Editorial: Planning for development

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 12, 2007

If the Rowan County commission still has reservations about reopening the process for a future land-use plan, here’s a thought. Shelve the term land-use plan, with its connotations of a rigid, overarching blueprint. Instead, the commission should put its efforts into a countywide economic-development enhancement plan.

That idea follows on discussions coming out of the Salisbury-Rowan Economic Development Commission’s annual retreat. Participants noted that the county’s supply of available industrial sites is dwindling, in part because tracts are being gobbled up for future residential development. That shrinkage of available sites will likely accelerate as neighboring counties impose tighter controls, adopt impact fees or even pass moratoriums that drive development elsewhere. Rowan is in a prime location to get the spillover.

If that spillover simply means more residential development, it will increase burdens on school and government services, a burden that existing taxpayers will have to share. If the spillover involves new businesses — businesses, for instance, like Toyota Racing Development’s proposed Rowan venture — that can provide good jobs and substantially boost the revenue base. While growth inevitably brings more people, more cars and more demands, the right kind of development also brings benefits. It can create better jobs, help enhance our schools and contribute to a better quality of life.

Isn’t that the bottom-line goal of any longterm plan for the county?

What’s intriguing about a focus on economic development is that it relates to so many other areas. It involves decisions about where water and sewer services will go, and where roads will be extended or widened. Those decisions, in turn, exert tremendous leverage on where growth itself will flow and be concentrated — or not be concentrated. That has a direct impact on whether neighborhoods remain people-friendly and livable, or decline amid congestion and the mish-mash of sprawl. Inevitably, in planning for economic growth, other factors must enter the mix.

This would not be new territory for the county, by any means. Recognition that the I-85 corridor is a vital artery in the county’s growth prompted county officials to steer industrial development in that direction years ago. Summit Corporate Center, Speedway Business Park and the development of a moderate incentives plan are further acknowledgment that county government has a role and a responsibility in helping to set the course for Rowan’s economic future.

Nor would it signal a retreat from the belief that longterm planning — whether it’s called a land-use plan, an economic growth plan or a neighborhood preservation and protection plan — is important for the county’s future. Peeling off economic development simply focuses on this vital component for more focused attention. The kind of economic development that takes place in Rowan County will affect our future perhaps more any other single factor. It makes sense to seize upon that as the foundation for future growth.