‘Story maps’ provide look at Kent’s vital statistics

DOVER — Kent County’s Department of Planning Services began releasing “story maps” that give a rough sketch of the county’s vital statistics ahead of the upcoming release of their 2018 Comprehensive Plan.

Department director Sarah Keifer said they hope to have a first draft of the plan complete by mid-October — the existing plan is from 2007.

“We used to be required to prepare new plans every five years,” she said. “But now these plans created every 10 years. By state code, we still have to give the plans a review at the five year mark though just to make sure it stays relevant.”

The story maps being published on the county’s website are partly to solicit public feedback, but also to inform the planning department’s drafting process, Ms. Keifer said. Much of the information the maps present was culled from county-wide surveys, the Delaware Population Consortium, the Department of Labor, the American Community Survey and other raw census data.

So far, the county has released story maps related to economic development, population distribution and parks and recreation. They will continue to release maps on a semi-weekly basis until the draft comprehensive plan is complete. Upcoming subjects include housing, natural resources, community facilities, historic preservation, land use, transportation, community design and intergovernmental coordination.

In the most recent maps released on economic development, the planning department canvassed the county to determine what the most important issue facing it was. The majority (38 percent) of respondents said “creation of local jobs” should be the biggest priority. Survey responses were supported by the hard data that shows an unemployment rate (nearly 5 percent in Kent County) that’s higher than the national average and stagnant growth in the prime working age population — the number of people in the county aged 20-34 has been flat from 2014 to 2016. Kent County’s median income growth also lags behind the state’s other counties by 2 percent.

“It’s often said that the county is aging, and it’s surprising to what degree the data bears that out,” said Ms. Keifer. “We’re asking ourselves how to both keep and attract more millennials. We were able to get into Wesley College and DelTech to ask students what will keep them here and their answers were simple: ‘stuff to do and jobs.”

Ms. Kiefer feels that comprehensive plans are often misconstrued as nothing more than land use documents, but they can be much more, she said. One of the most important things the plan can do is help identify a region’s primary issues and begin a dialog on how to address them with public resources, she noted.

“In my view, the plan is an opportunity for the citizens and elected officials to have comprehensive conversation about where the county is, where it should go and how we might get there,” said Ms. Kiefer. “The actual process and conversation are the most important parts.”

Since feedback helps further inform the county’s recommendations and drafting process, Ms. Kiefer encourages all county residents to follow along as story maps are released and participate in upcoming 2018 comprehensive plan workshops and public hearings. Updates and new story maps will be regularly posted on the department’s Facebook (@KCLCPlanning) and Twitter (@KCPlanning) accounts. Story maps can also be viewed at
co.kent.de.us/planning-dept/planning/comprehensive-plan.aspx. To offer feedback directly, Ms. Kiefer says to call the planning department at (302) 744-2471. Workshop and hearing dates will be announced and advertised later in the year after the completion of the document’s first draft.

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