SPRING LAKE - From housing and economic development to schools and reviving Main Street, residents, business owners and others weighed in recently on how they would like to see Spring Lake grow.
The Cumberland County planning staff held stakeholder meetings Jan. 13 as it looks to update the 2010 Spring Lake Area Land Use Plan. The plan serves as a guide for local officials and outlines a vision for how the town could grow.
The stakeholder meetings were broken down into four categories: infrastructure, services, economic development and housing.
Since May, the Cumberland County planning staff has been working with a steering committee to update the Spring Lake Area Land Use Plan, which was last adopted in 2002. A public kickoff meeting was held Sept. 30 to discuss the planning process, share research and ask for public input on areas such as what types of housing developments residents would like to how to develop Main Street.
The strengths, weaknesses and opportunities identified at the kickoff meeting were brought to the stakeholder meetings for further discussion and to garner additional feedback. Business owners, property owners and residents were among those who sat in on the various sessions.
Residents identified updated parks, better maintenance on roads and sidewalks in neighborhoods, more beautification efforts and downtown revitalization as areas they would like to see addressed.
“Our goal was to dive deep into what each group perceived as the needs and challenges facing the Spring Lake area and to brainstorm land-use based solutions together,’’ said Annette Massari, comprehensive planner for the Cumberland County Planning and Inspections Department and the lead on the Spring Lake Land Use Plan. “This gives us a more nuanced understanding of what would make a relevant and actionable land-use plan.’’
The plan outlines a vision of what the community can become. And in Spring Lake, that guide becomes vital as it encompasses economic development and other plans for a town that has seen businesses close and a highway expansion that split the town in half. It also serves as a tool to assist elected officials with future land-use decisions and as a guide when applying for grants or updating local policies.
“We want this plan to capture and build consensus on what the community’s vision (is) for the Spring Lake area. We also want to create a clear roadmap to achieving that vision by including realistic goals, detailed steps, lists of resources and creative solutions,’’ Massari said. “Key subject areas include housing, business development, downtown development, services and quality of life, but ultimately what we say about those topics will combine stakeholder preferences and present realities.’’
The session on infrastructure included representatives from Fort Bragg, the Public Works Commission, Duke Energy, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, the state Department of Transportation and Piedmont Natural Gas. The lack of natural gas and the need for major utility maps like water and sewer were among the challenges identified.
The session on services included discussion about community development, traffic and education. Representatives from the Spring Lake Fire Department, Cumberland County Schools, Carvers Creek State Park and Spring Lake Parks and Recreation Department were among those to participate. Safety concerns surrounding the closing of Spring Avenue were among the challenges identified.
The Spring Avenue closure was part of the Transportation Department’s major highway expansion and created a lack of connectivity from the fire station to the houses and four schools on the other side of Spring Lake. The only direct access from the fire station to areas on the other side of Bragg Boulevard is the Poe Avenue bridge.
Spring Lake Fire Chief Jason Williams said, “We have begged DOT to reopen Spring Avenue.”
Schools were also a focus, to include the possible realignment options for Lillian Black, Manchester and W.T. Brown elementary schools.
Mark Whitley, director of planning for Cumberland County Schools, said population controls the growth of schools.
Lillian Black, at more than 100 years old, is the oldest and most historic school in Spring Lake. The school system is considering preliminary realignment proposals that include the possibility of closing Lillian Black and absorbing those students along with a smaller percentage of students from Manchester Elementary School to W.T. Brown. Some participants also discussed the need for pre-K and high school options in Spring Lake.
The economic development talks were heavily centered around the need to identify parcels available for development and to look at infrastructure with water, sewer and electricity.
Samantha Wullenwaber, the interim town manager, said the budget includes money for a water and sewer master plan.
Property owners also said the Main Street Overlay District presented challenges.
Main Street has had several development plans over the past 20 years that have not come to fruition, including the Main Street Overlay District plan. That plan was intended “to enhance the traditional downtown main street by maintaining and stimulating a pedestrian-friendly, vibrant environment while encouraging economic growth.” The plan, adopted in 2014, was cited at the stakeholder meetings as being more of a hindrance to development.
Mike Nepsted, a Spring Lake property owner, said there are a lot of restrictions regarding what businesses can locate on Main Street.
“Stakeholders made clear that past efforts, like the Main Street Overlay District, are not producing the intended effect and that creative solutions will be required to meet community goals,’’ Massari said.
Although part of the process was to identify challenges that are keeping the town from accomplishing its development goals, Massari said residents seemed optimistic about the town’s future.
“Despite the many challenges identified, there seems to be a sense of opportunity and optimism of what Spring Lake can become – a place that is a destination rather than a drive-through, where there is a thriving Main Street, high-quality housing, activities for families and a sense of community,” Massari said.
Representatives from some of the larger neighborhoods including Holly Hills, Laketree, Manchester Forest, Deerfield and the Main Street area attended the housing session. Having a sense of community and a need for a better quality of life were topics that came up repeatedly during the discussion. Participants talked about the need for green space, more sidewalks and a community garden.
Alderman Marvin Lackman, who lives in the Laketree neighborhood, said he would like to see several focal points identified that could attract residents.
“Spring Lake has lost its identity. A good focal point would be the recreation center bringing in events that would bring the community together,’’ Lackman said. “If a public utility building or a government building were to anchor on Main Street, there might be more interest in coming downtown.
"Same with a medical facility replacing some of the older houses behind Lillian Black Elementary school. It would be transformational. We need several focal points throughout town,” he said.
In all four meetings, participants identified a shared concern of needing a cohesive plan.
“A common theme across meetings was the need for a unified vision in Spring Lake,’’ Massari said.
The planning staff said the discussions were helpful.
“The sessions were very successful,’’ Massari said. “We heard a wide range of perspectives and gained new detailed insight that we are excited to translate to a draft plan.”
The next steps are to publish a draft proposal for online feedback in April. A final plan could be presented to the Board of Aldermen in the fall, Massari said.
“While a land-use plan is mostly a guiding document, we hope that our process and final product can help generate change in the community,” Massari said.