There’s potential in South County.
Planners assisting the Greater Higgins Area Municipal Advisory Council see it at Higgins Corner — an area that most everybody in the region passes through.
At a workshop this week, Bruce Brubaker, principal associate planner with PlaceWorks, said a new plan has expanded to comprise not just commercial development, but also housing, recreation opportunity and preservation of the historical character of the area.
“We’re not developers. We’re working with with the county to lay out a road map,” said Brubaker. “We’ll set the table, but not propose specific development. We’ll leave that to the private property owners.
“Everybody comes and goes on Highway 49,” he added. “It’s the mother of all circulation corridors.”
After a recent traffic analysis, Brubaker and his PlaceWorks colleagues found that most roadways in the area are operating at acceptable levels during peak hours. However, Combie Road at Highway 49 is operating at higher congestion levels, though signal improvements have mitigated matters. There are significant delays on some other cross streets, as drivers wait for traffic to clear before turning onto Highway 49.
Studying housing growth trends from 2010 to 2021, Brubaker said they found a demand for a wider variety of housing choices.
“It’s not to say it should be provided, but the demand is there,” he said. “But it must be profitable for developers to produce it.”
Brubaker said there is the potential of 260 to 480 housing units over the next 20 years.
“But it’s not to say how much each type of housing there should be, whether that’s multifamily or single detached housing, but there’s an overall demand and we’d like residents to consider, should that housing be provided?” he asked.
Brubaker cited new restaurants as at the top of the list for development. Also popular was senior housing, though they’d need to be within walking distance of services as a number of seniors no longer drive.
“We don’t want Higgins to transform into an urbanized central city,” he said. ”We want incremental change, not wholesale change.”
Other studies found some demand for additional retailers in the area. Currently, residents have said they’ve gone up to 30 miles to access retail.
“Probably, there won’t be much change (in the next 20 years), but some demand could be answered in the study area,” said Brubaker. “Small, format box stores; pharmacy or grocery to 10,00 square feet; gas stations to 2,000 square feet; and restaurants to 8,000 square feet. And overall, retail could expand between 40,000 to 66,000 square feet the next 20 years.”
Employment opportunities could also emerge from office to light industrial and see expansion in arts, entertainment and recreation.
“There’s some demand, but not a lot,” Brubaker said. “There’s small service offices for attorneys, accountants and architects, as well as personal service, beautician/barbers and recreation, yoga studios.”
Dallan Packard, a Higgins area resident, spoke at the individual breakout sessions in favor of a new community park. While he favors development, he would like to see current open spaces groomed for bicycling and hiking trails.
“There needs to be biking lanes (and sidewalks) on Combie, all the way from Highway 49, past the schools, on Magnolia and Pleasant Ridge and all the way past Lake of the Pines Center, past Darkhorse, that should be done,” he said. “But we need to fit this area for the population that lives here already versus looking at new houses, for our safety and enjoyment, and we’re not even close to that.”
Barbara Ruble, another resident, said there is a lot more recreation opportunities than just bike and hiking paths. She asked if Bear River High School could open its swimming pool and tennis courts to the public, or if the Higgins plan can provide similar facilities for the public.
William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org