‘It’s a restricting document, not a facilitating document’
At an unusual Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors work session Monday night, the public had another chance to comment on the latest iteration of the county’s comprehensive plan.
The Board of Supervisors had intended to host a joint session with the Planning Commission, but due to an administrative error notice was not posted with enough time to comply with Virginia Freedom of Information laws and the joint session was disallowed. Board Chair Christine Smith requested that Planning Chair David Konick represent the commission at the special session.
Eight attendees spoke during the first of two public comment sessions, primarily raising concerns about the plan’s village maps and development potential within and adjacent to village boundaries. Diane Bruce also voiced concern about the language in the current draft regarding the encouragement of growth and suggested that it be deleted.
‘Victims of misinformation’
In his extensive response to the public comments, Konick said it was “nice to see so many people engaged” in the comprehensive plan but that “some of them are the victims of misinformation or misunderstanding of what the comprehensive plan is … and how it interacts with the zoning ordinance.”
“The language that’s in the current comprehensive plan about encouraging or directing growth in and near the villages has been in there since the beginning,” Konick explained.
“That language has been in there because it is the corollary of preserving most of the county … I don’t think it means that the comprehensive plan is a device to try and draw in or promote growth and development, it’s a statement that where we do have [development] … it should be planned and focused around the villages.”
Konick went on to address the worries about the village boundaries. “You have to appreciate we’re not changing any zoning,” he said.
“[The comp plan] doesn’t mean that [the areas within the village maps] are going to be rezoned, all it means is that if you go apply to rezone something one of the considerations is it has to be compatible with what’s in the comprehensive plan,” Konick continued.
“So if landowner A, B, C or D says, ‘Hey, look, I’m in the area in the comp plan map where I could rezone to … village residential, so I’m going to apply to rezone it,’ then the Planning Commission would look at that property and the Board of Supervisors after us would look at that property and … that’s rezoning.”
Besides the mill in Washington that is now proposed to become an inn, Konick said “we haven’t had a rezoning in this county honestly that I can remember.”
Jackson district representative Ron Frazier was the first of the supervisors to speak. Addressing the public, he said “you all have been duly represented on the Planning Commission and on the Board of Supervisors. It’s not fair to get up in a public meeting at the eleventh hour and say that you haven’t been represented.”
“What this board now needs to do is decide what it wants to do with the information it has received from the Planning Commission,” he continued. “But we’ve worked hard on this.”
Chris Parrish of the Stonewall-Hawthorne district advocated for the addition of one or two sentences that would “make it easier for [country] stores to reopen” throughout the county.
“They’ve kind of dwindled … and I think that’s a shame,” Parrish said. “The country stores are the heart of the community, where newcomers and locals get together and get to know each other.”
As to the maps, Parrish said, “I have to admit I don’t understand all the concepts around the maps but I am instinctively averse to putting a belt around a village.”
“I’m not saying it’s not a good idea, I’m just saying I don’t quite understand it,” he said.
“The maps seem to have taken on a life where they are seen as encouraging and including more growth,” said Board Chair Christine Smith. “[The plan] is not a free pass, it’s not an automatic rezoning … it is preventative … and that is something that somehow seems to have gotten lost in translation.”
When it was his turn to speak, Hampton representative Keir Whitson asked Konick to “ascribe an adjective to the comprehensive plan.”
“I’d say it’s a document that is a framework,” Konick said. “The specifics are left to the zoning ordinance … and the subdivision ordinance.”
“The word that comes to mind for me,” Whitson said, “is protective. It is a protective document. … What are we protecting? We are protecting Rappahannock County the way we all know and love it.”
Whitson suggested rearranging the text because it “feels to me like it’s on its heels a little bit … you don’t get to the good stuff until you get to the end.”
“Say up front … Rappahannock County is a scenic county. We hold that in great value. Here are our goals.”
‘A great discussion’
The evening drew to a close with a second public comment period, during which many of the same speakers had a chance to respond to the board and Planning chair.
“I didn’t have a problem so much using a map, it was really the rationale for how you came up with the map and for me and maybe others that was obscure,” said Matthew Black. “There’s a possible solution here where the map starts to look like the zoning map.”
The Board of Supervisors may hold a joint meeting with the Planning Commission at their next regular meeting in early November. Details for that meeting have yet to be announced.