Rapp Comp Plan: Don’t just ‘check the box’

Robert F. Hurley
Dennis M. Barry

Dear Chairman Gary F. Light and Members of the Planning Commission:

United Citizens of Rappahannock (UCOR) is a non-profit, non-partisan 501(c)(4) organization focused on fostering civility and good will in our community and educating fellow citizens on issues we mutually deem important.

UCOR believes that the development of a revised Comprehensive Plan (Plan) for Rappahannock County should be treated as more than an exercise of “checking the box.” It should be embraced as an opportunity to solicit the views of County citizens and to set forth principles that will establish the foundation for future decision-making for County land use and other policies. Thus, it is imperative for the future well-being of the County and for future generations that all points of view and voices be heard and represented throughout this process. An open and inclusive process is paramount, as it is more important to do this right than it is to do it quickly.

The current draft revised Plan is deficient for many of the reasons stated in the letter of March 3, 2019 to the Planning Commission from the Chair of the Board of Zoning Appeals.

The County faces a number of issues that should be addressed in the plan including:

Addressing shortages of volunteer fire and rescue personnel; revamping local tax policy to reduce the heavy reliance on real estate taxes and ease the burden of property taxes on low-income land owners; declining school enrollment and the underlying threat to the viability of the County’s school system; increasing the stock of affordable housing; addressing the decline in agricultural employment and the likely increased pressure for subdivision as farmers age and their offspring do not want to continue farming; determining how to deal with the County’s aging population and their needs; and trying to assure that the development that does occur in the County generates tax revenue that at minimum covers the cost of governmental services associated with that development.

By itself, the Plan should not necessarily set forth specific measures to solve all the issues facing the County. It should, however, acknowledge that these issues exist and should provide principles and guidance for arriving at solutions through County actions including ordinances and zoning.

We believe that there is consensus within the County on the importance of addressing the issues listed above, as well as a near unanimous strong desire to maintain the County’s open spaces and rural environment. However, we cannot make any assumptions about what County citizens want or how best these issues should be addressed. We recommend that the Planning Commission, with funding approved by the Supervisors, convene public forums facilitated by an experienced and knowledgeable planner from outside the County. We are aware that prior public hearings on the Comprehensive Plan were sparsely attended. Yet, as we saw with the bike path, County citizens are not shy about expressing their views. Thus, the forums should be advertised widely, and attendance should be promoted. Retaining a facilitator for public forums will not relieve the Planning Commission or the Supervisors from doing their own work in drafting, reviewing and revising a Comprehensive Plan; ultimately the Plan must be written by those who are familiar with the County. But, utilizing a facilitator, as a detached, experienced and independent professional, will help organize, shape and focus debate and consideration of the Plan.

Finalizing a draft Plan after the public forums must be done expeditiously and professionally. To get this done, we ask that you contract with a qualified planning expert(s) to assist in revising the current Plan. This will help ensure that it accurately reflects the views of Planning Commission, the Supervisors, and of course, the citizens. We strongly believe that the County will greatly benefit from the kind of assistance an expert facilitator and planner could provide this effort and urge that you request funding from the Board of Supervisors to support this course of action.

UCOR looks forward to your response and stands ready to assist you in any way possible.

The writers are Co-Chairs, UCOR Issues Committee

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