Troutman Council members get first look at Strategic Master Plan draft
BY DEBBIE PAGE
Troutman Town Council members got their first look at a draft of the Strategic Master Plan (SMP) the town commissioned earlier this year to address concerns about the growth quickly coming to the area.
The plan creation process utilized a steering committee, staff contributions, and input from many citizens to create both guiding principles and directions for a team of Stantec consultants, who then identified recommended actions to achieve the town’s goals and objectives.
The town “wants to ensure that the growth happens in an organized, and orderly manner that maximizes the highest and best use of resources while ensuring land uses and development do not occur to the detriment of the neighboring properties and natural resources. Future growth must consider neighborhood and Town character; ensure sustainability; accommodate smart growth and economic vitality while ensuring fiscal stability.”
Through the SMP, the council wants to bring its vision statement to life: “Over the next ten to twenty years, we envision Troutman will be a unique small-town destination of choice where families live, work, and play in a healthy environment. Our residents will have a high quality of life that includes a thriving downtown, great schools, a variety of transportation options, an efficient water and sewer system, a variety of well-crafted housing options, and access to recreational opportunities including Lake Norman. Troutman will strive to be the best small town by focusing growth in key areas and preserving its rural heritage in the ever-growing Charlotte Region.”
The SMP draft noted the uncomfortable paradox that growth in both residents and businesses brings since it is “important for creating and increasing the tax base to provide public services but also threatening changes to the character that people have moved to the town to secure.”
In commissioning this report, “Troutman wants to understand both how to manage the growth process from a high level with a modified future land use plan, and from a ground-up approach with very specific actions that can be taken to activate those principles.”
The Strategic Master Plan seeks “to coordinate existing forward-looking plans addressing transportation and land use with current and projected development patterns to ensure growth occurs in a manner which maintains Troutman’s sense of place and natural resources, while enhancing its economic vitality and quality of life.”
The council, the Planning and Zoning Board, and town staff will use the master plan to guide future growth and development since “unrestrained growth can overburden existing utilities, detract from a community’s natural character and open space, overload transportation systems, create land use conflicts, and waste taxpayer dollars.”
“The comprehensive planning process helps to coordinate these elements into an achievable vision that can be used to guide growth and development in a logical manner that enhances the existing community.”
The SMP’s 12 guiding principles include community and gateway appearance and design, commercial and industrial development opportunities and needs, economic vitality, including job and wage growth principles, a vibrant downtown district, and housing needs and strategies.
Other principles include improving recreation opportunities; improving underperforming areas; and “greening” the town, including urban agriculture and forestry principles. Transportation mobility and choice; mixed-use and adaptive reuse opportunities; public services, staffing, and facilities for successful plan implementation; and public/private investment resources and partnerships round out the SMP’s principles.
To enact these principles, Stantec focused the SMP draft on land preservation and positive development), design (appearance and maintenance), infrastructure (efficiency and priorities), and community (building on strengths of Troutman’s resources and people).
Stantec found that Troutman has experienced rapid growth, with a population increase of 57% from 2000 to 2016 (from 1,600 to 2,500 people), exceeding the 50% growth experienced by Charlotte and growing much faster than Iredell County (37%) or North Carolina (24%) during this same period. Mooresville grew by 70% to nearly 90% in the same period.
Troutman has also expanded its boundaries from about 925 acres in 1980 to 1,300 acres in 2000, and has since more than doubled in size to over 3,400 acres, according to the 2010 Census.
Using a “tapestry segmentation” method of identifying neighborhoods, Stantec found that the three most numerous groups of people in the Troutman planning area boundary are the “Middleburg” people who favor semi-rural locales, often young couples starting a family; empty-nester “Salt-of-the-Earth” types who usually own and fix up their own homes and buy and travel American, often to spend time outdoors; and “Southern Satellites,” slightly older, sometimes multi-generational families employed in industry and production.
The SMP also noted that with growth has come an increase in traffic and accidents on the main two-lane Highway 21/115 corridor through Troutman.
RESIDENTIAL USE PREDOMINATES
Though current land use is largely residential, with nearly half of the planning area devoted to agricultural, rural residential, and single-family parcels, almost 40% of Troutman’s property is unimproved and prime for development.
This figure does not include large residential acreage parcels, areas with low improvement value, or over 800 acres within the Barium Springs property. Very little land is currently devoted to commercial and office uses or medium- or high-density residential development (condominiums, townhomes, or apartments).
The Lake Norman State Park area also presents environmental constraints on development. Other areas have some acreage within wetlands or with steep slope that discourage development.
Manufacturing jobs are the largest employment sector in Troutman, followed by retail, administration, and food services. Future demands include adding more retail, administrative, and health care jobs. Hotel and food services are expected to increase. Troutman is also likely to see continued demand to add to its already considerable advantage in manufacturing jobs.
