The Clarke County Planning Commission began the long and arduous task of revising the County’s Comprehensive Plan earlier this week. As Brandon Stidham, Clarke County’s new Planning Director, prepares to hire a planning consultant to provide the County with a fresh look at the County’s land use ordinances and approach, Planning Commissioners began staking out their positions on what they would like the revised plan to look like.
On Tuesday the Planning Commission used its regular briefing session to kick-off the Comprehensive Plan review process. Stidham provided the Commissioners with a draft timeline for completing the revised land planning document sometime in June, 2013.
“Staff has developed a draft schedule for updating the Comprehensive Plan based on the draft scope of work that the Commission accepted by consensus in July,” Stidham said. “The draft schedule is aggressive with the goal of completing a large portion of the substantive work prior to the holiday season in December and producing a first draft for public review by Spring, 2013. Staff proposes making use of the Planning Commission briefing meetings as workshops and also proposes one special workshop on Wednesday, October 10.”
In August the Clarke County Board of Supervisors passed a motion authorizing an economic development consultant to assist with the Comprehensive Plan update. The move came after a discussion of the Planning Commission’s Double Tollgate report.
The Comprehensive Plan review will look at a variety of issues including the County’s sliding scale zoning ordinance, land use easement policies as well as development both inside and outside of the Berryville area. Stidham and the Planning Commissioners hope to select the consultant in the next several weeks so that the review process can commence by the beginning of November.
At Tuesday’s meeting the Planning Commissioners began framing their expectations for the new Comprehensive Plan.
“Residential development has centered around single-family homes,” said Commissioner Robina Bouffault (White Post). “As Clarke’s population continues to age the lack of affordable housing for younger couples is being felt.”
Bouffault said that it was time to look at developing areas where condominiums and townhomes can be built in Clarke County. Bouffault suggested that the County consider a transferrable development rights (TDR) program.
In general terms, a “transferable development right” program allows property owners in areas targeted as agricultural or low-density to effectively “sell” their development right to property owners in targeted growth areas. A TDR program, in theory, focuses density in targeted areas and can reduce ‘per-user” infrastructure costs making such areas more economically attractive for development.
“A TDR program can be done either by re-defining existing undeveloped residential areas in the Berryville Area, or by adding some areas which could receive TDR’s from outlying County areas, reducing the number of development unit rights (DURs) outstanding in the County.”
In his briefing to the Planning Commission Stidham said “The County does not expect dramatic changes to the land use strategies with this update project but is interested in exploring innovative, ‘outside of the box’ approaches to economic development at or near the County’s public infrastructure – the Towns and intersections of major primary routes (including Waterloo and Double Tollgate). Any strategies that are proposed, however, must be consistent with and complement the County’s existing land use policies and strategies.”
But Planning Commissioner Chip Steinmetz (Berryville) expressed frustration with Stidham’s proposed mandate for the planning consultant’s work.
“Sounds to me like we’re saying ‘Please don’t change anything’,” Steinmetz said. “There are people driving through here from Frederick County and Loudoun County every day. We’re missing the boat here.”
Clarke’s historic approach to land use planning was also questioned by Commissioners Tom McFillen (Berryville) and Richard Thuss (Buckmarsh).
“I have to wonder if we are approaching a threshold on easements in our County,” asked McFillen. “I know that we have benefited in some ways from conservation easements, but have we been hurt in other ways?”
“Something like 25% of the County’s conservation easements are in place to protect against future subdivisions,” replied Planning Commission Chairman George Ohrstrom (Russell).
“I’ve never seen the any numbers that support the economic value of conservation easements,” added Commissioner Thuss. “Maybe the numbers are out there but I haven’t seen them.”
Other Planning Commissioners expressed their concerns about how the limited planning consultant budget will be used to address the County’s land use goals.
“I want to exclude Double Tollgate from the economic review because we know that it doesn’t work,” said Commissioner Scott Kreider (Buckmarsh). “I don’t want to spend money there when we know that we don’t have much money to begin with.”
“What are the needs of this County?” asked Commissioner Clay Brumback (White Post). “Is this consultant going to take a look at that?”
At least two Planning Commissioners suggested that the work of the proposed planning consultant be evaluated based on measurable results.
“What’s our economic target here? Do we have revenue goals?” asked Planning Commissioner Jon Turkel (Millwood).
“If we are going to spend $60K – $100K on a consultant we need to see performance data that their recommendations to other organizations resulted in a revenue increase,” said Richard Thuss. “I want to be sure that we’re not going out and recommending things that no one acts on.”
But Planning Director Stidham reminded the Planning Commission that the ultimate responsibility for designing an effective land use strategy for Clarke County ultimately rests with the Planning Commissioners.
“It’s ultimately the Planning Commission’s job to write the Comprehensive Plan,” said Stidham. “I’m going to be asking all of you to write the plan.”