What is a Comprehensive Plan, and Why Should We Care?

Six of PEC’s nine counties are in the process of updating their Comprehensive Plans, or will be doing so soon. It can be easy to tune out these updates, but revisions to the ‘Comp Plan’ can mean drastic changes to the look, feel, and functionality of your county, town, and day-to-day life. This is because the Comp Plan is the community’s most important document regarding land use, growth, development, transportation, and resource utilization.

This document is a community’s road map for the future. It projects needs and trends over the next twenty years, and every locality in Virginia is required to have one. A Comp Plan covers topics as basic as where to place crosswalks, and as detailed as specific policies to address energy conservation. Although this Plan is not legally binding, it’s intended to guide all local policy and to serve as legal justification for a City or County’s decisions on proposed projects and development.

State law requires that Comp Plans be reviewed, and potentially revised, every five years. During this revision process, there’s often a temptation to allow for a major increase in new residential development and expanded non-agricultural commercial activities in the rural area—particularly during a down economy.

Due to the importance of these documents, and the potential impact of revisions, PEC follows this process closely in our nine-county region. Our staff contribute comments and suggestions at public meetings, and we keep citizens informed as to what proposed changes could mean for their community. Most importantly, PEC works to assure that the revision does not eliminate or alter current policies that PEC has long supported and worked hard to maintain. PEC wouldn’t be able to do this without citizen participation, so stay tuned and be sure to attend public meetings concerning your locality’s Comp Plan!

Comprehensive Plan Updates in Our Region

Photo by Katherine Vance

Albemarle County—PEC is concerned about recent efforts to expand non-agricultural commercial activities into Albemarle’s Rural Area. On July 23rd, the County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the draft Comp Plan. PEC will track this issue and provide comments at the hearing. We will keep you informed as to how you can pro-vide input. We hope to see you at the hearing! Questions? Contact PEC’s Jeff Werner: jwerner@pecva.org

Clarke County—The County’s initial Comp Plan draft was out for public review and comment through June 14th. PEC provided comments and will be following the process through to the Board of Supervisors’ vote to adopt the Plan. Some good news: the draft features strengthened resource protection measures and a new objective highlighting the importance of conservation easements. Questions? Contact PEC’s Gem Bingol: gbingol@pecva.org

Fauquier County—Fauquier will be reviewing and potentially revising multiple parts of the Comp Plan— including the Rural Land Use, Natural and Historic Resources, Telecommunication (regarding cell phone towers), and Opal Service District Plans. The Rural Land Use and Natural and Historic Resource Plans provide the framework to preserve our scenic landscapes and rural character. We encourage residents to stay informed, because there’s often pressure to remove important preservation tools. Questions? Contact Julie Bolthouse, PEC’s Fauquier County Land Use Officer.

Loudoun County—While Loudoun is not currently going through a full Comp Plan review, the Board of Super-visors is being petitioned to amend the current Plan. The petitioners would like approximately 425 acres of Loudoun’s Rural Policy Area to be rezoned to permit higher density development. PEC is very concerned about this piecemeal approach to planning, as well as the precedent that would be set—allowing suburban development to encroach into the Rural Policy Area. Questions? Contact PEC’s Gem Bingol.

Orange County—PEC feels that the current draft being considered in Orange is a severe departure from the standing Comp Plan. The impacts this draft would have on housing values, future tax rates, and Orange’s rural character are extreme. If it’s approved, many productive agricultural lands will be targeted for increased density and non-agri-cultural commercial activities. Also, expanded economic development areas encourages new residential, industrial and commercial—ignoring a backlog of vacant properties currently zoned for development and thousands of unbuilt, approved housing units. The County will post meeting dates in the near future, and we will keep you updated. Questions? Contact PEC’s Dan Holmes.

Rappahannock County—Rappahannock’s Comp Plan is currently being updated. While many members of the community have made suggestions and comments, there is still at least two more opportunities for the public to weigh in. As it stands, the County’s Plan provides a strong vision of protecting the County’s natural and cultural resources. We hope you will join PEC in telling the Planning Commission that the County should continue down this path. Questions? Contact PEC’s Don Loock.

This article was featured in our Summer 2013 Member Newsletter, The Piedmont View.