Rappahannock document had not been updated since 2004

One day before last night’s (Wednesday’s) public hearing on the county’s newly refreshed draft of the Comprehensive Plan, Planning Commission Chair David Konick circulated a resolution for the planners to recommend sending the plan to the Board of Supervisors for its consideration. 

The public was encouraged to attend the Planning Commission meeting in the high school auditorium and comment on the plan, its development, and the process to approve it. Zoom participation was additionally offered.

Although intermittent changes to the plan have been available on Boarddocs for some time, and the completed draft has been available on the county website, Wednesday’s meeting was the first time the entire draft was unveiled to the public. 

Assuming the resolution passed, the plan now goes to the BOS for another public hearing, maybe as early as its September meeting. After that, the board could approve the plan, take it under advisement, or send it back to the Planning Commission for further changes.

Virginia state code mandates that planning commissions of counties prepare comprehensive plans that “shall make careful and comprehensive surveys and studies of the existing conditions and trends of growth . . . with the purpose of guiding and accomplishing a coordinated, adjusted and harmonious development of the territory which will . . . best promote the health, safety, morals, order, convenience, prosperity and general welfare of the inhabitants . . . .” 

The code also states that planning commissions shall review their plans every five years and update as needed. Although the Rappahannock County Planning Commission has held public forums over the years to gather input from citizens, the county’s plan has not had a full update since 2004.

Updates to the plan

The 2020 draft plan reflects the technological, demographic, and environmental concerns that have arisen since that time. Some of the changes are quite extensive, especially in chapters 6, 7, and 8. Following are brief summaries of the updates found in the 2020 draft plan.

Throughout, the plan places a greater emphasis on protecting the rural nature of Rappahannock through recognition of the need to maintain the natural view shed and protect our dark skies; and focuses more on the needs of the senior and elderly population, as demographics shifts point to an increasingly older citizenry.

Chapter 1: Introduction — sets the tone for the plan.

Chapter 2: The Environment — recognizes recent environmental changes on the county’s water resources; the value of timberlands to the county; and environmental pressures.

Chapter 3: Population Characteristics — notes historical population growth, future estimates, and other demographic updates; and expected growth trends of county population.

Chapter 4: Economy — updates farm information and follows employment trends through 2018, but offers no description of economic changes brought on by the pandemic in 2020.

Chapter 5: Existing Land Use Characteristics and Regulatory Measures — reflects growth in the number of housing units in the county; discusses affordable housing based on recent surveys and studies, and resources for youth and elderly citizens. New or rewritten sections include information about:

  • Natural and Water Resources: water quality and quantity; impaired streams and rivers due to point and nonpoint sources of pollution; roles of local and state water quality organizations. 

  • Fire and Rescue Services, noting the possibility of hiring paid personnel, as well as other challenges ahead.

  • Changes in solid waste disposal.

  • Planned public capital improvements and the work of the Building Committee.

  • Cultural Resources and the importance of the arts in the community.

  • Existing Regulatory Framework: zoning and land use ordinances; as well subdivision, biosolids, and erosion and sediment control ordinances; land use taxation; and other topics.

Chapter 6: Comprehensive Land Use Plan Goals, Principles, and Policies — includes new text that emphasizes environmental concerns such as:

  • Preserving and protecting mountains, scenic ridge tops, and crests; ground and surface water; and rural, agricultural, and open spaces; and preserving air quality and limiting noise and light pollution.

  • Encouraging renewal and diversification of horticultural, viticultural, aquacultural, and forestall activities including Agri-Tourism efforts, while mitigating negative noise, visual, traffic, and other impacts on adjacent agricultural and residential activities.

  • Restricting the potential adverse effects of telecommunications infrastructure, wind, solar, and other renewable energy or public utilities facilities on prime agricultural land, sensitive or scenic landscapes.

  • Developing in ways that do not overburden waste disposal and emergency services; or degrade soils, air, groundwater, or surface water.

  • Providing for the expansion of broadband communication state-of-the-art technologies as essential components of the 21st century economy.

  • Recognizing the value of business establishments in designated growth areas to support essential local needs consistent with the scenic and agricultural values of our rural County.

  • Managing collaboratively common resources, such as river valleys, mountain ranges, migratory patterns, and other elements of the “Green Infrastructure.”

Chapter 7: Future Land Use Plan — new text addresses broadband communications, wireless telecommunications, renewable energy operations, and affordable housing designations and measures. New provisions:

  • Guide and regulate design and placement of communications towers, including the actual need for a tower, height, appearance, location, and decommissioning and removal of towers when no longer needed.

  • Redefine the county’s commercial area. (See Appendix A and Map 18).

  • Reflect the current zoning in village areas. Maps 15a through 15e are important new additions to the Comprehensive Plan.

  • Review future community facility requirements for areas such as the Library Board, School Board, Water and Sewer Authority, solid waste disposal, Fire and Rescue Services, and government office space needs.

Chapter 8: Implementation — contains expanded sections on zoning and subdivisions that:

  • Address evolving trends in land use, such as short-term rentals, utility scale solar and wind energy generation, posting of signs and public art, and event venues.

  • Call for a comprehensive review of the county’s subdivision ordinance.

  • Suggest annual reviews of the Plan, particularly the goals and recommendations in Chapter 6 and Future Land Use Plan in Chapter 7.

Appendix A: Commercial Area Plan is largely unchanged except for the inclusion of Map 18 which proposes new boundaries for the county’s commercial area. The proposal adds more commercial area on the south side of 211 and removes some commercial area further up the hill to the north of 211 and along Clark Lane.

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