By David Meade
With the recent completion of a Community Master Plan for the Town of Williamston, town officials and others involved in the Envision Williamston Economic Development Program are in the initial steps of implementing it.
The plan was officially adopted by Council at their last meeting. Tee Coker, of Arnett Muldrow and Associates presented highlights of the plan to council at that meeting and since then has met with the Envision Williamston Board at their recent retreat, and with members of the local business association to explain the plan.
During a work session Tuesday, Williamston Town Council heard more details on implementing the community master plan and discussed how the program will proceed. The Master Plan was spearheaded by the town and as part of the town’s new economic development program Envision Williamston.
Coker said the Envision Williamston program is the most likely entity to oversee and continue efforts of implementing guides and suggestions in the plan. Envision Williamston is currently funded by council from the town’s general fund along with some hospitality tax funding. The program is headed by a full time Executive Director, Sonya Crandall, along with a board and volunteers.
There is some funding for projects and implementation.
In the past, parts of the program, such as planning and zoning, have fallen under the town’s planning commission which Mayor Durham said, “has been the driver of the town’s previous master plan.”
Durham said town employees will play a big part in implementing the plan, such as work on sidewalks and other projects and policing.
Recommendations in the plan reflect community input from residents along with professional opinions of those involved in conducting the year long research that went into it.
Councilman Rockey Burgess said the community support needs to be supplemented with outside support.
Mayor Durham agreed that community volunterism and corporate citizenship will play a role in implementing the new master plan.
Councilman Otis Scott said local residents should have first opportunity to serve on committees associated with the town and the program.
Councilman Tony Hagood said that citizen buy-in and participation will be important.
Coker encouraged the town to sponsor a community cleanup day which the new master plan calls “Hands On Williamston Day Y’all” or HOWDY.
The day will be a fun community led day of volunteerism to address a list of projects.
“You will need to develop and refine a list,” he said. “Come up with projects that groups of citizens can work on together, then go and celebrate.”
Mayor Durham said the town is already working on two big projects that are in the Master Plan.
That is to use incentives and to develop a Main Street Challenge to encourage a new business(s) to open in Williamston and a Facade Program to encourage existing busineeses to improve their store fronts.
There was some discussion about the plan as it relates to the opening of a Walmart in the area and how to tie downtown Williamston to the location if it happens.
Coker said the plan has several short term suggestions, some of which are already underway including the banner program and recently installed wayfinding signs. Also the Main St. Challenge and Facade Improvements.
He said the town’s landscaping and zoning ordinance needs to be amended “to reflect changes to make it more suitable to your design preference.”
Coker also stressed that the town needs to begin looking at how to address abandoned and dilapidated buildings.
There was some mention of a downtown development corporation that can buy buildings and properties which could then be held and marketed for development in the future.
Coker touched on the use of branding and marketing and suggested a planned public relations campaign to highlight progress, projects and “what we want to show.”
He also encouraged the town to develop a “Go Team” of business related persons in the community that can be brought together when a person or business is interested in the area.