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Charlotte Area

Harrisburg area tries to plan for growth

http://66.225.205.104/JC20100301.mp3

The town of Harrisburg has grown by 23 percent in the last decade while surrounding Cabarrus County has expanded 30 percent. Now, the area is at a crossroads of sorts. The town and county are in the process of deciding how much more growth they want to encourage in the area, if any. Planners are developing a new land use plan that addresses several quality of life issues. As WFAE's Jeff Cohen reports, the process is generating a lot of input. It's a late Tuesday afternoon. The Harrisburg Town Hall is bustling with about two dozen residents anxious to get their first look at the new plans. They pore over maps and listen intently to consultants. The stakes are high for Tony McMillion. He's here because he wants: "To make sure the Town of Harrisburg does not become a large city." The young father is worried that too much growth will hurt local schools and lead to increased crime. And if that happens? "I would relocate to probably Concord," McMillion says. Another resident, Jim Killian, fears that new traffic patterns will further clog the road in and out of his neighborhood. A new road is planned to ease the congestion, but Killian says Department of Transportation officials tell him that it could be 10 years before the new road is built. "In the 10-year time period between now and when the road is developed, there will be a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth." Residents took their time, studying maps and asking lots of questions. About taxes, schools, traffic patterns, roads, water and sewer lines. Located east of Charlotte just beyond Interstate 485 on Highway 49, Harrisburg and surrounding Cabarrus County have added schools and expanded other services to keep pace. But a $6.2 million county budget shortfall has intensified pressure to cut costs and find additional sources of revenue. Mark Swartz is a local developer. He says the fundamental issue facing residents is how to pay for the additional schools, police and other services needed as a result of the strong growth. "As those things grow, the people who live here have to pay more," he says. Swartz says the choice is higher taxes or continued growth that spreads costs out among more people. The new plan forecasts Harrisburg alone to grow from its current 5,800 residents to 9,300 by the year 2020. Alec Brebner, one of the land use consultants retained by Harrisburg and Cabarrus County, says the challenge is to create a plan that supports this level of growth without jeopardizing the area's small-town feel. "Growth doesn't have to completely encompass an entire city, or engulf a city. We can manage it in appropriate ways that protect what is valuable to the town." To that end, Brebner says the plan places a priority on protecting farmland, open spaces and existing neighborhoods. But he acknowledges that growth planning tends to elicit strong emotions. "There is never consensus around a lot of these things." County spokeswoman Aimee Hawkins expects a final plan as early as this summer, followed by votes by the Harrisburg Town Council and the Cabarrus County Commission.