View­shed reg­is­ter to gauge im­pact of fu­ture de­vel­op­ment in scenic ar­eas

Rappahannock News - - FRONT PAGE - By Patty Hardee Spe­cial to Rap­pa­han­nock News

It won’t be long be­fore plan­ning, zon­ing, and land-use of­fi­cials across the state will have an in­no­va­tive new tool to help pre­serve scenic ar­eas and plan for ap­pro­pri­ate de­vel­op­ment.

It’s called a “view­shed reg­is­ter.” Con­ceived by Scenic Vir­ginia, a 25-year-old non­profit whose mis­sion is “to pre­serve, pro­tect, and en­hance the scenic beauty of Vir­ginia,” the view­shed reg­is­ter would be an on­line col­lec­tion of pho­tos of scenic places.

Ac­cord­ing to Rap­pa­han­nock County’s own Phil Ir­win, a Scenic Vir­ginia trus­tee, “You could take a cam­era and from a pub­lic lo­ca­tion, take a pic­ture of what you con­sider a valu­able scenic lo­ca­tion, a view­shed.”

These pho­tos would be up­loaded and made avail­able to any­one, such as county plan­ning com­mis­sions.

As an ex­am­ple, he says, imag­ine stand­ing along the side of Route 211, and pho­tograph­ing a moun­tain view. That pic­ture would be of a view­shed.

‘The idea of pre­serv­ing a view is not for some­body’s pri­vate pur­pose. It’s for a pub­lic pur­pose, for ev­ery­body in the world to en­joy’

“Most cam­eras will record the GPS co­or­di­nates as the pic­ture is taken. Any­body can call up the pic­ture by its co­or­di­nates or sub­ject.”

Then, a plan­ning com­mis­sion or any­one else con­sid­er­ing the im­pact of a spe­cific de­vel­op­ment could pho­to­shop a pro­posed build­ing, vine­yard, power line, or other in­fra­struc­ture onto the photo to see how the view­shed might be af­fected.

“If [plan­ners] were go­ing to be mak­ing a de­ci­sion as to what and where to lo­cate growth, they would be able to project what that growth would mean to that par­tic­u­lar view­shed,” says Phil. “What would be the im­pact of it? Would it be a clear cut­ting for a trans­mis­sion gas or elec­tric cor­ri­dor? Would it be build­ing a chicken coop? It doesn’t mat­ter what kind of growth you were plan­ning. You could im­pose — or project it — onto that par­tic­u­lar view­shed and see what the im­pact would be.”

As far as he knows, no other state has in­sti­tuted a pro­gram of this type. To im­ple­ment the reg­is­ter, Scenic Vir­ginia has com­mis­sioned the Vir­ginia Polytech­nic In­sti­tute to de­velop the statewide pro­gram.

“It’s com­ing along nicely,” says Phil. “It’s not a cheap thing for Scenic Vir­ginia to do, but we con­sider it to be one of the most ef­fec­tive tools that we have in our tool­box for plan­ning what Vir­ginia’s go­ing to look like in the fu­ture.”

Phil in­tro­duced the con­cept to the Rap­pa­han­nock County Plan­ning Com­mis­sion at a re­cent work ses­sion. At that time, he sug­gested that a sim­ple change to Prin­ci­ple 3 in Chap­ter 6 of the Com­pre­hen­sive Plan “would ac­knowl­edge the fact that this is go­ing to hap­pen statewide and we wel­come it here in Rap­pa­han­nock .

. . as a tool for our tool­box. Many of the com­mis­sions were in­ter­ested.”

He pro­poses this change: “Sup­port the con­duct of a [view­shed] in­ven­tory to iden­tify en­vi­ron­men­tally [and vis­ually] sig­nif­i­cant lands…”

Phil helped found the Rap­pa­han­nock League for En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion (RLEP) al­most 50 years ago and re­mains ac­tive. “We’ve been re­spon­si­ble for a lot of the way Rap­pa­han­nock county is to­day. We were suc­cess­ful in two pow­er­line fights.”

When asked why the view­shed pho­tos should be from a pub­lic place, Phil re­sponds. “The idea of pre­serv­ing a view is not for some­body’s pri­vate pur­pose. It’s for a pub­lic pur­pose, for ev­ery­body in the world to en­joy.

“We have a unique piece of prop­erty here in Rap­pa­han­nock County. We don’t have to use any of this in­ven­tory, but it’s there if we want to use it. [Scenic Vir­ginia] is not try­ing to im­pose any fu­ture use of it. We just want to make sure it’s there if any­one does want to make use of it.”


This scenic view from Woodville look­ing west into El­don Farms and Shenan­doah Na­tional Park will hope­fully be pre­served well into the fu­ture. The photo was taken just be­fore sun­set Sun­day evening.

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