, infrastructure, economic development, and natural resources, have an impact on people all around the region. The loss of tree cover or open space, and changes in watersheds in one place, for example, can affect other communities. The intent of the plan is to highlight how interconnected we really are and recognize that jurisdictional boundaries defined by local governments are not behavioral boundaries observed by citizens who work, live, play and travel throughout the region.

How will the FOCUS Regional Plan be implemented?

The draft plan will be presented to the local governments in the region.  It will be a choice for each local government to decide if the RSDP has merit and practicality for its jurisdiction and the region. Moreover, regional organizations, private sector partners, and others can voluntarily adopt the plan for specific plan elements. The ultimate strength in the plan will come from broad consensus and popular support.

What are the Benefits of the FOCUS Regional Plan?

We live in a special region that is diverse and fast growing. This plan will be a critical opportunity to anticipate change and shape the future to create places that are safe, healthy, attractive, and prosperous. The current citizens who have made deep emotional and financial commitments to our region and those future residents who we will be attracted to the region must benefit from this planning. The drawl will be good jobs, safe neighborhoods, broad opportunities, challenging schools, affordable housing options and a preserved Southeastern North Carolina culture.

The plan can help to:

  • Make future public investments better coordinated and more efficient.
  • Expand choices that people around the region have for housing and transportation.
  • Protect natural resources and environmental assets.
  • Provide a shared vision for the future of Southeastern North Carolina.
  • Recognition of Southeastern North Carolina as a regional presence for the state and federal level support.
  • Increase the region’s and communities’ economic competitiveness.

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