The overwhelming message Tuesday night was “why wasn’t there more citizen input,” “this plan will lead to unrestricted growth,” and “go back to the 2009 plan” as more than 60 people spoke out against the Orange County Board of Supervisors’ proposed comprehensive plan revision.
As in two prior planning commission public hearings, the overwhelming majority of speakers opposed the plan. Of the 62 people who spoke, 60 were opposed to the proposed comprehensive plan, while only two spoke for it.
The reasons cited where much the same as heard in the planning commission’s public hearings, especially with regard to the Agriculture 2 designation introduced in the plan. The designation covers areas of the county featuring a mix of agricultural activities and single-family residential neighborhoods. According to the proposed plan, the land within the designation generally has one or more of the following characteristics: significant groups of residences along primary highways, secondary roads and areas that are easily accessible or in close proximity to such highways; a range of minor and major subdivisions with private streets connecting to public roadways; varied commercial uses located along primary and secondary highways that support and provide convenience for county residents in the area; and public uses such as airports, solid waste collection sites and fire and rescue stations. Public water and sewer are typically not available in these areas.
As Orange County Planning Director Gregg Zody pointed out before the public hearing, the plan also states, “Care should be taken to assure that development in the A2 area does not negatively impact the land located in the A1 areas of the county, or conflict with the county’s vision and the stated principles in the plan.”
However, the speakers largely voiced concerns that the A2 designation would lead to sprawl causing more pressure on already strained county resources. They also said it doesn’t go along with the plan’s vision, which incidentally, is printed at the bottom of every page. “Sustain the rural character of Orange County while enhancing and improving the quality of life for all its citizens,” it reads, though many argued the plan doesn’t live up to its goals.
“[Designations in this plan] won’t maintain a rural character of the county or improve the quality of life for all citizens,” Traci Griggs said. “This puts the county up for bid to the highest bidder.”
“The plan does the opposite of the vision statement,” John Bangs added. He said it increases traffic, crime, taxes and pollution and will “lead to unrestricted growth.”
“The vision is admirable,” said Steve Satterfield, “but this plan won’t achieve any part of it. This plan appears to threaten what most of us hold dear.”
“I didn’t move here to have a subdivision surround our farm,” Sally Pomfret added.
Former supervisor Zack Burkett said simply, the plan sucks.
“It’s a good plan if you want to sell out and get out, but for those who want to stay, it sucks,” he said.
Bob Johnson said while he would support the four-laning of Rt. 20, a project included in the plan, he didn’t support adding additional people and businesses with no plan to address water and sewer issues.
“You need to focus on the 800-pound gorilla sitting on your desk,” he said. “You’ve awakened a sleeping giant. You better not do this.”
Several speakers, including Anne Snyder, said that residential growth doesn’t equal lower taxes, encouraging the county to focus on agriculture and tourism.
“Support agriculture and tourism, not building more houses,” she said. “It costs the county more than the revenue generated.”
“I’m disappointed with the encouragement of residential growth in the A2 designation,” Jason Capelle added. “Every county with [large residential growth] has higher taxes [and] larger government with less rights.”
“It’s the embodiment of a big lie,” Don Skelly added. “Somehow you can grow the county into better jobs, schools and [lower taxes]. It only facilitates the building of new homes for those who will work [elsewhere].”
“Preserve why people want to come here,” Suzanne Bresee encouraged supervisors.
Several people also spoke out against the goal of four-laning Rt. 20, included in the draft comprehensive plan, saying it might not be a good idea to create a four-lane road in the middle of a battlefield. Others suggested focusing on targeted growth in the areas already designated for such growth, including the towns.
“Most of us have moved from other counties with very bad planning,” Alice Muller said. “You have to think far out. Targeted growth is fantastic. I love this county; it’s beautiful and I love it the way it is. This plan is not to the advantage of the county, but to the detriment of the county.”
Resi Connell said losing agricultural land will remove much of the county’s character. She agreed more businesses are needed, but said there was plenty of land in the current plan for such use.
“We have a beautiful county, it’s what makes us stand out,” she said.
“You can feel how peaceful and different this area is,” Emily Grelen added. She suggested concentrating growth in the towns.
Taking issue with the revised plan, several speakers suggested scrapping it altogether and keeping the 2009 comprehensive plan. They said unlike the new draft, the old plan is well-supported and was created with significant citizen input, something they said the new draft lacks.
“During the last go-round, [there were surveys] and you sought public input,” Nancy Wiley said. “With this plan, the people have been cut out [of the process] altogether. We’re being gypped.” She said the supervisors and those who have created the plan have not been faithful to county citizens nor have they been impartial in the creation of the plan.
Alyson Sappington suggested supervisors who may benefit from the revised plan abstain from voting on it, in an attempt to keep the integrity of the democratic process and demonstrate leadership.
“Three minutes is not constituent input,” Pat Dietch added, alluding to the timeframe allowed for each speaker during public hearings. She said those creating the plan put their interests above those of their constituents.
Not so, said Orange resident Henry Lee Carter, one of two people to speak in favor of the plan.
“Where were you when this plan was being created?” he asked the audience, saying he had attended several meetings. “[If it wasn’t] a democratic process, it’s their fault,” he added, alluding to those seated in the audience behind him. “I don’t see a rush of industry to Orange County. [The proposed] Round Hill [development] has been there for 10 years and there’s nothing built there, not even the first application. [The county] is not faced with sprawl.”
Steve Yelton joined Carter in the minority supporting the plan.
“The growth in Northern Virginia is directly related to the growth in Washington,” he said. “Orange County won’t ever be like northern Virginia.” He said 217, or 42 percent, of county farms have less than $2,500 in annual sales while only 67 county farms have more than $5,000 in annual sales. He also said currently, there are 2,000 undeveloped lots in the county when there should be 20,000.
“People are not looking [for] Orange County,” he said. “This is a step in the right direction.”
Hearing the overwhelming response from those in attendance at the 150-minute public hearing, District 5 Supervisor Lee Frame suggested taking a closer look at several items in the draft comprehensive plan and deliberating further before holding a vote. He made a motion to put the matter on the board's Dec. 17 agenda for a vote. It was seconded by District 2 Supervisor Jim White and passed unanimously.