Before this week’s special work session with fellow members of the Rappahannock County Planning Commission as they continue to revise the county’s comprehensive plan, Chairman Gary Light acknowledged that “gaps” exist in the plan.
Which isn’t to say Light is losing sight of the lengthy document’s original purpose — to guide and accomplish the goals and aspirations of Rappahannock County when it comes to growth and development.
“There is some confusion on the scope and breadth of the plan,” Light told the News in a telephone interview, and while the Rappahannock plan will “become a bit broadened” he said it shouldn’t stray from its intended scope.
As set forth by Virginia code, a comprehensive plan shall be “general in nature,” to guide government officials now and into the future. It is not a binding document — or book of laws or ordinances — pertaining to issues like land use, zoning and housing.
“The local planning commission shall prepare and recommend a comprehensive plan for the physical development of the territory within its jurisdiction,” the code states, which is how this current revision fell into the laps of Light and others.
And while such a plan is to be general in nature, state code requires “the commission shall make careful and comprehensive surveys and studies of existing conditions and trends of growth, and of the probable future requirements of its territory and inhabitants.”
It was for this and other reasons that the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) last month appealed to the planners to put more meat into the comprehensive plan, pointing out that in places it contains identical language going back as far as 1980.
The BZA recommended the planners address affordable housing, broadband, fire and rescue, road and transportation, land use, zoning districts, designated village areas, cluster and ridgetop developments, growth trends, groundwater and surface water, current cropland, cattle and timber harvesting.
One of the gaps Light readily acknowledged existed in the plan surrounds “affordable housing,” which he said would be addressed at Wednesday’s work session. Another gap, he said, is “broadband” — now more pressing than ever given a communications tower developer only last week was flying trial balloons above two proposed cell tower locations in one of Rappahannock’s most pristine viewsheds (Light showed up to observe the balloon tests).
Days earlier the same developer erected a large steel monopole in Sperryville, which could soon be slated for repainting given its “white” color doesn’t come close to blending into the backdrop of adjacent Shenandoah National Park. An updated comprehensive plan, for example, could address or even specify the county’s paint preferences when it comes to the installation of future cell towers and monopoles, which would prevent costly mishaps like just occurred in Sperryville.
One positive outcome of the BZA’s letter last month to the Planning Commission, Light said, is that county residents are now paying more attention to the comprehensive plan, some perhaps learning about it for the first time.
“I do think it is a positive development with the growing attention,” the chairman told the News, adding that the commission, as done previously, will “engage all of the public” during the final revision process.
Asked whether he had a target date for the plan’s completion, Light replied: “I’m not going to give a date, but I’d like to see it wrapped up rather quickly.”
That said, the chairman stressed that in the future the county’s comprehensive plan should be “updated as needed . . . it’s an ongoing process . . . a working document,” rather than revisiting it every however many years — as unfortunately has been the case with previous Rappahannock County planners.
The Planning Commission has yet to schedule a public hearing date on the revised plan.