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It’s a positive and encouraging sign that Rush River Commons has stirred up strong emotions and opinions — it’s evidence that the community is engaged and paying attention. However, the nuanced and daunting challenge we face is to consider myriad elements that stretch far beyond real estate development. We should take a comprehensive view of the community, its demographics, its economics, the environment and observed trends to make appropriate decisions about the future.
The Rappahannock County Comprehensive Plan was meticulously and laboriously updated very recently by the county’s elected and appointed officials and its purpose is precisely to guide county administrators through thoughtful decisions on the future development of the county and its villages. The comprehensive plan was prepared by folks that live here, that care enough about the community to serve it publicly and who hold a high degree of respect for the uniqueness of Rappahannock County’s natural beauty and order. They are our neighbors. We pass them on the road, we see them in town — they are part of our community.
While reading through the comprehensive plan, I was struck by several prominent trends that sound eerily familiar to those observed by declining small towns across our country: Steadily declining enrollment in the Rappahannock County Public Schools; steady decline in population among people ages 1-39 years; greatest population growth among the oldest age groups; challenging fiscal environment caused by a lack of diverse economic activity; and difficulty matching county revenues with the cost of public services needed or expected by its residents.
In response to the above-mentioned challenges, the comprehensive plan lays out clear support for dynamic villages where “key facilities allow county residents to meet, socialize, vote, shop, receive medical treatment, send and receive mail, and so forth.” Another section addresses housing by stating “consideration should be given toward allowing a broader array of housing opportunities, while holding to the principle that residential development at higher densities should be kept in the village areas.”
Rush River Commons and the intention expressed by Mr. Akre appear to be very consistent with the goals, principles and policies laid out in the county’s comprehensive plan. The proposed project specifically addresses several of the area’s pressing issues as identified in the comprehensive plan and is being offered in the form of a generous gift by an individual who has the means and resources to deliver a thoughtful community project that a “for profit” developer would certainly design and manage quite differently.
Looking to the future, I believe Rush River Commons is a well-intentioned project, and with the appropriate oversight and covenants, it can have positive benefits for the community as a whole.
The writer lives in Washington