At its August 16, 2021 meeting, the Union County Board of Commissioners adopted the Union County 2050 plan. Commissioners accepted nearly every recommendation from the Coordinating Committee that oversaw the 15 month process, but deferred action on two strategies in order to gather more information. Those two strategies were:
Enact a policy to deny rezonings until funded road projects are complete
Establish a rural water authority
The Board of Commissioners will consider adopting these two strategies at a future meeting.
A comprehensive plan is a multi-disciplinary document, establishing a vision of the community in the future, with recommendations for infrastructure, land use, economic development, and environmental protection that help implement that vision. The most referenced aspect of the comprehensive plan is the land use map, but the recommendations in that map reflect community input, infrastructure capacity, and existing development patterns. The previous comprehensive plan was adopted in 2014. Union County is a rapidly growing place, and the Board of County Commissioners directed county staff to initiate a plan update to address issues related to growth.
The adopted vision of Union County in 2050 is below, and guided the development of the overall plan.
Union County in 2050 is a place defined by connections, where local governments work together on targeted issues. There are clearly communicated plans for growth and infrastructure improvements, and resources are committed to their implementation. Union County is a growing community where there is:
Increased capacity to address education, transportation, water, public safety, and other multi-jurisdictional issues;
High-density residential, retail and employment options in designated areas;
Convenient accessibility between retail, residential, and employment land uses;
Complementary development patterns along corridors;
Preserved rural character outside of water and sewer coverage areas;
Recognition and support of agriculture as a key industry; and
Enhanced community connections for arts, agritourism, and parks and recreation.
This vision was referred to throughout the plan development process. The adopted plan includes new programs and initiatives intended to help implement the plan’s vision.
Regulatory Changes: The Board of Commissioners approved the following regulatory strategies to help implement the Union County 2050 plan.
Adopting a new land use map. The previous map made recommendations for all unincorporated areas of Union County, and development approved consistent with this plan sometimes led to conflict with nearby municipal land use maps. The new map significantly reduces the amount of land available for higher density development, while retaining areas for commercial and industrial land uses. Additionally, it identifies small “donut hole” areas of unincorporated Union County as Transition Zones, where upzonings would not be supported.
Closing donut holes. The Union County Board of Commissioners will not approve upzonings in islands of unincorporated Union County designated in the land use plan. Interested property owners would be directed to the appropriate municipality to propose annexation into their community.
Increasing stormwater regulations to accommodate larger storms and to apply the standards to nearly all new developments, excluding those developing new homes on 40,000 square foot or larger lots. These standards will be developed over the next year.
Requiring well tests with the results available for any new home with well service before a certificate of occupancy is provided.
Allowing residential subdivisions in areas designated for rural or agricultural uses to cluster lots on smaller lots sizes if water and/or sewer service is present. There would be no increase in overall yield under this arrangement. These standards will be developed over the next year.
Increasing open space requirements for major subdivisions (eight or more lots) in areas designated for rural or agricultural uses, with a requirement of a percentage of the site set aside as preserved open space, to be applied to streams, wetlands, mature forest, or the entrance to the neighborhood. These standards will be developed over the next year.
Establishing minimum site standards for new schools. These standards would not exceed or replace guidelines or requirements set by the State of North Carolina, but would establish minimum road access, buffering, and separation from conflicting uses such as heavy industrial in order to reduce traffic, lighting, or economic development impacts on nearby properties. These standards will be developed over the next year.
The following strategy is supported by the Board of Commissioners, but has not yet been adopted.
Denying rezonings before funded road projects are complete. This is a policy that the Board supports, but is gathering more information on how to best apply it to different types of proposed rezonings and development projects. This policy will be considered for approval at a future Board meeting.
New Programs and Initiatives: The County Commissioners adopted several new programs and initiatives recommended by the Coordinating Committee. Implementing these programs will take money, but address high priority issues identified by residents in the county.
Establish a litter task force to identify effective strategies and programs to address litter in Union County. These recommendations will be developed over the next year.
Work with internet providers to expand broadband internet service in underserved areas of the county.
The following strategy is being evaluated by the Board and will be considered at a future meeting.
Establish a rural water authority to make the eastern and southern parts of the county eligible for state and federal grants to reduce the cost of short line water extensions for unsafe drinking water.