Citizen Reaction to Comp Plan Work Sessions

I attended the Patrick Henry High School work session and plan to attend the one at Lee Davis on Monday night. As a professional educator, giving effective presentations, informing people, and gathering input is what I do on daily basis. The process in the high school was inept. No one had bothered to ensure that microphones would be available. It was extremely difficult to hear most of the presenters while we were in a whole group setting and even when we broke into smaller groups. The “recorders” in each group were using pads and pencils. Why not laptops to make it easier for them to record accurate notes? Or better yet, why were they not recording our ideas on easel pads where we could have seen what was being recorded and what ideas were being gathered?

I joined one group in the breakout session for most of the time and then moved briefly to the two other groups. I felt the first group’s County Planner did the best job in trying to answer questions without getting defensive or lecturing. He also frequently tried to turn the questions back to those in the group to say, “So what would you like so see done or what whould you like us to record?” However, I was distressed that he could not answer someone’s questions about the 1:1 job ratio, one of the five major assumptions underpinning your plan. He had to refer her to someone else in the room and we, of course, could not hear that exchange. In the other two groups, the atmosphere was less respectful. When people offered ideas, they were often debated, corrected, or the county position was defended. At the end one of the planner’s group meeting, the planner’s voice was visibly raised and argumentative. This is how the county thinks citizen input should be received? I thought the county was there to listen to citizen input, even if it wasn’t input they agreed with.

If the county was truly interested in receiving people’s opinions, why not include the simple step of providing response cards at the end of the progam for people to write comments or questions on the spot while the information is fresh in their minds?

It is clear to me that citizens’ viewpoints are not truly valued in this process even though there are a multitude of ways that they could be. Where were we at the start of this process? This plan is so vital to our quality of life in this county. Why were we not brought in as goals and objectives were being set? Why were so many parts of the update being worked on before the assumptions were even ironed out and agreed upon, again without our input? Would you be happy to be essentially left out of a process that determined your future quality of life for ten and a half months of a twelve month process?

Why is it that the only part of this plan that seems to have received significant, detailed deliberation is the economic development part? You may say that other facets of this plan are important to you, but the focus of your existing numbers, maps, charts, and graphs belies that statement.

Here are my needs plain and simple:

-back up
-gather more citizen input in substantive, respectful ways
-slow down (though the plan is to be updated in five years, no stickler in the state is going to slap us on the wrist if we take a few extra months)
-hire a consultant who can speak to more diverse solutions
-create a plan that reflects the desires of those who live here and love it here

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Comp Plan Work Session Tonight!

Tonight is the last public workshops conducted by Hanover County to solicit ideas from citizens regarding the County’s Comprehensive Plan Update. Voicing your opinion at this workshop is important because decisions being made now – by consultants, the Planning Commission, and the Economic Development Authority, will dictate the future development and quality of life in Hanover County for years to come. The planners and consultants NEED to hear what citizens of Hanover want and do not want, in terms of the county’s future growth.

Please join the Coalition for Hanover’s Future tonight at Lee David High Scool in Mechanicsville at 7 p.m. We are going to ask the County’s planners and consultants include these common sense growth strategies:

ESTABLISH A SUSTAINABLE GROWTH RATE – NOT TO EXCEED 2%

WHY?
Think about it: a 1% annual growth will double the population in 70 years; a 2% growth rate will double the populaiton in 35 years; and a 3% rate will double it in 23+ years. The current U.S. growth rate is 1.1% per year. Hanover’s consultants and planners must acknowledge the fact that a steady growth rate (a fixed percent per year) delivers very large numbers over a modest period of time. For example, a population of 10,000 people growing at 7 % per year will become a population of 10,000,000 people in just 100 years?!

The current target growth rate is 2.5% and the County Planning staff is recommending a range of 1.5 to 2.5%. This creates a huge difference, in terms of impact, between a 1.5% rate of growth and a 2.5% rate of growth.

The current growth rate is 1.8% – in 1990 it was 3.6% and in 1980, it was 2.5%.

DO NOT EXPAND THE SUBURBAN SERVICE AREA (SSA)!

WHY?
The proposed expansion area for the Suburban Service Area (SSA) is a 65% increase in the current SSA! While there are 53,100 acres in the current SSA, the proposed areas for expansion equal 33,425 acres. If this expansion is approved, the new size of the SSA will equal 86,525 acres! This is the equivalent of ONE Roanoke, or THREE Harrisonburgs, or FIVE Charlottesvilles to be developed in our county.

MAINTAIN A BALANCE OF ECONOMIC GROWTH

Right now, 4,686 acres are zoned for business & office services, but 1,456 acres have not been developed. 12,825 acres are currently zoned for industrial uses, but 5,035 acres have not been developed. According to the County, 6,500 acres are now available for business and industrial development. The County’s Economic Development staff claim that the parcels currently zoned are too small and/or are not located in the right area. CHF finds this is an unacceptable justification for developing more farmland, forestland and other green spaces for business and industry. Please tell your elected officials to make the land, currently zoned for business and industrial work!

