Forward 2040 plan for city’s growth ‘slow-moving’ but ‘getting there,’ city says

Published 12:04 am Sunday, April 17, 2022

SALISBURY — The city’s comprehensive plan that will frame priorities and decisions over the next 20 years has been underway for more than two years now, but the city anticipates public outreach about drafted chapters later this year.

Ultimately, the Forward 2040 plan will provide a comprehensive framework for the city’s future over the next two decades. The plan will guide planning priorities and decisions for land use, capital improvements and future growth. To form the plan, staff have been using community input to compile relevant trends and impacts, vision statements and policy frameworks.

Planning Director Hannah Jacobson said the plan has been “a very slow-moving roller coaster,” but progress is still being made. The city intended to have drafts finalized last year, but Jacobson said all work is being done in-house rather than alongside a consulting firm, so staff are limited in how much time can be dedicated solely to the plan.

Since last year, Jacobson said the most time-consuming part of the process has been writing policy chapters “from the ground up” with subcommittee members. Each chapter has been assessed for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges, which has led to drafts, revisions, feedback and more revision.

Jacobson said she hopes to begin public outreach this summer or the fall.

“It’s been a very iterative process,” she said. “We’ve had dozens of meetings and are still not done. Once we have completed draft chapters, we’ll be bringing those out for extensive public comment and review and then more revising. We’re getting there.”

The 10 vision statements that will set the foundation and theme of the plan include:

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

• Thriving, livable neighborhoods with safe and flourishing neighborhoods and affordable housing choices for all.

• An equitable, inclusive community that works to promote opportunities to achieve wealth and eliminate disparities in 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.

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

Context-based urban design that calls on the city’s distinctive buildings and site designs to be characterized by a walkable scale, integrated open spaces and a harmoniously built environment.

• Local and regional partnerships, including the community, businesses, educational institutions, nonprofits and governmental agencies throughout the county.

• A vibrant community atmosphere that is unique and welcoming to all cultures and provides opportunities for everyone actively working to attract new residents, creating a “rich sense of place.”

• A healthy and active community, which includes access to locally grown food, recreational spaces and infrastructure for safe walking and biking.

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

Meanwhile, staff are also working on the building blocks for another part of the overall plan, which are growth strategies and the future land use map. This involves mapping environmental assets and development constraints, formulating sustainability models for development and site visits. Development constraints could include flood hazard zones, natural heritage areas and conservation easements.

“Hopefully we can roll that out at the same time as the policy chapters since it’s all related,” Jacobson said, adding that those pieces also look to 2040 and beyond.

Growth strategies can help the city, for example, prioritize corridors and nodes for redevelopment and future transportation incentives.

During the city’s planning retreat in January, staff informed council members that more than 1,600 residential units are in the development pipeline, with another 800 being discussed. As of 2020, the city’s population hovered around 35,000. While historically the average growth rate has hovered around a slow pace of less than 1%, a steady outlook predicts a population between 40,000 to 45,000 residents by 2040. Meanwhile, a moderate, 1.6% growth rate estimates that population between 45,000 and 50,000. And if the city grows at a rate of nearly 3%, the population is estimated between 60,000 and 65,000 by 2040.

Along with population increases, other factors that will paint a picture of Salisbury’s growth include technological advances, market preferences and demographic makeup. Annexation agreements will be needed with neighboring municipalities to determine boundaries as voluntary annexations increase in the extraterritorial jurisdiction.

About Natalie Anderson

Natalie Anderson covers the city of Salisbury, politics and more for the Salisbury Post. She joined the staff in January 2020 after graduating from Louisiana State University, where she was editor of The Reveille newspaper. Email her at natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com or call her at 704-797-4246.

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