PENDER COUNTY -- Thursday night Pender County residents gave the planning committee suggestions about how to control rapid growth along Highway 17. One possible fix: something called an overlay district. It allows planning and zoning to control a thousand feet on either side of 17. It's a topic that drew a big crowd. Many residents say the meeting to discuss growth is welcome, but overdue. Hampstead Homeowner's Association president Al Freimark said, "We're going to look back ten years, 15 years, 20 years and say why didn't we do it when we had a chance. In many cases the horse is already out of the barn." An overlay district might alleviate some of the problems in the fast growing Pender County community. That would mean 1,000 feet on each side of 17, where the planning board could control aesthetics, landscaping and new residential and commercial development. Another thing on officials' radar: a bypass added to Highway 17. "It doesn't function well," Freimark said. "There's too many curb cuts. Secondly it also has to look good. People are concerned about aesthetics but they're also concerned about safety and functionality." Hampstead resident and state Rep. Carolyn Justice attended the meeting. She says meetings like this one are important to the area, because you can't have growth without planning for it. Rep. Justice said, "We have a real traffic situation in Hampstead and we need to come to some solutions. And the Department of Transportation has jumped in and is willing to do their part -- they just need to know what the citizens want." The County Planning Commission will now take resident feedback, and hopefully create a citizen task force to oversee the overlay project.
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