Brenda Bozeman is the new mayor of Leland. She’s the first woman to hold the position, and she’s proud to serve the town she calls home.
A native North Carolinian, Bozeman grew up across the bridge in Wilmington until she met her husband, James, and moved to Leland. In the 41 years she’s been here, Bozeman has raised two kids, who are now raising a crop of grandkids, worked as a successful Realtor and has seen Leland grow from a sleepy community to a bustling burgh.
It’s her town, and it’s her turn to help steer it.
“We have a great team,” Bozeman says. “It’s not just me; it’s the town council, our committee and board members, and, of course, our residents. The only way I accomplish anything is by listening to the team and then work with them toward our goals.”
With her team behind her, Bozeman, like Mayor Futch before her, faces some big challenges — taxes, the town’s budget, job growth, encouraging growth and expansion in the business community and, a biggie for Leland, transportation.
Bozeman plans to pick up where Futch left off — championing several projects she believes will ease traffic congestion and improve the flow in, out and through Leland.
“The I-140 Bypass, connecting Brunswick Forest and Mallory Creek, those projects will definitely improve the traffic situation here, but the big battle is going to be over widening the causeways between Leland and the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge,” she says.
The I-140 Bypass, which is under construction and slated for completion in 2013, will divert some of the heavy truck traffic that now passes through Leland’s commercial area and make more room for local traffic.
Easing congestion is the goal of expanding the causeways. The bridges are currently two lanes, but there’s a proposal on the table to expand the highway to three lanes in either direction from the foot of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge to the Leland exit. With this solution, Bozeman and others on an area transportation committees believe that much of the traffic congestion on the busy highway will be a thing of the past.
“After those projects are completed we’ll be in much better shape,” she says.
However, those are not the only transportation projects on her radar. There’s one more, the one she calls “a big pie-in-the-sky” — the proposed Cape Fear Skyway Bridge.
“It doesn’t warrant spending billions of dollars on a project like that, not now, and, really, not ever,” says Bozeman. “I’d like to see some of that money go toward the causeway project.”
To promote business in town, Bozeman and the town council are looking at altering building codes to reflect the change in the real estate environment.
“By going to what we call a flex code, others call it smart code, we’re changing some of the regulations governing developers,” she says. “The flex code allows developers to have more options in their communities. They can build a walkable community, a mixed-use development or any number of things without having to battle through layer upon layer of red tape.”
The change could be a big deal for Leland. If Leland becomes one of the first towns in the state to make a change like this to the building codes, then they will be encouraging more diverse development, which means more residents, more businesses and more taxes rolling in.
Leland is planning to build a new Town Center that Bozeman hopes will change some of the perception of the town. Already with street improvements on Village Road there’s a different feel to the area. The new building, which will house Town Hall and the Police Station, as well as other city offices, employs a modern design, but one that keeps in line with the aesthetic of Leland.
And as excited as Bozeman is about the Town Center, it’s overshadowed by the potential she sees in the Community Center.
“I see it as a cultural arts center or a civic center,” she says. “We have a young man who’s worked with the Thalian Association and with other community theater groups ready to help us establish a community theater here in Leland. It would be awesome to see all the talent from our community come together to work on a play. It’s a wonderful way to build and strengthen communal bonds and draw people closer together.”
The building will be big enough for a community theater and have space for art and craft workshops and lectures. Already, Leland residents are volunteering their talents and expertise to teach workshops. A local veterinarian has expressed interest in giving a talk to young kids about proper pet care and how to become a veterinarian. Another resident has offered to teach quilting classes.
Pulling Leland Together
All of this buzz helps pull Leland together. Leland has three distinct populations: lifelong Leland residents, retirees who have moved here from out of state and young professionals who work in Wilmington but like the pace, convenience and cost of living in Brunswick County. At times these three populations have been at odds over the direction the town should take, but lately it’s been pretty smooth sailing, and Bozeman hopes to keep on that course.
“When I was Mayor Pro Tem, we started to reach out to our various constituencies, dipping into each group for committee and board members. It seems to have worked. They built relationships and were able to be productive and, in many cases, it even fostered friendships.”
Bozeman chose Leland as the place she wanted to live, raise her family and try to make a difference. In her lifetime she has. From volunteering at Little League games to showing interested homebuyers what she loves about living in Brunswick County, she’s had an impact on the community.
“My heart’s always been in Leland,” she says.
Perhaps that’s why she wants to serve her town and make a difference in the future of Leland.
“When I moved here, the town was tiny,” she says. “We had one grocery store, one gas station, an ice cream shop, a fish camp restaurant and an insurance agent, and Waccamaw Bank was in a single-wide trailer. It’s so different now, it’s like Leland has grown up.”
It has. In just the last decade, the town has gone from 2,500 residents to more than 14,000. And in the 1970s and 1980s, the population was little more than a blip on North Carolina’s radar.
“I plan on serving my community well, and I hope that when my time as mayor comes to an end, I can see positive growth in town and find that we’re in a better place than when I started,” says Bozeman.