SILER CITY — Jennifer Baptiste’s first meeting with the Siler City Board of Commissioners was on Jan. 3, her second day as the town’s new Planning Director. Since then, Baptiste said she’s been working to learn more about her new role.
“I’ve been doing great since coming on,” she said. “[I’m] just busy trying to learn and make sure I’m versed in everything that’s going on.”
Baptiste says she and her department’s staff have turned their collective focus to updating the town’s decade-old land use plan, which she said she hopes to complete by the end of the year.
“We’re going to start working with the contractor in developing the timeline to see what kind of time frame they’re looking at, so we’re going to have to coordinate with that,” Baptiste said.
Baptiste has experience in updating land use plans; she was in charge of developing the city of Fayetteville’s future land use plan when she served as its planning & zoning division manager before coming to Siler City.
“A land use plan kind of gives us a road map,” she said. “It lays out areas that we want to see develop and how we want to see it develop.”
The process to update Siler City’s land use plan involves looking at the land within the town’s planning zone and seeing what’s being developed in different areas. Baptiste said factors considered when examining different land parcels included road access, water and sewer capacity, existing infrastructure and more.
“It gives a good idea to see this is what you have right now ... this is where you should concentrate on doing higher intense uses in certain areas so that we’re not overwhelming an area that doesn’t have the infrastructure or having people develop in areas that are not ready for that intensity,” Baptiste said. “We’ll look at the infrastructure because you don’t really want a lot of industrial or heavy commercial development being too close to a residential neighborhood, so we’ll make sure with the plan that we have a commercial, industrial park area while having a nice separation from residential so that the two don’t conflict.”
The last time Siler City underwent a massive land use plan update was around a decade ago, according to Baptiste. She said that revisiting what was originally passed more than 10 years ago was necessary to ensure the land use plan is up to date with the town’s priorities and development goals.
“You’re constantly working on the land use plan,” Baptiste said. “Every five years, you should look at it to make sure that the goals in the map and all the information in it is still applicable.”
Baptiste said one of her main goals for the land use plan was to ensure there is enough land zoned for various kinds of housing developments — from affordable, multifamily complexes to single-family houses and townhouses.
“We’re going to try to make sure to see the town has a healthy balance of commercial and industrial development to support people living here but also providing quality living spaces and living areas for current residents and new residents,” she said. “Providing a variety of housing ... making sure that we provide a good balance of housing to support the various demographics of people who live and are going to live here.”
Baptiste and the town have already taken the first step to develop the plan by selecting a contracting firm, Stewart Inc., to help formulate and draft it. That decision was approved via the Jan. 17 meeting’s consent agenda, allowing for Baptiste to move forward with working with Stewart to draft the plan.
“Generally, a good land use plan could take anywhere between six months to nine months to get fully developed,” she said. “We’re going to … have them do a ride around town so that we can show them the area, we’ll give them information from our GIS system, from our current plans and stuff so that they can look at that.”
There’ll also be parts of the process where members of the public can provide their own input as to what they want to see come to Siler City, through town hall-style events and public work sessions.
“We’re going to be having some public meetings to gather information from the public to see what they’re interested in and keep them updated on what’s going on with the plan,” Baptiste said. “Then we’ll do a final presentation that’ll go before the planning board, and then go to the town council.”
Baptiste said she encourages the public to come to the input sessions to give residents a platform to say what they’d like town staff to prioritize.
“We’re more than likely going to have community meetings, like small town hall meetings, but we’re looking to encourage people in the community to come out and participate and to stay active in the process,” she said. “I want to make sure people can come out and get some information as well, and let other people know … we can keep people in the loop that way as well.”
Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @HeedenTaylor.
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