DENVER – About 50 Lincoln County residents came together to hear and discuss the future of the eastern side of the county.

The East Lincoln Betterment Association hosted the two-hour East Lincoln Town Hall meeting Nov. 7 at St. Peter By-The-Lake Episcopal Church. County officials from different sectors spoke about the future of eastern Lincoln County with 2014 in sight.

Planning and Inspections Director Andrew Bryant and Zoning Administrator Randy Hawkins charged residents with making the communities that run along N.C. 16 more defined.

Everyone knows and talks about Denver, but not the other communities like Lowesville and Westport, Bryant said.

The two discussed ways to provide more community cohesion by increasing wayfinding signs, doing more gateway landscaping to make prominent pieces of land more appealing and coordinating commercial landscaping.

The suggestions wouldn’t be required by the county, but county employees could help in idea-building and planning, Bryant and Hawkins said, noting that these changes would have to be driven by community members.

ELBA President Peggy Tschudin agreed, noting that the beautification of N.C. 16 could be the next major focus for her organization.

“What we need are people who have a passion for it,” Tschudin said. “There’s a lot to be done.”

County Manager Tracy Jackson and Bryant discussed the predicted growth in the county.

Eastern Lincoln County comprises around 20,000 people and is expected to grow by 10,000 per decade, Bryant said. The growth trend isn’t predicted to be as steep in the county’s western side, but there’s “still a positive outlook for growth.”

It won’t happen as fast as it did prior to the recession, Jackson said.

“There will be growth, but how rapidly will that happen is a guess for anyone in this room,” he said.

Bryant added that one of the county’s goals is to update its comprehensive land-use plan, to take into consideration economic development, employment opportunities and water and sewage expansion.

“There’s that goal to make it a much broader picture for the county,” he said, adding that he hopes commissioners will vote on it by 2015.

As far as industry goes, Airlie Business Park will be the target area for growth as the Lincoln County Industrial Park is at about 85 percent capacity, reported Economic Development Association Assistant Director and Business Development Manager Crystal Gettys.

There’s a lot of activity as far as inquiries go, but no projects “about to land,” Gettys said, adding that LEDA receives about three to four project inquiries a week.

“Projects are getting larger and they’re coming faster,” she said.

Gettys also addressed the issue of unemployment, noting that there’s nearly a 10 percent unemployment rate in the county yet jobs remain unfilled.

Existing Business Manager Kara Brown is working with managers through the Industrial Managers Association as well as Lincoln County Schools and Gaston College on how to better prepare local students for local jobs, Gettys said.

“Basically, we’re just needing to connect these resources,” she said. “I think we’re making a lot of progress.”

The eastern side of Lincoln County is also being enhanced with three major parks and recreation projects: an addition to the East Lincoln Community Center, the creation of the East Lincoln Rescue Park and the development of the Rock Springs Park.

The community center will be getting a 7,000-square-foot meeting room, which would fit 150 people at tables, Parks and Recreation Director Erma Deen Hoyle said. It could be used for community meetings and private receptions.

While the meeting room would be upstairs, the ground floor would see the addition of restrooms and a concession stand. The project should be out to bid by December and construction completed in 2014.

The East Lincoln Rescue Park is a partnership project between the county and Rotary Club and will include two multi-purpose fields and provide a permanent home for the farmers market. A dog park and amphitheatre may be added to the park. It may also be the future home for Denver Days.

Construction on Rock Springs Park began this past spring, Hoyle said. The 116-acre park will largely consist of trails and wildlife viewing areas, but 8 acres will be “active” with a small amphitheater, picnic shelter and restrooms.