The July 20 Rappahannock County Planning Commission meeting received extensive coverage in the Rappahannock News and on Rappnet. Much of the discussion centers on a view of our county’s future, with the dominant comment being, “Don’t change.”
Yet there is a lot of demand for some change, such as improved internet and cell phone access. The takeaway for me was that our planning process is broken. It has failed to give us a clear picture of where we want to go or what the demand for no change really means. The Rappahannock County Comprehensive Plan, now 12 years out of date, does not contain the necessary map to get us there. With no clear vision of the future, our zoning ordinance becomes a fiasco. Officials seem to make zoning decisions by the seats of their collective pants.
I believe that the comprehensive plan and its current structure contribute to this lack of clarity. As it currently exists, it is full of fluff that tells us how wonderful our landscape is but has only marginally useful statistics, particularly in the current chapters two through five. We seem content to change “happy” to “glad” and call it a revision. Chapter Six is titled, “Comprehensive Land Use Plan — Goals, Principles, and Policies,” and then there is Chapter Seven, “Future Land Use Plan.” Aren’t “plans” by definition things that define our goals for the future? Why two separate sections? Finally, Chapter Eight claims to define our implementation of the plan. This section, as an aside, appears to be 30 years out of date in its requirement to keep zoning ordinances up to date based on changes to the comprehensive plan.
I think the current structure is so user-unfriendly that it discourages readership by the general public and by those responsible for its updating. Sleep overtakes you before you ever get to any meat in the plan. I suggest reorganizing the plan to consist of elements taken from chapters one, six, seven and eight, along with a new component for a capital planning function to create a real plan with elements like what, who, when and how we want to get the future we see.
I believe a restructured comprehensive plan would help clarify what our future should look like, reduce the amount of time to review the plan, help the planning commission focus on what needs to be updated periodically, and would tie a multi-year budget to our vision.