North Carolina’s municipal officials are familiar with the countless lists and rankings that have emerged in recent years to compare communities. While we won’t discuss the validity or accuracy of such rankings in this article, local development trends are consistent with rankings that place Concord among the nation’s fastest growing communities. With this growth comes the need to constantly plan for the future. These are exciting times as we prepare not only for the services and lifestyle of a very active baby boomer generation, but also for members of younger generations who are staying and raising families in their hometown community, and for newcomers moving here to enjoy the quality of life. Concord City Council has placed a priority on ensuring our organization is planning for the future, not only in terms of how we grow, but also with regard to service and infrastructure needs.
In 2016, the city completed an update to the City’s Downtown Master Plan. This process started with a comprehensive parking study, followed by a market analysis focused on the great potential that exists for continued development in the areas of residential, retail, dining, and office uses. Contracted experts worked with our staff to solicit stakeholder input on future design aspects of downtown, building on the information from the parking study and the market analysis. The goal was to generate ideas for how we can make Concord’s downtown even more appealing to people that would like to live, work, and play in an urban environment. These ideas were formally presented to City Council and adopted as the 2016 Downtown Master Plan.
Planning staff has quickly followed the Downtown Master Plan by starting the update of the city’s Land Use Plan, one of City Council’s goals for this year. Land Use Plans present a vision for the future, with long-range goals and objectives for all development activities. This includes guidance on how to make decisions on public and private land development proposals. In other words, it provides an outline of how we want the community to grow and look in future years. This plan will provide the framework for development in Concord through the year 2030. Like the Downtown Master Plan, there will be many opportunities for stakeholder input throughout the process. Follow along at concordnc.gov/2030.
As the community grows, so does the demand for services and facilities. Another City Council goal for this year was the updating of the Parks and Recreation Master Plan. Obviously, more facilities are needed to meet the demands of Concord’s growing population. What type of facilities and how to prioritize meeting demands are not obvious. We know we must balance the needs of an active aging population with the needs of kids and younger adults looking for more opportunities for recreation. The City Council adopted the Comprehensive Parks and Recreation Master Plan in February 2017, which is available at concordparksandrec.org. Staff is now working to evaluate which of the plan’s recommendations and strategies should be included in an action plan for the next five years.
We also continue to plan for our infrastructure and core services such as those provided by our Water Resources Department. A growing population and greater emphasis on environmental concerns require us to focus on how we maintain and improve our water and wastewater infrastructure. Together with our partners in Kannapolis, we have taken a major step in bringing in more water via the completed Albemarle water line. At the same time, we continue to evaluate the condition of and plan for improvements to our existing water plants and distribution system. The equal focus on new and existing infrastructure helps us protect public investment, meet higher environmental standards, and prepare for future needs. Master planning processes for water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure have been coordinated in recent years.
The City Council has made sure our organization is planning for the future through these processes. However, with planning for service and infrastructure needs come decisions on how these needs are paid for.
Communities in North Carolina that are not growing (and those that are even declining) in population will quickly tell you of the burden placed on their residents by a stagnant or decreasing tax base. At the same time, areas experiencing tremendous residential growth have to make sure that everyone helps to pay the cost of maintaining service levels and expanding infrastructure, so the financial burden is balanced and does not fall primarily on existing residents and businesses. When considering the cost to existing residents and businesses, tough decisions have to be made to protect the financial stability of impacted local governments. This is a good challenge to have, but it is still a challenge.
While growth is vital to a vibrant community, growth at all cost (and no benefit) is not financially feasible and can impact the quality of life. Those profiting from residential growth can make an extremely positive contribution to the local economy. However, it is important to balance that profit with the impact on the community, by contributing a fair share towards the infrastructure and service needs they create.