Dozens of New Hanover County citizens are brainstorming ways to use local land, resources, and economic opportunities in the not-so-distant future. It’s all part of the Comprehensive Plan, a public engagement initiative to plot the development necessary to accommodate this region’s projected population swell. In November, when the planning department initially outlined this plan, they told their commissioners they would constantly be reevaluating their strategy, to ensure that all citizens had a voice. However, a significant sector of the population hasn’t been accounted for.
At this point, the planning department relies on input from six themed citizen committees. Each meets for two-hour sessions over lunch, once a month, and Comprehensive Plan manager Jennifer Rigby says they’ve helped to highlight residents’ desires for more mixed-use zoning, recreational development, and access to healthy foods. The only problem, Rigby says, is that the county’s lower-income communities aren’t represented.
"And we are currently looking at strategies to help bring the underserved population to the table, and to participate in the Comprehensive Plan. So this next phase of the Comprehensive Plan, we’ll be making a large push to involve more underserved communities."
So far, these strategies involve working with churches and nonprofit groups that serve lower-income citizens. The planning department is also looking into a series of fall meetings that will take place in the evenings—when the workforce is more likely to be available.