Orange County Unveils Sprawling Vision

This email alert was sent out on Friday, March 29th, 2013:


Just last week, the County Planning Commission put out a pretty shocking map. The map and accompaning document lays out what Orange would look like in 2025 — including major development along Route 20 and increased residential and commercial development in agriculturally zoned land, among other things (details below).

There will be an important public hearing on May 2nd, but I wanted to get this out to you now, so you have time to take a look. My read is that the County is trying to fast track these changes to the Comprehensive Plan.

The Plan Up Until this Point

Orange is a beautiful and unique place to live, but this hasn’t happened by mere chance. County residents, along with PEC, other organizations, and County government have spent years taking proactive steps to ensure desired growth does not diminish our cultural or historic resources and rural character.

Much of this work is reflected in the County’s Comprehensive Plan, a locality’s vision statement and road map for the future. It is the community’s most important document regarding land use, transportation and resource utilization; and it is the basis for decisions and regulations regarding development.

New Map Outlines Fairly Drastic Changes

When Counties update their Comprehensive Plans, there’s often a temptation to allow a big increase in new development and expanded commercial activities in the rural area that are unrelated to agriculture — particularly during a down economy. In this case, the County’s new draft Comprehensive Plan will do just that. This will have a huge impact on housing values, future tax rates, and the rural character of Orange County.

The full map is available online. I’ve tried to summarize what it means below (small changes were discussed at last week’s Planning Commission meeting and future maps may reflect these).

After initially reviewing the draft Plan text and map, several things are clear:

  1. Shown in light green on the map as A-2 >> they have changed the definition of this agricultural zoning district to allow increased commercial and expanded subdivisions on thousands of acres across the County.
  2. Shown in red >> in addition to the growth area on Route 3, there is now a proposal to make most of Route 20 available for strip commercial between the Town of Orange and Route 3. The plan also supports the 4-laning of Route 20 and it’s realignment through Wilderness Battlefield in tile 24.
  3. Shown in blue >> Village districts, a zoning designation rejected during the last plan review, are back — calling for increased development at the crossroad of Route 522 and Route 20, as well as other locations in the County.
  4. Shown in beige >> a new zoning designation called ‘Town Suburban Residential’ would allow higher density development on the outskirts of our towns and the Lake of the Woods Community.
  5. Shown in tile 24 >> there is an ‘Economic Development’ designation cutting into the Battlefield boundary.

What’s Next

The draft Comprehensive Plan changes will be presented at a public hearing on May 2nd. Usually, community meetings are held prior to public hearings to solicit early public input and explain the details of the plan. Curiously, they scheduled the community meeting on the same night as the hearing. So the open house will start at 5:30pm, followed by the public hearing at 7:30pm. It certainly seems like the County wants to make it difficult for citizens to engage in the shaping of this important document.

As I continue to review the draft, I will update the Orange County section of our website. I’ll also be in touch again before the hearing, but feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.


Dan Holmes
Orange County Land Use Officer
The Piedmont Environmental Council

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