HUNTERSVILLE – In 2011, the last time Huntersville compiled information and expectations into a long-range vision for the community’s development, the town had about 13,000 fewer residents, prospects for now-approved road projects were little more than pie-in-the-sky proposals and commuter-rail service – now sidetracked due to a change in railroad company operational priorities – seemed like an imminent possibility.

And those are just some of the reasons the town board has endorsed Planning Director Jack Simoneau’s request to initiate the process of updating the plan, ideally with support from an outside consultant.

In his presentation at the board’s annual budget retreat, Simoneau’s summary of town growth experiences and expectations – as well as changes in regional and local transportation visions – were cited to highlight the need for a renewed review of the path elected officials and citizens want the town to follow. Commissioners’ unofficial nods accepting the idea provided Simoneau direction to include funding for the plan in his departmental budget proposal.

“The support means planning for the study in our 2018-19 budget,” said Simoneau, who estimated during the retreat consultant services would cost $125,000 to $200,000 depending on the level of participation involved. The proposal will be outlined for the board during budget-setting discussions between now and June.

Simoneau said the plan will be to “start from scratch” asking residents to provide input on “everything – land use, housing, transportation, public facilities – to see what they want, what their visions are for the town.”

Changes since 2011

Simoneau said the town’s planning staff created long-range plans in 1995, 2003 and again in 2011 (the current package is commonly referenced as the town’s 2030 plan). Simoneau said standard practice is to update long-range plans every seven to 10 years, adding Huntersville’s status warrants a revised plan.

“The size of the town, the development that has occurred and the plans in place for roads and other additions, all of that justifies a fresh look,” he said, while also endorsing an approach using outside experts.

Town Manager Anthony Roberts also supported the plan update and a partnership with consultants.

“My recommendation is we do this now and determine what we want to see in our growth projections,” Roberts said. “With all that is happening, and coming, the staff may not have the time or the specific expertise to deal with all of it. I believe a new set of eyes would be valuable ... could bring some insight we don’t have.”

In supporting the idea, officials emphasized various aspects of the town’s past and present that have changed since the last plan for the future was adopted.

Mayor John Aneralla zeroed in on the dimmer outlook for commuter rail – underscored by a recent Charlotte Areas Transit System report identifying enhanced bus service as the most likely mode of mass transit in north Mecklenburg in the foreseeable future – as a prominent reason to revisit the plan.

“A lot of the 2030 plan was based on the train coming,” Aneralla said. “From that, we can conclude we need to adjust.”

Commissioner Mark Gibbons added that funding and approval for more than $500,000 in local road projects – wished-for but unfunded when the 2030 plan was adopted – was another reason to update the plan. And Commissioner Dan Boone added the I-77 Express Lanes, expected to open later this year, were also not part of the community outlook in 2011.

Commissioner Melinda Bales summed up the majority of the board’s comments.

“We need to do it,” she said about updating the plan. “We need to see what we’ve achieved and what still needs to be addressed.”

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