Despite continued outcries from the public, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved the draft comprehensive plan Tuesday night, 3-1.
The plan, which outlines goals and visions for the county and establishes land use categories, is required by state law to be reviewed every five years. The county completed its last plan in 2009 and the planning commission began work on the newest draft more than two years ago.
The goals in the plan include promoting preservation of historical areas; sustaining and enhancing agricultural and forestal uses; developing plans to protect the quality and supply of water and other environmental resources; targeting specific industries; promoting tourism, health services, efficient and effective government and more. The plan also reclassifies land use categories including “Agriculture 1,” covering areas actively farmed, covered with forest, under public or private easements and encompassing historically or environmentally sensitive areas. “Agriculture 2” covers areas of the county featuring a mix of agricultural activities and single-family residential neighborhoods. “Village” covers well-established communities and census designated places throughout the county. “Town/suburban” includes those areas adjacent to incorporated towns or Lake of the Woods. “Economic development” land use is designated to promote growth and job creation.
The plan has elicited strong responses during two planning commission public hearings in the spring and summer, one supervisors’ public hearing in the fall and most recently, Tuesday night during the public comment portion of the supervisors’ meeting—requiring a vote from the supervisors to waive its bylaws which state no one can make a public comment on a matter which has already been discussed during a public hearing, but has not yet been voted on. The waiver was approved unanimously.
Nine people spoke about the plan Tuesday night, one in favor of it and eight in opposition of it. One-hundred-and-ninety-six people also spoke out about the plan through their signatures, which appeared on a petition opposing the plan presented to the supervisors by Don Skelly.
Jack Snyder spoke against the plan and said it takes the beautiful county that has a potential for tourism and converts it to urban sprawl. He said taxes will have to be raised in order to provide the services necessary with more growth.
Anne Stelter worried that the plan ruins the beauty of rural areas as seen through the eyes of the country’s forefathers. She said James Madison touted the salubrity of air in choosing an area near the Potomac for the nation’s capital while Thomas Jefferson equated the centralization of population and urban life to filth.
“[Thomas Jefferson] said American life would be furthered amid the rustic beauty,” she said. “What are we doing to it?”
Steve Satterfield characterized the plan as one that “plans a license for development as fast as possible.” He urged the supervisors to take time to revise the draft plan before approving it.
Traci Griggs agreed, asking supervisors to take an “opportunity to bring the community together where we can all work together over a year, a couple of months” to develop a stronger plan with community support.
Carl Prober said he, too, was against not having community input in the plan.
“I want this county to remain the way it is and not turn into [Northern Virginia] where I moved away from,” he said.
Piedmont Environmental Council member Dan Holmes also asked for a citizen-driven plan that incorporates some of the comments given during the public meetings on the matter.
David Heyl agreed.
“Why shouldn’t we all, who want to be, be involved in the process?” he asked.
Steve Yelton of Barboursville was the only person to speak for the plan. He said the “Agriculture 2” designation, which has been a hot-button topic for many of the plan’s opponents, is not a land developer’s proposal which will create urban sprawl.
“The county hasn’t had a subdivision ordinance in over a year,” he said. “Any developer could build anything they want, but it hasn’t happened.”
He said there are no job opportunities in the county, unless you’re a migrant worker. He said everyone who has lived in the county has done so because of some kind of development.
“Even Montpelier was subdivided,” he said. “[There are those] who have benefited from the subdivision of land and now they want to deny that right to others.”
Following the public comment session, District 2 Supervisor Jim White said the process to develop the plan was hardly a rush job, stating it had been worked on for more than two years in order to develop a “fact-based plan.” He said the new plan shares similarities with its previous counterparts including the much-discussed “Agriculture 2” designation.
“Agriculture was first separated into two kinds in the 1995 plan,” he said, stating traditional agriculture, or “Agriculture 1,” was referred to as “agriculture conservation” while mixed agriculture, or “Agriculture 2,” was “agriculture residential.”
He said villages, which have been discussed, were actually a larger part of the 2009 plan, which calls for villages beyond those discussed in the new plan.
“The real difference isn’t the land use categories,” he said. “The fundamental difference is the fact-based idea. The 2009 plan projected 152,000 residents 11 years from now. Every person in Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg would need to invade our borders and come here to live. Policies were made on the projection.
“[This plan attempts] to look at the facts [and create] a best-case scenario of where we will likely be,” he said. “It tries to balance varied views.”
He said the county’s defining characteristics are maintained in the new plan as they have been in every plan.
“Nothing is proposed to change that—even in the 1995 plan,” he said.
District 5 Supervisor Lee Frame said he doesn’t see the “Agriculture 2” designation as changing the character of the county.
“I don’t see it as an end of Orange County as we know it,” he said.
He said the plan uses language like “protecting the villages” and “preserving the rural character of agriculture.”
District 1 Supervisor Shannon Abbs was the only board member to say anything negative about the plan. She said while she didn’t feel the plan was terrible and had parts she both liked and disliked, she worried that the actions were speaking louder than words.
“[A co-worker] said ‘you have to be careful that your actions aren’t so loud that [people] can’t hear you’,” she said.
She said the two things that stood out about the plan are sustainability and the lack of faith in government.
“I plan to be here for a long time,” she said. “I don’t want to make it so I can’t afford to live here. While a lot of people who live here have holdings, a lot of people don’t.
“[Also,] the message I’m hearing is a lack of faith in the government and people wanting to be active and participate in it,” she added. “[Government] is supported to be representative. I don’t expect [people] to be here at every meeting and draft the plan. That’s what we’re here to do, [but] I hear people who want to [participate] and unfortunately, that’s an opportunity that will come to pass for them.”
The comprehensive plan was approved, 3-1, with several language changes made earlier this month. Abbs cast the dissenting vote and District 3 Supervisor Teel Goodwin was absent.