Sunday, March 3, 2024

Brunswick commissioners sign off on land use plan amid push for public pool

A South Brunswick High School student speaking to the Brunswick County Board of Commissioners in favor of building a new public pool. (Carl Blankenship/Port City Daily)

BOLIVIA — Brunswick County has a new guiding document and one point in particular is drawing community attention.

Monday, the county board of commissioners unanimously signed off on a new comprehensive land use and parks plan intended to carry Brunswick through the next 20 years. The 300-page document includes a map and description for the unincorporated areas of the county with more urbanized centers and large swaths of conservation area.

READ MORE: More than 600 housing units on the books in southern Brunswick

It also outlines the results of community engagement: 23 virtual focus groups, 19 public forums, three surveys, an open comment period on the website and an art contest. More than 4,000 people provided feedback in the past year.

But the push for a public pool reigned supreme in a public hearing about a document that outlines conservation, urban centers and affordable housing efforts across the county.

More than 20 people spoke about the issue during Monday’s meeting. They pointed to Brunswick County Community College’s Dinah E. Gore complex as the model to bring a new project in the Southport area. It is the only public pool in the county and offers a fitness center, an eight-lane pool, a warm therapy pool and gymnasium.

The plan, presented by planning director Kirstie Dixon, includes exploring a swim facility as an addition to the county parks and recreation department, but nothing in the plan ties the county’s hands.

The crowd of young swimmers, parents, elderly residents and educators told the board to follow through with a feasibility study to create the aquatics facility.

There was some overlap between speakers, with each addressing how a new facility could benefit people, young and old, in the county. They discussed how there is only one public facility for the county’s 145,000 residents. In essence, locals decried there is not enough space for student swim teams or to teach swim lessons to help prevent drownings. Another benefit would be for older people who cannot exercise otherwise.

Commissioners Chair Randy Thompson had to ask the packed board room, with more than 50 people in attendance, to hold their outbursts of applause that followed each speaker to keep the meeting moving.

South Brunswick High School head swim coach Nina McPherson asked the commissioners to support a complex because of its impact on her athletes. They maintain grade point averages between 3.6 and 4.3, stay physically active throughout their lives and learn skills like meeting goals.

McPherson said her team and others have limited public lane space at Dinah Gore, and she has to maintain a roster of only 28 swimmers. She said West Brunswick High School and the Brunswick Aquatic Club are facing space crunch as well.

“Most teams in our conference have closer to 40 swimmers, something I would love to have,” McPherson said.

Sherol Lappala, a Southport real estate agent, said she was one of the first people to take advantage of BCC’s facility, but at the time it was nearly empty. Now, the county has outgrown the space.

“Today, if you go there it’s difficult to get a lane and the warm water therapy pool is full — I mean slammed, all the classes,” Lappala said. “And that doesn’t even include the people who don’t feel comfortable driving to Dinah Gore.”

Lappala noted two elderly friends wanted to attend the meeting Monday night, but did not because of the drive to Bolivia and their health conditions. She said if there was a facility in Southport, they would be there every day.

“As you know, the median age of our county is 56, so half of us are older than that,” she said. “And that’s about when chronic health conditions like arthritis and fibromyalgia kick in.”

According to Mayo Clinic, water exercise is effective for people with health conditions because it takes pressure off bones while providing natural resistance.

The commissioners did not request staff produce a feasibility study Monday, but expressed support for the land use plan’s contents.

“I see this as the first step,” Thompson said. “The first step and a new step with a new plan for the future. And I will have to agree it doesn’t need to be a shelf plan.”

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