Davidson is many things: It’s a college town, it’s a farm town, and – for now – it’s a small town.
But planners working in Town Hall know it likely won’t be that small for much longer.
On Monday, the town’s Planning Board voted to recommend a new Rural Area Plan to the Town Board of Commissioners for adoption. It’s an effort that Davidson Project Manager Trey Akers says can help turn this impending growth into a benefit for the quality of life in the town.
“Development has come and will continue to come to our area. We can make this plan and reap the benefits of that growth or we can suffer through it with no plan,” Akers said to the Planning Board during a presentation. “We are using development as a tool to help preserve land in our rural area. We want to preserve open space and provide connectivity.”
The plan covers about 3,900 acres to the east and south of the town’s center. The town set out in October to establish a “coherent land-use and transportation plan that will guide development in the rural area for the next 20 to 30 years,” according to its website. The town hired Stantec as the consultant to guide the process, and the draft rural area plan was released May 16 for public comment.
The land lies outside the town limits, but within its extraterritorial jurisdiction, meaning the land is in unincorporated Mecklenburg County and the town has the responsibility to regulate development.
While the planning ordinances inside the higher-density town limits exist to keep the “atmosphere and flavor” of the small town and foster growth that meets Davidson’s goals of open space, walkability and sustainable neighborhoods, Akers said, the land in the ETJ has had less stringent development guidelines.
The plan creates such areas as neighborhood general and neighborhood edge, which are next to the city limits and in areas that have already been developed; rural preserve, which is in the southwest corner of the Grey, Greystone and Shearer roads intersection and in two areas along the Cabarrus County line; two neighborhood services areas along East Rocky River Road; and rural planning areas along the Cabarrus County line and north of N.C. 73. It also includes a scenic byway overlay along Grey and Shearer roads.
The area will be bounded by the Mecklenburg-Iredell county line to the north; Rocky River/Cabarrus County line to the east; and Davidson’s corporate limits to the west. There are also several pockets of the rural area south of East Rocky River Road, which are already home to many developments.
Akers warned Planning Board members that the current regulations permit uncoordinated, low-density development that presents “serious land, transportation, and environmental concerns in the near future. Moreover, many believe that the current rules do not treat all landowners equally.”
The regulations proposed in the plan will focus on development plans, transportation needs and utility access for future growth in the area.
But some board members felt the plan was promoting, rather than governing, growth.
“Throughout the process this has seemed like a ‘rural development plan’ rather than a Rural Area Plan,” said Planning Board member Mike Minett. “What does this change that would affect our zoning?”
Akers explained that the plan would make sure that development in the area transitions as it moves closer to town to blend with existing development and would prevent land use in the unincorporated section from bringing in industry or low-density development that would conflict with zoning regulations already on the books in the town limits.
Akers focused on traffic concerns when discussing the plan’s impact on connectivity for residents of Davidson.
“In this town, we believe that streets add value to their surrounding land. They don’t detract from the surrounding area,” he said. “We believe in many interconnected streets instead of one or two main roads that inevitably lead to congestion and crowding. We want smaller, safer more beautiful streets rather than fewer, larger streets. The planning department has looked at non-motorized transportation — not just focused on vehicular traffic. The plan envisions a new trails network that is grafted onto our existing trails network.”
The plan focuses on retaining open space and encourages moderate- to high-density development to promote walkability in the neighborhoods, Akers said. And he emphasized that the growth is coming to Davidson whether the town wants it or not.
“Is this a decision to develop tomorrow? No, it is a decision to have a framework in place for if and when that development comes forward,” Akers said. “The town set a goal for 50 percent open space back in 2000. This plan clarifies: If we are going to continue to develop, how do we do that with that 50 percent goal? The plan takes a pretty clear stance that it is better for us to go ahead and map out what we have on the books rather than fight it out on a case-by-case basis.”
The town Board of Commissioners will consider the plan at its Sept. 13 meeting.