The age of workers in Troutman is increasing, with the workers over age 55 increasing 7% between 2002 and 2015. Wages for jobs in Troutman are generally similar to other towns of its size.
PROPOSED LAND-USE CHANGES
Under the Strategic Master Plan’s proposed changes to the 2035 Future Land Use Plan, Stantec suggests more residential units be allowed (over 1,000 more as compared to the number in the currently adopted plan). The plan also supports preserving about 200 acres of additional agricultural land under the revised map.
Fewer square feet of non-residential uses are suggested, including the amount of acreage devoted to light and heavy industrial uses to preserve rural vistas in the “gateway” area of US-21 from Exit 42 towards Troutman’s downtown. The plan also seeks to preserve rural and agricultural areas in the northeastern corner of town.
However, these changes to future land-use map means that preserving rural areas and town character and aesthetics will also lead to slightly lower tax revenue and slightly higher resource/ infrastructure costs for the town.
Better Parking: Important in the downtown district and for special events at the park but add parking slowly since it also separates people and places; create and manage existing on-street opportunities.
Activate Lytton Street: Commercial development, on-street parking (east side), land streetscaping can connect Lytton to downtown to create depth and a potential model for other streets.
Main Street: Slated for capacity expansion that will allow faster and more traffic. However, the town and state must collaborate on crossings, streetscaping, fire station cross-access, and Wagner Street changes.
Reconsidering Residential: Promote a two-tiered residential density that supports the open space requirements in place now but also requires mixed lot sizes. The town should also promote appropriate use of accessory units and quality infill of multifamily housing choices.
Improve Service Levels: Identify and justify one to two additional public works staff for maintenance-related actions, including downtown streetscaping, street repair, ordinance enforcement. The town should consider contracting services for economic development expertise or other services rather than hiring more full- or part-time staff.
Brand Athletic: Build upon the investments in greenways and parks as well as the Lake Norman State Park and prioritize facilities and maintenance towards projects and programs that support active lifestyles and businesses.
Transportation, Now and Later: Develop greenway side paths, connectivity on two-lane, low-speed roads, roadway capacity improvements, safety projects, and aesthetic corridor improvement areas. Adopt an access management policy for East Monbo Road, Perth Road, Murdock Road, and Old Mountain Road (or all two-lane minor arterials) to design driveways, promote cross-connectivity between developments, and limit crashes from frequent turning movements. The U.S. 21 Corridor Overlay District needs must address driveway spacing, landscaping, and greenway connectivity. Mass transit, biking, and walking can also help support other recommendations in the SMP.
Art in the Community: Engage local artisans to donate a rotating installation of art in the gazebo area or downtown; create “small space” art installations to help enliven more spaces and create identity; create one “pocket” park.
Community Gateways: Engage the individual communities of Troutman to help design gateways that display their unique character (i.e. Lake District, Business District, Green Heart, Barium Springs).
Know Troutman: Conduct an annual “get to know your town” event, inviting people to meet with town staff to introduce newcomers to all the things the town does, attract volunteers, and create more civic engagement
Smart(-er) Growth: New residential development proposals need to be assessed on impacts to tax revenues, traffic, environmental quality, school demand, and utilities (water / sewer).
Land Planning: Adopt the future land-use map and develop policy tools (farm workgroup, purchase of development rights program, conservation easements) to ensure long-term success preserving a rural character.
TEN ACTIONS IN FOUR YEARS
The SMP also suggested ten actions that the town can take in the next four years to kickstart the implementation of the plan:
► Redevelop angled parking in walkable areas, and redevelop parking where appropriate.
► Create and improve street and median crossings at Wagner, fire station, and Troutman Elementary.
► Adopt the revised Unified Development Ordinance (UDO).
► Create a locally oriented Comprehensive Transportation Plan to address new roadways and policies.
► Create one pocket park.
► Conduct a second, two-day design charrette (brainstorming and planning meeting) with the Barium Springs stakeholders.
► Start a coffee club with staff, Council and Planning Board members.
► Implement Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) on website, using existing easy to generate data to show how much or many cleanups, police / fire responses, events, site plan reviews, etc. happen each quarter to keep citizens informed of the town’s work in the community.
► Develop a performance chart from the Strategic Master Plan recommendations.
► Work with NCDOT to create the Main Street that the town wants.
Council members will now take time to digest the SMP draft and make suggestions to change and improve it. One area that emerged at October’s council meeting was the need for the SMP and UDO to address regulation of Airbnbs and tiny houses with the recent Limelights rezoning request.
The Town Council and Planning and Zoning Board will hold a joint meeting on Tuesday, October 23, to continue looking at the UDO update. The council hopes to approve both the SMP and UDO within the next two months.