“CONNECT Our Future: Vibrant Communities—Robust Region” is a process that seeks to create a regional growth framework for development among communities across a 14-county wide area in North and South Carolina.

The three-year process utilizes input from counties, communities, non-profit organizations, businesses, educators, and other organizations to form the plan and is funded by a $4.9 million federal grant and $3 million in local matching funds.

Jim Prosser, executive director at Centralina Council of Governments, gave a presentation of the program at the October 25 meeting of the Mint Hill town commission.

“The basic purpose of this effort is to establish a regional framework for how all the cities and the counties are going to grow for the next 30 to 50 years,” Prosser said.

Communities involved in the program will appoint one elected official and one staff member to share data and information with appointees from other towns and cities, to establish the framework.

CONNECT consists of three phases: constructing the region’s base plan, building an improved plan, and developing a framework for continuous improvement, to be completed by late 2014.

Public input is a top priority during the process, and 30 open houses will be held throughout the region.

At the October 25 meeting, the town commission deferred a decision to take part in the program, because commissioner Mickey Ellington was not present at the meeting.

Some communities, including Cornelius, have chosen not to participate with the program, citing reasons like staff time commitment, contradiction of established plans, and concern that local government could lose control of local issues.

Jeff Tarte, mayor of Cornelius and North Carolina state senator elect, voiced that concern.

“At some point, CONNECT wants to be able to, from a distance, dictate zoning requirements into your local jurisdictions, and I don’t think it’s ap- propriate for the federal government be telling us our zoning requirements,” Tarte said.

Not officially taking part in the CONNECT process does not mean that data and information from those communities will not be used in the regional plan.

“The regional plan can be no different than the sum of its parts,” said Michael Johnson, vice chair at CCOG. “I think that anyone who has the opportunity to have their voice heard and have a seat at the table and chooses not to will miss an opportunity.” Prosser said concerns like the ones expressed by Tarte and the Cornelius commission are understandable, and CONNECT is structured to put the communities first.

“We’ve been very, very careful from the beginning, to design the program, planning process, even the agreement itself that we’re asking people to execute; we specifically delineate that no one is going to be coerced or required to agree to anything,” Prosser said.

The agreement does not describe any control over local municipalities by CCOG of Catawba Regional Council of Governments, according to Johnson.

“In the process, you’re going to look at how the region is zoned, but beyond that, there is no power of Centralina Council of Governments or Catawba Regional Council of Governments by which either of these organizations can come into a participating jurisdiction and cause them to rezone property,” Johnson said.

The Mint Hill Commission will likely decide whether or not to take part in the program at its next meeting November 15.