Not a time to be closemouthed

Published 12:25 pm Wednesday, July 11, 2007

By Staff
Washington residents should mark their calendars now lest they miss a vital opportunity.
On Aug. 27 at 6 p.m., the city will host a public hearing to gather input on its land-use plan that will be sent to the state’s Coastal Resources Commission for review. That land-use plan is an important step toward appropriately managing the city’s growth.
So, if residents want to have any say about the future face of Washington, they can’t afford to sit at home on that August evening. Once the plan is done, it’s done. And all the should haves and could haves in the world won’t undo it.
City Manager James C. Smith has characterized the land-use plan as “one of the most important documents to the citizens of this community.” He’s right.
A land-use plan is a blueprint that can guide growth. Officials can use it to decide which areas need to grow and to figure out what kinds of growth work best for particular sections of the city.
It’s also a tool for strategy and policy. It can answer questions about what constitutes a public-access area and what doesn’t. It defines the city’s infrastructure capacity and its hazardous areas. It includes sections about water quality and local areas of concern.
In short, it is, as Smith said, “an extremely important document.”
Residents don’t have to look very far to see what can happen when they don’t speak up about issues related to the city’s growth. The Rembrey, a high-rise condominium complex planned for the former Whichard’s Beach, has drawn ire from residents again and again. But, as Smith said in a presentation at the N.C. Estuarium several months ago, “the horse is out of the barn” with that development. When introduced last summer, the project called for two 13-story buildings with 300 residences. City officials, although they had no official clout, had hoped to convince its South Carolina developer, Marick Home Builders &Developers, to trim it, but they had no luck.
The Rembrey is not within the city’s jurisdiction, but officials had hoped to use the city’s ability to provide water and wastewater-treatment services for the project as leverage. But Marick wouldn’t agree to scale back plans.
The Coastal Area Management Act requires that the city both update and hold a hearing about its land-use plan at least every five years. CAMA applies to the state’s 20 coastal counties and requires them to have land-use plans in accordance with guidelines established by the Coastal Resources Commission.
The city’s review of its plan could not have come at a better time. There’s a much greater demand to develop the city’s land these days, and people are particularly drawn to the waterfront.
Growth is good and necessary, and we welcome it. But there’s nothing wrong with being prudent about what goes where and how the city’s landscape looks.
This land-use plan won’t, by any means, signal the end of that discussion. But it can be an important step in the right — or wrong — direction. It’s up to residents to ensure their city is what they hope it can be.