This was the message sounded Tuesday night at the courthouse when 15 members of the Bradley County Regional Planning and Cleveland Municipal Planning commissions gathered in a joint session to get their first collective look at the final draft of the BCC 2035 Strategic Growth Plan.
Both planning bodies are being asked to review the 58-page document — which is published as more of a step-by-step outline targeting specific goals, suggestions and geographic regions — in preparation for making recommendations of endorsement or rejection to the Cleveland City Council and Bradley County Commission.
However, a group of area residents and Bradley County Tea Party members attending the joint briefing who have sat in on previous Plan Forums and other government sessions involving BCC 2035 debate urged planning commissioners to include an economic plan as part of the growth strategy. Several addressed what they see as a need to understand who will foot the bill for supplying infrastructure improvements to accommodate expected growth — such as new schools, transportation improvements like new or widened roads, expansions of utility services and other items commonly associated with economic development.
At least one resident suggested taxpayers could face an increased burden because of a growing trend by local and state governments to grant tax abatement incentives to lure new industries.
“What will the cost increase be to the people here?” one resident, who did not identify himself, asked planning commissioners. He asked if those developing the Strategic Growth Plan had made projections on future growth’s impact on sales and property tax rates.
Corey Divel, Bradley County planner, and Greg Thomas, Cleveland community development director — both of whom explained parts of the growth strategy document in the joint session — specified the report is not intended as a capital improvement plan. Rather, it points to growth options in selected areas and how government jurisdictions can work together to accommodate growth.
Details on how to pay for needed infrastructure improvements will be developed later as the Strategic Growth Plan evolves into specific area studies.
One person attending the session used home construction as an analogy. “You need to have an economic plan before you have a construction plan,” he offered, and added that people don’t build new houses without knowing their cost.
“This is not a capital improvement plan,” Divel stressed.
Tony Young, chairman of the Bradley County Regional Planning Commission who presided over the joint gathering of community planners, assured the handful of residents the Strategic Growth Plan is the “first step” toward developing a capital improvement plan.
Young also pointed out means for paying for infrastructure improvements are decisions made by elected leaders on the City Council and County Commission, not by planning commissioners.
“This (Strategic Growth Plan) is a guidepost for elected officials to work by,” Young said.
The BCC 2035 recommends three area plans, including the Cleveland Central Area, also referred to as reinvestment or infill and redevelopment; the Southern Corridor, a managed growth area identified as the McDonald region and Exit 20 interchange off Interstate 75; and the Northern Corridor/Mouse Creek Area which is essentially northern development in the county.
The strategic plan also lists 10 specific recommendations on future steps, one of which is the formation of an Implementation Oversight Committee which would take ownership of the growth strategy and coordinate its initiatives. The plan also identifies a series of common goals for the communities of Cleveland and Charleston, and for Bradley County.
“This is our plan ... it is not a consultant’s plan,” Divel said. The year of planning research, and subsequent document, was prepared by Cincinnati consultant McBride Dale Clarion, but it was developed in partnership with a 27-member task force made up of Cleveland, Charleston and Bradley County government representatives, and various leaders in education, business, industry, utilities and other areas impacted by future growth.
“Growth is coming no matter what we do,” Divel told the gathering. His message was later repeated by Thomas who said projections tell the story of why the region needs to prepare for the coming growth. It is believed that over the next 25 years, the Bradley County population will increase by 33,000, another 14,000 households will be added and some 19,000 new jobs will be created.
Some of this is already being seen now and over the next couple of years with the completion of the new Whirlpool plant, as well as the construction of new facilities by two newcomers — Wacker Chemie and Amazon.com. Site preparation for all three major construction projects is already under way.
Whirlpool is investing $120 million in a new 1.4 million square-foot manufacturing facility and distribution center on Benton Pike that will add 150 new jobs, bringing the plant’s total to about 1,650; Wacker Chemie is building a $1.45 billion plant whose volume has already been increased since the Munich-based company first announced plans to locate here in February 2009, bringing 650 new jobs; and Amazon.com is building two 1 million square-foot fulfillment centers in the region, one of which is in northern Bradley County and will employ some 226 workers.
The Charleston-based Olin plant is also investing in a $160 million conversion to remove mercury from its operations. This too represents construction, development and new indirect labor.
Divel and Thomas pointed to these developments as the type of construction and growth that will bring increased infrastructure to the area. The future is also expected to include new suppliers for each facility moving into the area, as well as those for the new Volkswagen plant still under construction in the Enterprise South Industrial Park in neighboring Hamilton County.
Tuesday night’s joint session served only as a BCC 2035 briefing for both planning bodies.
The Cleveland Municipal Planning Commission will meet Jan. 25 to consider the document for approval and the Bradley County Regional Planning Commission will meet Feb. 1 for the same purpose.