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City expects public input sessions in the spring for Forward 2040 plan

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The city’s comprehensive plan that will frame priorities and decisions over the next 20 years is “quite a ways” from being complete, but Planning Director Hannah Jacobson says public input sessions for the plan are expected this spring.

City staff and locals who make up the steering committee have been working for more than a year to formulate the “Forward 2040: Salisbury’s Framework for Growth” plan, which will set the framework for Salisbury’s priorities and future decisions. The plan will include direction for land use, transportation, housing, infrastructure, environmental protection, public utilities and economic development  in the city.

Jacobson said due to staff turnover and COVID-19 the plan still has a long way to go before it’s completed. Currently, city staff are finalizing research before they host a number of virtual and pop-up sessions to gather more public input. Jacobson said she anticipates those sessions can begin in the spring.

At this time, some “pre-planning” has been completed, including an existing conditions report as well as a forces, trends and impact report. Jacobson said the existing conditions report provides “a snapshot of where we are today” in terms of demographic and land use development policies. The trends report is a “forward-looking companion piece” that considers trends in advancing technologies and climate change, for example, and how they will impact trends in employment, education and transportation. The plan will also lay the foundation for a future land use map.

Jacobson added that public health trends became another priority among committee members, particularly following the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.

City staff in November presented the city council with a list of 10 vision statements and themes that derived from responses and comments from more than 250 participants. Those statements provide the foundation and theme of the plan. They include:

A resilient, diverse economy with opportunities for growth, as well as attracting, cultivating and retaining a strong, diverse workforce. To do this, it’s outlined for the city to leverage its local assets and partnerships to promote business vitality and diversity.

Thriving, livable neighborhoods with affordable housing choices for all.

A unique, dynamic downtown where “history, innovation and arts animate” the heart of the city, and where there will eventually be diverse options for both “work and play.”

A high-quality built environment where “quality and distinctive buildings and site designs characterized by walkable scale, integrated open spaces and a harmonious built environment.”

Local and regional partnerships

An equitable, inclusive community that works to eliminate disparities in wealth, housing, safety, health and opportunities so that all may thrive.

A sustainable, clean natural environment, which calls on the city to “positively adapt to the effects of a changing climate” while protecting natural resources and reducing environmental impacts. This vision also increases community resilience to natural disasters.

Responsibly managed growth that builds on the city’s historic legacy and strong development standards to grow accessible transportation and adequate infrastructure.

A healthy and active community, which includes access to locally grown food.

A vibrant community atmosphere that is welcoming to all cultures and provides opportunities for everyone actively working to attract new residents.

DeeDee Wright, co-chair of the committee, said her primary concerns for the city moving forward include affordable housing, sufficient emergency services staff to serve the city and its annexations and diversity for not only Black residents, but Hispanic and Asian residents as well.

Wright also served on a committee that formulated the 2020 plan, which began work in 2001. Others who worked with her then include Mark Lewis, a former council member and current vice chairman on the Downtown Salisbury Inc. Board of Directors, as well as currently Planning Board member Bill Wagoner.

Wright said the current steering committee has seen a lot of participation, and new people have brought “refreshing” new ideas. Other committee members for the Forward 2040 plan include chair Sue McHugh, Historic Salisbury Foundation Executive Director Sada Stewart, Planning Board members Bill Burgin and John Schaffer, local artist and Pier and Curtain Home Restoration owner Taylor Ellerbee and local business owner Liliana Spears.

Wright added that, though the city must preserve its history, it can’t be the only focus because the majority of the city’s tax base would then not be supported.

Wright said throughout her time living in various different cities, she has seen many cities “spring up with poor planning.”

“That’s one thing Salisbury is good at,” she said, “is planning and making sure the city is inclusive. This plan is a blueprint that will make sure that the growth is well thought-out.”

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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