No quorum, but planners hear comprehensive plan comments

The Rappahannock Planning Commission held its July meeting at the Sperryville Volunteer Fire Hall July 18, but its consideration of an application for a tourist-home permit in Old Hollow had to wait, due to lack of a quorum. Instead, the members present heard more comments on the county’s upcoming revision of its comprehensive plan.

County Administrator John McCarthy said it was the first time in more than 15 years that the planning commission did not have a quorum. Three of the seven commissioners had already told McCarthy they’d be unable to attend the July meeting. When commissioner Gary Settle was caught in a storm and could not make the meeting, McCarthy moved the discussion on to the public forum. Only commissioners Alex Sharp, Alvin Henry and Raymond Brown were present.

Nearly 20 people turned out for the meeting, a crowd one long-time observer called “huge” for a planning commission meeting.

Phil Irwin initiated the discussion on the comprehensive plan, stressing issues he has brought up at previous forums: the importance of including in the plan guidance for ridge top development, bike and hiking trails, the marking of highways, trail-head maintenance, and the use of large billboards in the county. He also advocated for rules to govern lighting and noise – noting that there are presently no county rules governing noise – and the construction of towers, from cell phone towers to windmills to power line structures.

Anita Ramos said water preservation should also be a part of the plan. She seconded Irwin’s concern about regulating the placement of power-generating windmills, which she called noisy and a potential eyesore.

Rappahannock’s declining population is a major concern, Tom Junk told the forum. “If someone asks me what this county will look like in 15 years, it’s going to be a park,” Junk said. The school population is down, he added, and people are not moving into the county. “If you don’t have growth in the county, if you don’t have young people moving in to the county, the county is basically dead. In developing the plan, you have to allow for economic growth.”

Junk also reminded the commissioners that “once you have an ordinance, you have to follow the ordinance to the letter. When in doubt, you have to follow the ordinance.” Outside help in developing an economic plan and a land use plan will be necessary, he added.

Previous forums to hear public comments on the comprehensive plan were held at the fire halls in Chester Gap in March and Washington in May. The forums will continue through the rest of 2012, McCarthy said, after which the five-year comprehensive plan will be revised and then presented and discussed at public hearings in the spring.

The next comprehensive plan forum is scheduled for September, probably at the fire hall in  Amissville, McCarthy said.