A 1:1 JOB RATIO IS FLAWED LOGIC

The Economic Development staff claims Hanover needs more jobs in because, ideally, there should be ONE job for every person in Hanover’s workforce. This is flawed logic because: right now, there are 53,000 people in Hanover County’s workforce and there are 43,000 jobs in Hanover County. Hanover County has a very low unemployment rate of 2.6% – lower than Henrico (3%), Chesterfield (2.8%) and the City of Richmond (4.9%). New jobs in Hanover will bring workers to the county from other areas. In the first quarter of 2006, there were 494,052 jobs in Henrico, Hanover, Chesterfield and the City of Richmond and 477,962 people made up the workforce. There is NO basis a 1:1 ratio of jobs/people in the workforce is not sound logic for justifying more economic expansion. While it may make sense to apply the 1:1 ratio to the entire Richmond region; Hanover cannot be treated as an island for this purpose; commuting will continue both into and out of the county.

PEOPLE CHOOSE TO LIVE IN HANOVER COUNTY BECAUSE OF THE QUALITY OF LIFE

Please ask county planners to develop programs to preserve agricultural and forest land before the door is open to more development.

The county spent $200,000 to hire consultants to advise them on the update of the Comprehensive Land Use Plan. There were no consultants hired with expertise in rural preservation; no one hired with expertise in the development of a rural economic plan, and no one hired with expertise in land conservation planning.

Ask the county to develop a Purchase of Development Rights Program and/or a Transfer of Development Rights Program. Ask to see a plan for green infrastructure (greenways and blue ways and a state park). Several counties have green infrastructure as part of their comp plan. Where is this in Hanover’s Com Plan? Where is the plan to protect natural areas – undisturbed areas?

The time frame established for the update process is too rushed. The decisions made in the next several months will dictate the future development of Hanover County. The current planning assumptions and proposals will guarantee a growth rate that CHF believes is too fast. Some of the results of growth that is too fast are:

Overcrowded schools (more kids being taught in trailers, more frequent redistricting for kids, more crowded classrooms)

Traffic congestion and longer commutes plus more time spent in traffic – already, the Richmond Region has one of the highest per capita miles driven per day and one of the highest number of solo commuters. This is because rapid growth overwhelms the existing transport-ation network.

More pollution of air, water – loss of natural areas contributes to increased pollution. As we’ve noted, 11 Hanover streams and rivers are considered impaired.

Hanover is in the eight hour ozone non-attainment boundary.)

Loss of green space/passive recreation

Farm land has decreased in Hanover by 46.2%

Woodlands have decreased by 72%

THE RESULT? A DIMINISHED QUALITY OF LIFE

What do we want to see happen in Hanover?

In a survey conducted by Hanover County this year:
• 71% say growth is too fast
• 61% want programs to retain rural character, even if taxes are increased

• We are not unusual; state wide polls show the majority of Virginians want this.
• Mason Dixon Polls over the past 2-3 years found that 85-90% support preservation of Virginia’s rural resources AND even though this is what WE want, the planning consultants and planning staff are presenting a very different future.

As citizens, we need to demand a different, and yet a better vision for Hanover County!

The Fate of Hickory Hill

Two actions will determine the future of Hickory Hill:

1. The 1700+ acres of the 3300+ total acres of this farm are up for rezoning as a Rural Cluster (RC), and 277 homes are proposed. Assuming three people per dwelling, Hanover will see an additional 554 more cars traveling along Route 54 East. The added vehcile trips will cause congestion on Rt. 54 and significant back-ups at the Ashland/Hanover I-95 interchange which, by the way, is already near capacity.

This type of density is inappropriate for this rural, agricultural and forested area.

2. Hanover County’s Planning staff are proposing to change the Land Use Plan for all of Hickory Hill from Agricultural to becoming part of the Suburban Service Area (SSA).

Rural Cluster zoning does not work for this important, historic plantation. The proposal completely lacks a preservation plan for the historic home, the numerous dependencies and gardens.

Say “No” to desingating Hickory Hill as part of the Suburban Service Area (SSA). Keep Hickory Hill Agricultural.

If the Comprehensive Land Use Plan puts Hickory Hill in the Suburban Service Area (SSA), this will permit at least double the number of residential units to be built and allow a dense mixture of commercial, business, and industrial development.

The Virginia Dept. of Conservation and Recreation is very interested in part of Hickory Hill for a State Park. The decisions made by our elected officials will determine if this is a possibility.

SSA designation will make this land unaffordable for a State Park.