MOORESVILLE – In the decade since Mooresville’s Downtown Master Plan was written, much has changed.
“If you look at where we were in 2008 … you had one of the largest recessions in the country’s history,” Mooresville Planning and Community Development Director Rawls Howard said. “The old plan was pretty much getting adopted right when that … recession hit. So then you had this plan that was driven by a certain development reality at that point, and that reality changed for everybody across the country.”
That’s one of the main reasons the town has decided to update its comprehensive land use plan – of which the Downtown Master Plan will be a part – so it aligns with the town’s present-day goals and visions for the future.
Comprehensive land use plans are used to make sure all separate town plans – including those for the downtown area – align with what the town officials envision for Mooresville’s future growth and development.
Mooresville has been lucky in that it has seen steady growth since the recession.
“But it’s also fair to say that … we are not the same community that we were in 2008,” Howard said.
One of the biggest changes that has occurred is the rapid growth on the west side of Interstate 77, where new shopping centers and housing have continued to pop up where fields used to be.
Howard calls that area “28117” – the area’s ZIP code – and says it has a different “vibe” from what the town has traditionally seen as its downtown “core.”
“The goal of this comprehensive planning effort … is trying to tie those two ZIP codes together and trying to tie the two efforts of what’s going on with the historic area of town, which we colloquially call the 28115, to the 28117,” Howard said.
Bridging the gap
Howard said despite the growth elsewhere, he still sees downtown Mooresville as the heart of town.
“A lot of people can have their own perspectives as to what a heart is,” Howard said. “If your heart is shopping, then I would say probably not too far off is the (N.C.) 150-Williamson Road area. But typically a heart is going to be more than shopping.”
Howard said downtowns have historically been seen as town centers because they tend to hold civic institutions like town halls and courthouses.
“You have things like your citizen engagement, where you go for your civic institutions,” Howard said.
But Howard said “there’s no denying” the west side of I-77 is an important area of growth.
“And I imagine in our (comprehensive) planning process … we’re certainly going to be identifying those areas west of I-77 where we can grow other types of civic institutions, like libraries, and do expansions of civic institutions that you typically find on this side of town,” Howard said.
Such infrastructural changes and additions are one way the town plans to “bridge any perceived gaps” between the two sides of I-77.
“Because you have a lot of new growth that’s happening out in the (28117) area,” Howard said. “But likewise, if you look at where growth is happening, we also have growth headed toward our south. So we have growth that’s happening wherever, but in general we’re trying to be able to plan as one community.”
Tying it all together
The town’s current Downtown Master Plan, adopted in 2009, identifies four main “focus areas”: North Main Street, South Main Street, the downtown “core” and the mill district.
Howard said each function somewhat separately but are still “part of the same mix.”
Through both infrastructural improvements and new branding, Howard hopes to connect more of the 28117 ZIP code area with the town’s current focus in the 28115 area.
“For example, how and where we put roads, overpasses, bridges,” Howard said. “How we design where the neighborhoods go and how they tie together. And I think outside of roads, you’re looking at infrastructure such as parks and greenways and how they all tie in together.”
Mayor Miles Atkins said the town is also in the process of examining those infrastructural connections in the LangTree area of the 28117 ZIP code.
“There’s over 500 acres between I-77 and (N.C.) 115 that fronts Langtree across the street from Lowe’s headquarters,” Atkins said. “We have been working with developers … to understand what the infrastructure can accommodate.”
Atkins said in North Carolina developments are often built before roads to serve them are in place.
“What’s unique about LangTree,” Atkins said, “is that we’re in the position – instead of doing piecemeal developments – of working with them to see what current infrastructure could sustain and what’s needed to support density.”
Connecting common themes
Howard also said he hopes to consolidate some of the town’s current small area plans – plans that set visions for how certain parts of town will be developed – into “one master document” to capitalize on some of the plans’ similarities.
“I think everybody can agree we want nice, safe neighborhoods,” Howard said. “Or that we don’t like traffic congestion. … If you see those things as common themes that are going through those small area plans, then I think as staff what we’re working on with our consultant is to try to translate that into larger policies that can be applied town-wide.”
Howard said the town’s comprehensive traffic plan will also be updated and tied with the overall comprehensive plan in order to reduce traffic and congestion as the town continues to grow.
“This is a plan that we use to assess how we allocate money and efforts to make capital improvements to our transportation network,” Howard said.
Howard said most residents don’t realize that many of Mooresville’s main roads – including N.C. 115, N.C. 21 and N.C. 150 – are owned by the state.
“So the comprehensive transportation plan also serves as a document that helps bridge a conversation between us and DOT about how we allocate future money for improvements,” Howard said.
Atkins said connecting the two comprehensive plans – land use and transportation – will help the Mooresville Board of Commissioners make more informed decisions.
“It allows the town board as they’re making decisions … to know where the town is looking to grow and how it’s looking to grow,” Atkins said. “It serves as a guide for the town board of commissioners when they’re making any kind of decisions regarding rezoning, conditional use and how all that land comes together, so the board is not making decisions out of context.”
The process of updating the comprehensive plans has been under way for about a year and still has another year or so to go.
But Howard and Atkins said citizen input will be crucial as the town continues to think about what Mooresville’s “big picture” is.
“What’s neat about the process is it’s incredibly important to have the citizens engaged and sharing their vision for what they want Mooresville to be,” Atkins said. “We’re going to continue to grow, and we want to manage that growth in a way that preserves the … quality of life that continues to drive people here.”
The town created a website – www.onemooresville.org – in early July to inform people about the ongoing process and give them a portal through which they could share their ideas.
“It also allows you to sign up and give your email address so you can receive announcements, notifications, if we’ve got meetings that are coming up,” Howard said.
But Howard said the website isn’t the only way residents can connect with local officials about the future of Mooresville.
“You might benefit just by coming out to a community meeting and engaging staff and talking to them face-to-face,” Howard said. “If somebody is overwhelmed by a website, I’ve always found that if you can come and put a face to the effort, that it really helps the conversation.”
The town will be holding a number of community meetings through the comprehensive plan update process. The first will be held in September.