Major setback for 2019 revision of county’s comprehensive plan

‘Much has changed in Rappahannock County in 38 years, but it is not reflected in the Draft Plan’

The Rappahannock County Board of Zoning Appeals has given an overwhelming thumbs down to the county’s proposed 2019 Comprehensive Plan, which when it comes to its state-mandated revision is already years behind schedule.

“It was noted at our meeting that this ‘revised’ Draft Plan contains identical verbiage from the 2004 Plan, and in some instances is identical to what was in the 1980 Plan,” the Board of Zoning Appeals, led by chairman Alex Sharp, wrote in a somewhat blistering March 3 letter to the Rappahannock County Planning Commission, which is chaired by Gary Light.

“Much has changed in Rappahannock County in 38 years, but it is not reflected in the Draft Plan. Many of the bullet points on ‘what is planning’ of the Draft Plan remain either undone or copied verbatim from the previous plans back to 1980 or earlier with no analysis,” the letter scolded.

“Our representative on the Planning Commission, Mr. Bird, confirmed that the Commission has not had any meaningful discussion regarding verification of much of the information in the Draft Plan that was carried over from previous editions, or concerning the significance of some of the new data and has not made any substantive changes to the Draft Plan to deal with the trends they reflect.”

As a result, members of Zoning board are recommending no public hearing be scheduled this month on the Comprehensive Plan until such time — perhaps accomplished with “outside help” — a document fulfills the requirements of the Virginia Code and future needs of Rappahannock County.

“One example that we noted relates to ‘affordable housing’ which is mandated by Code of Virginia, but the words ‘affordable housing’ appear nowhere in the entire Draft Plan. Likewise, there is no transportation plan, nor any map as required by Code of Virginia.”

Beyond no reference to the monitoring or analysis of “continued availability, quality, and sustainability of groundwater and surface water,” the Zoning members turned to the county’s Fire and Rescue services, for which “the Draft Plan merely repeats, verbatim, exactly what was in the 2004 Plan: ‘The increasing demands on volunteers and a steadily rising call volume may combine to push the system to be supplemented with paid Emergency Medical providers in the coming decade.’

“Other than the quoted phrase, there is absolutely nothing in the Plan, general or specific, updating the statistics on the number of available certified responders (not ‘members’ or ‘volunteers’). Nothing about equipment, no data on call response time, no recognition of the recent Fire & Rescue Association Agreement with the County, nothing about how the County will meet the operational and capital expenses of a paid fire and rescue system, nothing about how residential growth in the County should be limited or restricted so as not to overburden existing services, and nothing about where the County might locate a centralized EMS facility.”

Sharp and his fellow members also drew attention to new statistics obtained from Rappahannock-Rapidan Regional Commission showing cropland, cattle, and timber harvesting all being down by two-thirds or more since 2000, yet the proposed 2019 Plan is still years out of date (most only go to 2012) and have not been cross-checked based on County land-use records in the Commissioner of Revenue’s office.”

The letter also cited the Plan’s lack of current data and language surrounding future land use plans, zoning districts, designated village areas, cluster developments, ridgetop developments, growth trends, road and transportation needs and improvements; as well as none of the required maps, plats, charts or descriptive matter indicating the long-range plans for the future of Rappahannock County as specifically required by the Code of Virginia.

“Chapter Eight repeats, word-for-word, the boilerplate that was in the 1980 Comprehensive Plan, with no specifics on how the Zoning Ordinance or Subdivision Ordinance are proposed to be amended to carry into effect the principles, policies of Chapter Six, or the ‘future land use plan’ that is supposed to be in Chapter Seven,” Sharp wrote.

“Based on these observations it is our unanimous recommendation (5-0, no abstentions) to the Commission, and we have instructed Mr. Bird accordingly, that the Draft Plan should not be brought to public hearing until the Commission, possibly with outside help, puts together a document that is more responsive to the requirements of the Code of Virginia, as well as to the future needs of the residents of Rappahannock County.”

Asked Tuesday to comment on the letter, County Administrator Garrey Curry told this newspaper: “The BZA voiced their opinion.”

“I voiced my opinion that all input is good and helpful input and that it took a proposed comprehensive plan amendment and advertised public hearing to move the BZA to provide input (and other on social media),” Curry said. “To the same extent it may take a public hearing for the general public to provide input. Heretofore they have not been engaged (save a few people) in the many public Planning Commission meetings during which the comprehensive plan was discussed over the last year (and I suspect several years).

“The fact of the matter is that the Planning Commission must follow the requirements of 15.2-2225 and after having a public hearing they ‘may approve, amend and approve, or disapprove the plan.’ I advocated for the public hearing to move forward followed with the Planning Commission amending and approving (and then passing the amended plan to the BOS for another public hearing) or disapproving the plan (and going back through an editing process that would end with another public hearing at the PC level).”

Curry confirmed that the chair of the Planning Commission chose not to have the Zoning Administrator advertise the public hearing for its March 20 meeting.

Besides Sharp, Board of Zoning Appeals members serving on the BZA include Jennifer Matthews, Chris Bird, David Konick and Ron Makela. Members of the Planning Commission, apart from Light, are Sherry Cillo, Al Henry, Rick Kohler, Holly Meade, Christine Smith (BOS rep), and Chris Bird (BZA rep).

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John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at editor@rappnews.com.