What is your big-picture vision of what the Hillsborough of the future will look like? Moving walkways and floating cars? Electric car charging stations? Or more live/work developments with walkable retail amenities and conveniences? Or what about “green building” requirements for future affordable housing developments?
The Town of Hillsborough, and specifically the Public Space Division, is seeking public input with creating its Comprehensive Sustainability Plan, which will serve as a guide for future developments, policies, and growth for the town.
“It’s our first outreach for public input as a part of this plan, it will not be our last,” said Stephanie Trueblood, who is the Public Space Manager for the division. “There will be lots of opportunities for people to get engaged in the planning process, but this one is the visioning process. This survey is about getting input and feedback from the community about the big picture of Hillsborough in the future, especially related to growth and development, which is such a hot topic. We feel like most people have opinions they’d like to share. It’s just a matter of letting them know that this is the way we need to hear their opinions about how they see growth and development in the future.”
Hillsborough and Orange County have seen several potential commercial developments create divisions in the community as it seeks to strike a balance between wanting picturesque appeal and tax-base relief through large projects. Efland Station, which was to be anchored by a Buc-ee’s; Research Triangle Logistics Park; and the Buckhorn Road Study (see related story, page 1) are projects and proposals that have revealed sometimes deeply divided opinions of what the answer to the region’s growth questions should look like.
“I know the development community sees Hillsborough, as it kind of ripe for development,” Trueblood continued. “That’s what the town board ultimately needs to know is, what kind of development suits our community and fits into our community? We can’t answer that question without people participating.”
Which is the primary purpose of the public survey. “Every community is required under statute to have a comprehensive plan that lays out their goals for the future and those comprehensive plans are tied to things like transportation funding decisions at the MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization). They’re tied to development applications. The comprehensive plans are the backbone of each community’s ability to regulate development and especially transportation projects in the future,” Trueblood said.
Comprehensive plans are nothing new to Hillsborough. The town has had a plan for years, but it’s made up of seven different documents that were adopted at different times. The town believes almost all of those documents are in need of an update, particularly with incorporating its clean energy pledge.
“The town board decided they wanted to frame our entire conversation and recommendations and plans for the future of Hillsborough through the lens of sustainability,” Trueblood said. “And also, of course, with equity and affordability in mind as we all know that those are some of the most difficult issues that we face. This comprehensive plan is a is a two year process. (It will require) going back through all of the plans that existed before, and updating them through a sustainability lens.”
The town is seeking input from community members, but not just the folks who live in Hillsborough. Ideas and opinions are also sought from people who work in, own property in, own businesses in, or just visit Hillsborough.
“We’re really looking for a broad capture of responses,” Trueblood added.
The Comprehensive Sustainability Plan and the recommendations that come out of it are limited to Hillsborough and the extraterritorial jurisdiction, which are areas outside of the municipal town limits, but that the town has planning jurisdiction over.
The survey has been up for about a week and a half. Trueblood said the town is paying attention to the demographics of respondents, and hopes to not only see a large number of surveys completed, but also a varied representation.
The town hasn’t decided on a specific deadline for which to complete the survey, however it is likely to happen toward the end of the month. “We’re leaving it up for as long as possible because it’s an electronic survey, and, after this last year, everyone has fatigue from being online,” Trueblood said. “We’re leaving it up as long as possible in hopes of getting a very diverse and broad response rate. But at a certain point we have to pull it.”
Trueblood said she and the town is aware of the difficulties in making this request when so many have been struggling with the pandemic for more than a year, but said taking the time — however inconvenient — could make a difference for Hillsborough’s future.
“We all want to remain here, we all feel like it’s our community. We have to think on the long term. And so the the scope of this plan is 15 to 20 years out, and the survey takes about 15 minutes to fill out. We have both English and Spanish versions available. I am happy to walk through this survey with folks who may have issues with their internet, or would rather talk through it. I’m totally fine with that,” she said.
You can find additional information about creating the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan, and the survey, by going to: https://www.hillsboroughnc.gov/community/comprehensive-sustainability-plan/