‘Plan’ is roadmap to Highlands future

Draft Plan Virtual Public Meeting tonight from 6-7 p.m.

As comprehensive plans go, the Highlands Community Plan has moved along at record pace.

In July 2020, when the town learned the state had mandated a community plan by 2022 for any municipality that enforces zoning, plans were set into motion and the Stewart company was hired.

Now, just a year later, a Draft Plan Public Meeting of the proposed Highlands Community Plan was held on June 16 at the Community Building both to introduce the public to the plan and to garner input. The majority of the presentation was given by Jake Petrosky, Planning Manager at Stewart Consulting and the Project Manager for Highlands.

There will also be a Zoom meeting tonight from 6-7 p.m. that will mirror the June 16 meeting, click HERE for details.

Tonight’s virtual Zoom meeting will mirror the presentation given on June 16 at the Community Building.

The purpose of the Plan is to establish a framework for growth and development while maintaining the character and the livability of the town. And the Plan has hit every button – short-term rentals, employee housing, parking, downtown development, and land use pertaining to preserving Highlands historic aspects as well as its natural ones.

To see the Draft Highlands Community Plan, click HERE.

Through year-long community input, the plan captures the community’s goals and distills thoughts and feelings about Highlands into a set of policies that will guide decision making for the next 10-20 years.

It serves as a guide for policy changes, land use and transportation planning, economic development, housing strategy, and capital improvement planning.

Specifically, the Plan considers a future land use map, which considers housing, downtown development, tourism, recreation and natural resources, transportation, infrastructure and public services.

After the Draft Plan Public Meeting on June 16, presenter Jake Petrosky of Stewart Consulting answered attendees’ questions about the Highlands Community Plan.

Overlying themes emerged from public input that consider:

  • Town Character: Maintain and enhance the town center’s village character that is surrounded by mostly low-density housing that blends with the natural environment.
  • Environmental Preservation: Preserve and enhance the natural environment and the scenic beauty of Highlands.
  • Culture and History: Preserve and promote the rich cultural historic resources of Highlands.
  • Pedestrian Focus: Create a downtown and commercial area that emphasize pedestrian comfort and safety.
  • Partnerships: Cultivate ongoing community partnerships with area organizations and governments to plan for and protect the plateau.
  • Local Economy: Support and sustain the local economy, including downtown businesses, tourism and the arts, and outdoor recreations.

The Land Use chapter of the Plan includes a Future Land Use Map with defined character areas.

These sections are meant to guide future growth and development. It includes two downtown areas that allow for different uses, character and densities.

For instance, an area for small mixed-use nodes that transition away from downtown to residential areas called Neighborhood Mixed Use; small mixed-use nodes along major corridors; three residential areas of varying densities; areas for new housing types near downtown; sensitive areas where lower density development should be integrated with the landscape to reduce impacts on natural resources such as the use of Cluster Developments.

All the policies for each category include detailed subsets (not shown here) outlining ways to accomplish the goal.

Land Use (LU)

  • Policy LU 1: Regularly evaluate and update the Community Plan and Unified Development Ordinance (UDO).
  • Policy LU 2: Reinforce the existing town character through the design of new development and land use decisions.
  • Policy LU 3: Manage growth along major entry corridors and edges.
  • Policy LU 4: Encourage a limited mix of housing types in defined areas. Create opportunities for small, single-family homes with shared open space (pocket neighborhoods) near downtown and/or other commercial areas.
  • Policy LU 5: Encourage lodging and tourism related rentals while limiting negative impacts on existing residents and businesses. This section deals with and has ideas about mixed-use housing, employee housing, and short-term rentals.

Downtown Tourism (DT)

Downtown improvement was also a part of the plan and involved the development of parking decks as well as new pocket-park areas even the re-development of Maple Street.

  • Policy DT 1: Maintain and enhance Highlands’ small-town feel and village character.
  • Policy DT 2: Improve pedestrian facilities and increase wayfinding downtown improvements include intersection improvements, streetscape improvements, greenspace improvements and redevelopment opportunities.
  • Policy DT 3: Manage public parking and study opportunities for increased onstreet and off-street public parking.
  • Policy DT 4: Further study potential uses of town-owned properties and improvements to Downtown streetscapes.
  • Policy DT 5: Continue marketing and events that encourage visitation.
  • Policy DT 6: Preserve and enhance the Town’s parks and green Infrastructure.

Recreation and Natural Resources Policies (RNR)

  • Policy RNR 1: Support recreation options and outdoor tourism.
  • Policy RNR 2: Discourage intense development on steep slopes and mountain ridges.
  • Policy RNR 3: Protect views and natural resources in Town and on the greater Highlands plateau.
  • Policy RNR 4: Encourage open space preservation and tree protection in new development.
  • Policy RNR 5: Protect the Plateau’s water quality.

Transportation and Roadway Policy (T)

  • Policy T 1: Maintain a resilient transportation system that caters to a variety of users.
  • Policy T 2: Encourage context-sensitive design of roadways
  • Policy T 3: Prioritize pedestrian safety, connectivity, accessibility, and comfort.
  • Policy T 4: Fill sidewalk gaps and improve accessibility.
  • Policy T 5: Continue to improve Highlands’ Greenway System.
  • Policy T 6: Balance needs for parking with aesthetics and environmental impacts.
  • Policy T 7: Partner with Macon County Transit.
  • Policy T 8: Plan for electric vehicles (EVs) in Highlands.

Infrastructure and Public Services Policies (PS)

  • Policy PS 1: Ensure adequate waste disposal and sanitation services
  • Policy PS 2: Maintain and enhance the electric grid.
  • Policy PS 3: Encourage energy efficiency and alternative fuel vehicles
  • Policy PS 4: Improve access to highspeed internet and expand cell coverage.
  • Policy PS 5: Focus water and sewer service improvements on existing town limits.
  • Policy PS 6: Allow for limited extension of water and sewer to areas near town limit boundaries if conditions are met.
  • Policy PS 7: Encourage an efficient, financially sound water and sewer system.
  • Policy PS 8: Protect water quality in Lake Sequoyah.
  • Policy PS 9: Maintain adequate fire and emergency management response.
  • Policy PS 10: Maintain adequate police coverage in the Town of Highlands.

Meanwhile, work on the Highlands Community Plan will continue until a final draft is adopted by the Town Board.

The Policy recommendations are just that. They are meant to guide the development and the work of the Town Board, Planning Board, Zoning Board and various committees into the future.

Pictured at the top of the article is Jake Petrosky giving the first public presentation of the draft Highlands Community Plan.

By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper
Photo by Brian O’Shea, Plateau Daily News

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