BOS to hold public hearing on Monday for Comp Plan
On Monday, Oct. 5 the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the Planning Commission’s revised draft of the comprehensive plan. The draft, which has yet to be adopted by the Board, “sets forth the characteristics of Rappahannock County in general terms.”
“[The comprehensive plan] should be our guiding star that we look to and consult in our future decision-making processes,” said Board Chair Christine Smith. “It’s supposed to be a loose document, an overarching general plan … not a zoning document.”
Indeed, the present text asserts that the plan is “a tool by which County citizens in conjunction with the local governing body ask, ‘where are we; where do we go from here; what do we become?’”
Hampton District Supervisor Keir Whitson commended the Planning Commission for operating under “extraordinary circumstances” during the pandemic to continue drafting the proposed plan. “They’ve done a lot in a short period of time this year and they all should get credit,” he said.
Yet, Whitson added that he has been “hearing from a lot of people who have concerns” about the draft, specifically with regard to the maps defining village boundaries for Amissville, Chester Gap, Flint Hill, Sperryville, Washington and Woodville. Because the plan articulates a desire to “encourage residential development within designated village areas,” the drawing of village limits may have meaningful influence over the county’s future zoning decisions.
Mapping the Future
“The maps seemingly have become a sticking point for a lot of people in that they somehow believe that the maps make the plan more porous,” Smith said. “[But] the purpose of the maps is to define more concretely the verbiage of the plan … [and] the notion that they’ve corrupted or somehow weakened the plan is unfounded.”
In the Commission’s September meeting, Chair David Konick conceded that the maps could use work. “Are they perfect? Probably not,” he said. “[But] for now … those are going to be the maps.”
Elaborating in an interview with the Rappahannock News, Konick said that the proposed maps, though imperfect, are better than their predecessors. “The aerial photographs of the villages included in the previous comprehensive plan were not precise enough, leaving the door open to future development far outside village limits,” Konick said.
With the question of village development comes the question of housing availability. Whitson said he is thinking through ways to address housing concerns without undermining the land-use principles that have made Rappahannock an attractive place to live. To that end, he’s in favor of what he calls “small, incremental, practical solutions.”
“I’m not one who says there’s an affordable housing problem so we need to create a bunch of affordable housing. Just the opposite. There might be limited inventory of certain types of rental properties. How do we make sure that within reason supply and demand are relatively equal without changing anything? That’s the goal.”
Smith declined to speak on the record about county housing affordability, but noted that the Rappahannock Rapidan Regional Commission is conducting its own research into the issue.
So how—and where—will the county achieve its development goals “without changing anything”? The comprehensive plan proposes “infill” (utilizing lots within village boundaries) as a solution. And some officials say the best village equipped to handle that kind of infill would be Sperryville, given its location, current development and, perhaps most importantly, its sewer system.
Spotlight On Development
Devised using a combination of up-to-date zoning and sewer maps, the Sperryville map in particular has attracted heightened public scrutiny.
Alex Sharp, Board of Zoning Appeals Chair and representative to the Rappahannock County Water and Sewer Authority, said that he believes the Sperryville sewer system is currently operating at a third of its capacity. “That said, I don’t think you can just say we are going to triple the number of users,” Sharp said. “But there is definitely some room for development.”
Like Sperryville, the town of Washington also has a sewer system with room for more users — it currently takes advantage of roughly half its daily usage license — but unlike Sperryville, the town has its own independent governing body and is not subject to the same countywide plans.
“I’m not speaking for the mayor but for me … it would make sense that the town would want [to increase] housing because that’s a sensible way to make use of their sewer capacity and increase revenue,” Whitson said.
Whatever Washington’s capacity or tolerance for growth, some Sperryville business owners are concerned about development pressure riding on the shoulders of the village. “We need to manage change or change will manage us,” said Kerry Sutten, owner of Before & After in Sperryville.
In August, Sutten secured CARES Act funding for an initiative to turn Sperryville’s Main Street into an internet hotspot, with the intent to provide public access to children and families learning and working remotely. But after discussing it with village residents and business owners, Sutten forfeited the funds.
“The consensus was that Main Street is still too dangerous a road,” Sutten said. “I worry about my neighbors walking up and down that sidewalk. It’s an unsafe street, so it doesn’t make sense to be encouraging development there before finding some way to ensure pedestrian safety.”
In addition to safety, some business owners are also concerned about development on the floodplain along Rt. 211, which might lead to property damage and cause an environmental hazard.
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Prioritizing Diverse Interests
Since the pandemic began, the issue of broadband has become one of countywide urgency. In a draft memo to the Board of Supervisors, the Rappahannock County Broadband Committee wrote that the language in the comprehensive plan which aims to “ensure ridges, crests, and ridgetops remain scenic in nature” may come into conflict with the county’s objective “to achieve 95 percent affordable … broadband transmission service … for Rappahannock County residents, businesses, schools, government, and volunteer organizations.”
One of the problems with the language, the Broadband Committee asserts, is that the comprehensive plan “presents a number of competing interests, principles and desired end states, without providing clear guidance on how to prioritize them.”
In response, Konick said that the plan “doesn't say [wireless facilities are] not permitted, it just says the applicant must take additional steps to mitigate the scenic impact, like camouflaging them. Provisions requiring camouflaging almost identical to what is in our proposed Plan were upheld in federal and state court cases.”
On Monday, the public will have an opportunity to share their views on the comprehensive plan and the multiple issues at play. The 114-page document will likely undergo a few more revisions before it can be fully embraced by the county supervisors.
“I will not seal and place on a shelf somewhere the current draft until I’m sure that all of my constituents have been heard, that all input has been considered, that every word, every map, every chart counts and that the document is a strong one,” Whitson said.
Chair Smith said much the same. “None of us on the board should have our hearts or minds set on anything until we hear feedback in the public hearing next Monday,” she agreed.
The Rappahannock News reached out to all representatives on the board of supervisors for comment but only Smith and Whitson were available for interviews before the story went to print.