What’s the Comprehensive Plan?

Like every locality in Virginia, Rappahannock County has a Comprehensive Plan. State law requires it. The plan, first approved by county officials in the early 1980s, is supposed to be reviewed every five years, and in fast-growing communities, plans can be amended many times a year. In Rappahannock, the process tends to move more slowly, and the latest revision is behind schedule – although it’s expected to be approved soon.

So, what exactly is a comprehensive plan? In short, it’s a snapshot and vision statement, a living document containing pages of recent statistics, charts and maps related to demographic, economic and environmental features, all combined with more aspirational sections meant to serve as guidelines for planning a community’s future.

While the comprehensive plan has no legal bearing, it lays out principles, goals and policies that shape decisions on where people live, what they can do there and how the county spends their tax dollars. For Rappahannock, that has meant reaffirming its uniqueness as a “scenic county,” where the number one goal is to “preserve the overall viewshed … in its unspoiled natural setting.” As for business, the plan endorses a “sustainable agricultural and tourism economy” but wants it to avoid following the “traditionally defined growth patterns” of the county’s neighbors to the east. Overall, the message is that while change is inevitable, it needs to be managed closely so that Rappahannock can remain rural.

That vision has held for decades now, although bullet points have been added to reflect new social trends or elements that have become part of the community. One, for instance, addresses the rapid growth of vineyards and wineries, which have largely replaced apple orchards as the county’s top horticultural feature. While the plan encourages that kind of agritourism, it also recognizes the need to minimize their impact on “adjacent agricultural and residential activities” – something easier said than done because wineries are largely regulated by the state.

Another amendment recognizes wireless and wired broadband communications as “essential components of the 21st century economy” and suggests that the “means to provide for their expansion to serve all of the county’s residents should be encouraged,” then adds “in concert with the principles articulated and policies enumerated herein.” So, while the revision acknowledges the importance of a broadband connection to the internet, it does so in the context of the overarching goal of maintaining the county’s rural identity.

That captures the essence of the county’s comprehensive plan – relevant points of narrow focus wrapped in the broad, protective language of preservation.

You can read the plan on the county’s website. You also can weigh in with your feedback on the comprehensive plan, including your vision for Rappahannock for the next 10 years, by downloading a questionnaire on the website, and then dropping it off at the county administrator’s office. Also, the plan is likely to be discussed at upcoming Planning Commission meetings, which occur the third Wednesday of every month.


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