As Hillsborough enters 2017 continuing to grow at a rapid pace, the Town Board and Planning Department are assessing which projects they will tackle this coming year. So far, they have indicated an intention to primarily manage the large amount of ongoing construction and development throughout the town.
With over 20 active construction sites, including the Collins Ridge proposal near Daniel Boone Village, there won’t be much extra time to work on other initiatives or special projects, Planning Director/Assistant Town Manager Margaret Hauth said.
Last year the board identified their top three priorities as connectivity, economic development, and affordable housing, but in 2017, “there’s just not going to be a lot of time this year to move the needle much on those,” Hauth said.
Acknowledging the importance of those priorities, a public space division added emphasis to the topic of connectivity between the town and its citizens, with Public Space Manager Stephanie Trueblood and Economic Development Planner Shannan Campbell carrying full schedules and plans. But in regards to new small area plans and adopting new priorities, it is unlikely that the town will look at anything that falls outside of the projects they currently have.
The current 2030 vision was adopted in March 2015 after going through several stages of review and editing, after, in 2010 and 2011, the Town realized the necessity to regularly update the document. They had already completed many objectives in the previous vision document, and those they didn’t had changed or dissipated as other objectives took priority. The March 2015 document was practically a complete rewrite, as the new vision held language to better feature the relationship between town government and town activity.
The Town’s current vision states, “We envision Hillsborough as a prosperous town, filled with vitality, fostering a strong sense of community, which celebrates its unique heritage and small-town character.”
The vision is to maintain those components, to continue to create a common ground on what those things mean, and then either maintain or grow on those, Hauth said.
Plan Implementation Schedule
The vision outlines ongoing short, medium, and long term objectives, and all are concise and focused.
2017 will focus primarily on completing the unfinished short-term plans originally projected to be finished by June 2016, while the next couple years will focus on the medium-term plans to hopefully be completed by 2020, according to Hauth.
Short-term objectives focus on things like historical preservation, and supporting environmental and sustainability efforts, as well as many other things that can be achieved on a day-to-day and year-to-year basis.
Some of the medium and long term plans include exploring options for town-wide wireless Internet service, continually supporting options that are more sustainable and environmentally friendly, filling sidewalk gaps, working with partners to re-establish Amtrak train service and commuter rail service, and more.
Though the vision lists numerous objectives, many of these are small in comparison to some of the development and town growth projects coming down the pipeline.
To see the full list of objectives, the full 2030 Vision document, the Strategic Growth plan, and other documents outlining future plans, visit the town’s website and specifically the planning department’s section.
Permit growth data
Looking at developmental growth over the last several years, it shows the significant change in volume of activity.
In 2015, the town issued 343 zoning permits, which is the primary permit they issue for new construction, change in business or sign, etc.
In 2014 the town issued 201 permits, in 2013, 193; 2012, 166, and so on.
The last time they had such a large number was in 2001 with 251. In 1993 only 83 permits were issued, so though it fluctuates, it is following a steady increase.
Traffic on Churton
Over the last 20 years, Hillsborough has considered many alternatives to the bottleneck that occurs daily on Churton Street, yet the bypass alternatives explored to relieve congestion have been deemed “insufficient benefit to the town” in return for the costs involved.
Recently the town and the North Carolina Department of Transportation abandoned a project to extend Elizabeth Brady Road north over the Eno River, as it would cost over $30 million and reduce only a projected 10 percent of traffic through downtown.
“The [Town] Board just felt like we had studied it and there was not an option that was available, and we are going to live with the congestion for a while,” Hauth said. “Now they are starting to get feedback from the citizens that we [still] have a problem and maybe we need to look at it, but I still don’t have direction to go look for a new bypass or a new alternative.”
The town continues to have “eyes out for small projects” to relieve some congestion, to focus on safety particularly for pedestrians, and to provide alternative transportation improvements, including sidewalk, bikeways and potential public transportation expansion.
West Hillsborough in 2017
Recently many West Hillsborough residents have voiced their strong disapproval of the possibility of the rezoning of a 3.3-acre parcel of land located across from The Village Diner, the block of land between Benton and W. King Streets, with Collins and Jones Avenues on the opposite edges. An application to rezone has yet to be submitted and Hauth added that the project “has a big impact, but it is a small project in comparison to everything else [the town has] going on.”
In 2017, neighborhood meetings will commence as usual, and if a proposal comes forward, an updated report will follow.
Economic and Cultural Diversity initiatives
Listed as one of five goals in the vision is to support economic and cultural diversity in the community.
“We’re seeing the same kinds of things happen in the downtown area here that you see nationwide,” Hauth said. “Downtowns are no longer a retail location – you’ll see niche markets, and specialty markets, but that’s kind of leaving and downtowns are becoming more about offices and then supporting the folks that are there both during the day and the residents that live nearby in the evening for food and drink.”
In terms of cultural diversity, the demographics show increasing diversity, but as Hillsborough is a small town, it is very difficult to narrow down data into individual neighborhoods and communities.
“We still struggle to try and recruit volunteers that come from diverse backgrounds to serve on our advisory boards,” Hauth said. “That’s still a really high priority. We know what the census tells us our population demographics are and we would love to have our volunteer boards reflect that demographic more, but it can be a struggle.”
Reflecting and preserving
The planning department and Town Board seem to place a heavy emphasis on transparency, and supporting diversity, heritage, history, and the needs of all citizens, especially those that jive with the intended vision of retaining the town’s charm and small-town feel.
So much of the progress takes a long time, but is worth it on the other hand. Hauth – who has been with the town for 25 years now – used Riverwalk as an example.
“I didn’t ever really think we’d get it built while I was still working for the town,” she said. “But now it’s done and it’s wonderful – folks absolutely adore it.”
In 2016, the Eno River Association has added more protected land to the Eno River State Park, Cup A Joe moved and expanded, and multiple new businesses opened in town. In 2017, the Occaneechi Replica Village will be reconstructed, Mystery Brewing will expand and add a kitchen, the Wooden Nickel will expand and move down the street, and it seems Hillsborough is continuing to flourish while keeping its rich and unique character.
“When I came here 25 years ago, the Collins property was sitting in the middle of town, and I was like, ‘I wonder what’s ever going to happen to that. That’ll be kind of fun to watch,’” Hauth said. “Now it’s coming forward.
“I know change is hard for folks. I’m not particularly pro or anti growth, but growth and economic activity is good for a community,” she continued. “If you’re not growing, you're probably slipping backwards, and with everything that our residents want us to do, the services they want us to provide, we need more folks here paying for that.”
These projects are expensive and though projects like Riverwalk received grants, other ideas proposed by residents put strain on a budget for a town this size.
“I’m glad to see the activity because that means there will be money coming forward to try and fund everything folks want to do, but it’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be without pain,” Hauth said. “Yes things are going to change and folks are going to have to adapt to new normals and that’s just, it’s terrible to say, but that’s life, and life is change.”