There were plenty of questions but few answers at last night’s Berryville Planning Commission discussion over Virginia’s recent “temporary family healthcare structures” legislation. Planners also considered new Virginia mandates for assisted living facilities as well as a quality of town services survey of Berryville residents.
Temporary Family Healthcare Structures
A recent law sponsored by Virginia General Assembly House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem), defines a “temporary family healthcare structure” as a facility that can be placed on a residential property and occupied by a relative who is physically or mentally impaired as diagnosed by a doctor. The structures must be less than 300 square feet and conform to local regulations governing sheds or garages. The building must be removed within 30 days after the occupant passes away, moves or no longer needs to receive care in the dwelling.
Sometimes referred to as “Granny Pods”, the term is derived from design similarities to temporary onsite storage pods. The new law is the work of the Rev. Kenneth Dupin, pastor of a small Methodist church in Salem, Virginia. Dupin’s vision is to provide aging family members with small, specially equipped, shelters close to relatives as an alternative to nursing homes.
While the spirit of the law may have merits, its implementation has stirred confusion and concern, first with county administrators, and now with Town planners.
The root of the problem is that the Virginia Assembly appears to have put very little forethought into how the “granny pods” will impact local municipalities.
“The folks in Richmond didn’t speak with a group like us before they made the law,” said Planning Commissioner John Lincoln.
Last night the Planning Commissioners peppered Assistant Town Manager Christie Dunkle with questions about the practical implications of installing the temporary structures in Berryville. Dunkle told the Commissioners that many other Virginia localities are asking the same questions, but the answers aren’t clear yet.
Planning Commission questions included and concerns:
– Misuse and monitoring of the structures against non-medical uses
– Prohibition of a foundation slab for the structures
– Utility hook-up concerns
– Impacts on the Berryville Historic District from lack of review oversight
– Fire and rescue considerations due to lack of site plan review
Planners also expressed concern that the structures can be placed anywhere on the property, conceivably even in the front yard. Commissioner Douglas Shaffer asked Dunkle to attempt to find answers to the Commissioner’s questions from legislative officials in Richmond.
“At least see if these structures could be restricted to the side or backyard only,” Shaffer said.
The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on temporary family healthcare structures as well as new Virginia mandates for assisted living facilities on September 28.
For more information on the two new laws please see the Clarke Daily News, “New Laws Remove Restrictions On Group Homes and “Granny Pods”
2010 Census Results May Impact Berryville Comprehensive Plan
In other actions, the Planning Commissioners discussed upcoming revisions to the Town’s Comprehensive Plan. The Code of Virginia requires that the plan be updated every five years.
One important planning aspect that must be considered during the update is the result of the 2010 U.S. Census due to be released in 2011. If the town of Berryville is found to have grown beyond a population of 3,500 residents, responsibility for road maintenance will shift from the Virginia Department of Transportation to the Town of Berryville.
Assistant Town Manager Dunkle pointed out that the Town may be able to rely on technical assistance from the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission for transportation planning.
Town Services Survey
The Planning Commission is considering a survey to Town residents to assess the quality of service being provided to residents. The survey would cover a range of issues from town property maintenance to quality of life factors like Town walk-ability, downtown revival and park upkeep.
Several Planning Commissioners remarked on the increased number of people that can be seen walking in the downtown area recently, especially on Saturdays.
“There’s a lot going on downtown these days,” Dunkle said. “We now have 24 vendors signed up for the Farmer’s Market and the Berryville Craft Fair is in its ninth year. We’ve on a positive trend.”