Work begins on Highlands’ state mandated Comprehensive Plan

For years the town has talked about developing a Comprehensive Plan. Now that the state has ordered one on the books by July 1, 2022, the crunch is on.

Planning done town and countywide over the years hasn’t been in vain – those documents will be used as a jumping off place in the development of the Comprehensive Plan.

Reference materials include the town’s Planning Department website; the 2005 Land Use Plan; the 2010 Parking Study Recommendations, the 2012 Macon County Comprehensive Transportation Plan and the 2005 Macon County Recreation Master Plan.

Highlands Community Plan Survey & Virtual Meeting is set for Nov. 5, 5:30-6:30 p.m. Connection info will be on the website HERE.

A few months back, the town hired Stewart, Inc., to oversee the process of putting a comprehensive plan for the growth of Highlands together. It will entail incorporating plans already in place as well as eliciting input from stakeholders and citizens in the community.

On Oct. 21 and 22, Stewart, Inc. met with six stakeholder/steering committee groups categorized by type with a Town of Highlands Commissioner assigned to each group and then held a public input program at the Community Building for citizens.

The Stakeholder/Steering committee groups were: 

Group 1 – Parks, Recreation, Conservations, and Environmental Groups. Members were Lester Norris, Matt Canter, Gary Wein, Chris Wilkes, Jim Tate, Ellie Hogan, Jim Costa, Robin Tindall, and Commissioner Amy Patterson

Group 2 — Schools and Boards, MC School System, Private School Representative, Medical Rep, and the Highlands Planning Board. Members were Joe Allen, Sarah Holbrooks, Brian Jetter, Ronnie Beale, Rick Trevathan, and Tom Neal.

Group 3 – Developers, Builders, Realtors, Appraisers, Hotels/Accommodations, Land Planners, Engineers, and Surveyor. Members were John Underwood, David Bee, Sabrina Hawkins, Jeff Weller, David Bock, Stuart Foster, and Commissioner John Dotson 

Group 4 — Transportation, Utilities, and Town Staff. Members were Brian Burch, Josh Ward, Lamar Nix, Michael Mathis, Sonya Carpenter, and Commissioner Donnie Calloway.

Group 5 – Business Groups, Economic Development, the Chamber, and Downtown Property Owners. Members were Tommy Jenkins, David Young, Richard Delany, Wolfgang Green, Ashley Clark, Betty Holt, Kaye McHan, Debbie Bock, and Commissioner Brian Stiehler

Group 6 -– Neighborhood/Unincorporated Community Leaders, Citizen Boards, HOAs, Churches, and Historic Representatives. Members were Dave Latta, Marot Teed, Bill Stiefel, Randy Lucas, Ran Shaffner, Andrea Smith, Ric Siegel, Kay Craig, and Commissioner Marc Hehn.

Unfortunately, the public input program for citizens was poorly attended but Town Manager Josh Ward said he was “very pleased with the Stakeholder/Steering committee meetings turnout and participation.”

Those who did attend the public input program at the Community Building on Oct. 22 were presented with a large map of the Town of Highlands. Using blue, yellow and pink sticky notes, participants were asked to designate things they wanted to keep (What should stay? What do you love? What adds value to the community?), create (What do we need more of? What would you add or make?), or toss (What don’t you like? What causes problems or should be gotten rid of?), regarding Highlands.

Why the need for a Comprehensive Plan?

The State Legislature adopted amendments to the General Statues in July of 2019, which created a new Chapter 160D. The reasoning was to consolidate county and municipal land use standards of Chapters 153A (county) & 160A (municipal) into a new Chapter 160D. Chapter 160D, requires all counties and municipalities to update their unified development ordinances and comprehensive plans by July 1, 2022, in order to comply with the standards. 

A Comprehensive Plan is used as a guide for future direction and growth for a county or municipality. Highlands has always had a Land Use Plan, but not a Comprehensive Plan. A Comprehensive Plan includes not only land use, but all other aspects of county or municipal government, said Ward. 

Stewart, Inc. has laid out a four-phased process

Phase 1 was project initiation which is when the town OK’d the project and the hiring of Stewart, Inc. That took place late Summer of 2020; Phase 2 is taking place now, the fall and winter of 2020 and involves analysis and visioning; Phase 3 will be winter 2020 through spring 2021 during which the Comprehensive Plan will be developed and Phase 4 will involve the phasing in of the plan and its adoption spring and summer of 2021.

The Community Plan will function as the official comprehensive plan for the Town of Highlands and will be a tool used for guiding the growth, redevelopment, preservation, public improvements and other priorities of the town. The plan will contain a refined vision for the town and goals, policies and strategies to manage growth, reinforce its identity and character and provide high quality public facilities and services for all citizens.

Through a public process, Stewart, Inc. will develop a shared vision and goals for the future. The last Land Use Plan update was completed in 2005, and much has changed. This update will provide an opportunity for residents and stakeholders to look back and review progress that has been made. Those involved will then be able to think forward to weigh in on the priorities and vision for our town, explains Stewart, Inc. on the Highlands community plan website. 

The Community Plan impacts many facets of life: where people live, work and play, how they get around, the character of the town, conservation and environmental protection efforts, parks, housing, future businesses and more. A good plan requires a lot of public feedback from the community. 

Stewart, Inc. asks that the citizenry get involve by filling out the survey and attending public input meetings whether in-person or virtual.

According to Jake Petrosky, project manager with Stewart, Inc., in addition to numerous public engagement opportunities, there is a core project team that will be leading the Highlands Community Plan effort. This project team includes Highlands town staff, consultants, and a Steering Committee. Periodically throughout the process, the project team will be engaging with community stakeholders, and town governing bodies and commissions. 

Citizens are encouraged to click HERE to fill out a survey to let their view be known and to attend the The Highlands Community Plan Survey & Virtual Meeting set for Nov. 5, 5:30-6:30 p.m. Connection info will be on the website HERE.

Pictured at the top of the article is a map of Highlands where participants at a recent public input meeting affixed sticky notes to designate what they wanted Keep, Create, or Toss regarding Highlands. Blue notes (Keep) said: Greenway Trails, Provide greenery, Green space and Protect water supply. Yellow notes (Create) said more Community gardens, Exclusively pedestrian downtown district, Ecological, economical transit, Sidewalk needed to Post Office and to the Lodge, a Unified Pedestrian Plan and Pink notes (Toss) said Parking on Main Street and Exotic Invasives.   

By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper

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