A Plan, Still in Flux, Com­ing in for a Land­ing?

Rappahannock News - - RAPPAHANNO­CK SNAPSHOT - By Sara Schon­hardt Foothills Fo­rum

This up­dates the Foothills Fo­rum/Rappahanno­ck News se­ries, “The Land, a Plan, a Fu­ture,” which was pub­lished March 9 and March 24, 2017.

Through­out its his­tory, Rappahanno­ck has avoided the ur­ban sprawl and rapid de­vel­op­ment of its neigh­bors. The com­pre­hen­sive plan – the county’s guid­ing doc­u­ment – along with land-use tax de­fer­ments, con­ser­va­tion ease­ments and re­stric­tive zon­ing have played a role in help­ing Rappahanno­ck main­tain its un­spoiled nat­u­ral set­ting, while keep­ing out big-box stores and even stop­lights.

The com­pre­hen­sive

plan sets out a vi­sion of a county with agri­cul­ture as its back­bone, wide open spa­ces and a much dif­fer­ent style of de­vel­op­ment than War­ren or Fauquier, which don’t have the 25-acre zon­ing that has kept land out­side Rappahanno­ck’s vil­lages from be­ing carved up into smaller parcels.

But a ques­tion now fac­ing res­i­dents is whether Rappahanno­ck will be able to main­tain its unique ru­ral iden­tity in the face of chal­lenges re­lated to health care, emer­gency ser­vice and broad­band ac­cess as the rest of the world moves for­ward. Should it more ag­gres­sively em­brace agri­tourism? What role can the lo­cal busi­ness com­mu­nity play? What ad­just­ments does the county’s zon­ing strat­egy need?

Rappahanno­ck is not alone in try­ing to fore­stall the in­flux of ur­ban creep. Pre­serv­ing the ex­pan­sive, agri­cul­tural na­ture of the county does come with con­se­quences, how­ever, namely keep­ing the county

heav­ily de­pen­dent on per­sonal prop­erty taxes and mak­ing hous­ing and land more ex­pen­sive.


Un­der Vir­ginia state code, ev­ery com­mu­nity must adopt a com­pre­hen­sive plan and re­view it ev­ery five years. Rappahanno­ck hasn’t for­mally re­vised its plan since 2004. The plan has come un­der re­view sev­eral times, but changes to county ad­min­is­tra­tive staff and mod­est in­put dur­ing pub­lic fo­rums have stalled the process.

By early De­cem­ber, the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion had re­viewed a com­pleted re­vi­sion of the plan and re­quested that zon­ing ad­min­is­tra­tor Michelle Somers make a fi­nal set of ed­its. Somers and County Ad­min­is­tra­tor Gar­rey Curry have worked to up­date the de­mo­graphic data, and the com­mis­sion has mod­i­fied a num­ber of goals, ob­jec­tives, and poli­cies based on the lat­est in­for­ma­tion as well as in­put from sev­eral pub­lic meet­ings in 2018. They’ll con­sider the plan for a pub­lic hear­ing at Jan­uary’s meet­ing (link to the plan: https://www.board­docs.com/ va/corva/Board.nsf/Pub­lic).

“At the high­est/broad­est level, the plan has not changed much,” Plan­ning Com­mis­sion Chair­man Gary Light wrote in an email. “We en­vi­sion Rappahanno­ck County as a ru­ral and scenic com­mu­nity with an econ­omy cen­tered on low-im­pact tourism and agri­cul­ture.”

Within that frame­work, the re­vi­sions at­tempt to ad­dress the lat­est chal­lenges the county faces, in­clud­ing an aging, shrink­ing pop­u­la­tion and limited pub­lic ser­vices. They also try to ac­count for de­vel­op­ment is­sues Rappahanno­ck may en­counter in the fu­ture, such as util­ity-scale wind and so­lar fa­cil­i­ties.

Light said the com­mis­sion deemed it pru­dent to con­sider this type of land use given some pub­lic con­cerns that Rappahanno­ck could face pro­pos­als for so­lar projects sim­i­lar to those in Fauquier and Culpeper coun­ties.

There are sub­tle changes, like sharper lan­guage around the need for broad­band and cel­lu­lar tech­nol­ogy. One ad­di­tion from a 2014 re­view that’s been re­tained refers to such tech­nolo­gies as “es­sen­tial com­po­nents of the 21st cen­tury econ­omy” and en­cour­ages the means to pro­vide for their ex­pan­sion. It also raises con­cerns about the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing qual­ity of land­line tele­phone ser­vice.

The re­vi­sions in­clude added sup­port for venues and ser­vices that serve the county’s youth and fam­i­lies. While the plan sticks to pre­serv­ing the county’s nat­u­ral beauty and land­scape, with up­dates on con­ser­va­tion mea­sures, there is more of an em­pha­sis on the need for eco­nomic progress and sus­tain­able growth that en­cour­ages sen­si­tive tourism, such as low-im­pact tourist hous­ing.

“I think there is a recog­ni­tion that you need a cer­tain amount of eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity to have a ro­bust com­mu­nity. And some of that is re­flected in the re­vi­sions,” Light said.


Among eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment goals out­lined in the plan is adap­tive use of the old Aileen fac­tory. Curry says owner Alex Sharp and the county are look­ing to get the fa­cil­ity listed as an op­por­tu­nity for de­vel­op­ment on a data­base the Vir­ginia Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Part­ner­ship (VEDP) main­tains that helps put prop­erty own­ers in touch with pri­vate com­pa­nies look­ing for space.

“We know that we don’t want fac­to­ries on ev­ery cor­ner,” Curry said. “But where we can we want to be able to pro­vide ad­di­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties for jobs and ad­di­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties for rev­enue that is com­ing from some­where other than res­i­dences.”

Curry says he has met with peo­ple at VEDP to paint a bet­ter pic­ture of what Rappahanno­ck is and isn’t and let them know that it has dif­fer­ent eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment goals than lo­cal­i­ties in­ter­ested in large in­dus­trial plants.

As the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion re­views county zon­ing reg­u­la­tions in the fu­ture, in­clud­ing those re­gard­ing short-term rentals, event fa­cil­i­ties and the or­di­nance around signs, any changes to the com­pre­hen­sive plan would serve as the guid­ing frame­work for ad­dress­ing those mat­ters. But ul­ti­mately, de­ci­sions re­lated to spe­cific is­sues, such as broad­band ac­cess and re­stric­tions on Airbnbs, would likely come through more tar­geted zon­ing and reg­u­la­tion.

While there is no ma­jor shift in the lat­est re­vi­sion of the com­pre­hen­sive plan that would im­pact land use in Rappahanno­ck, it does ad­dress is­sues such as com­mu­ni­ca­tions and agri­tourism that peo­ple are di­vided over, and Curry says he ex­pects and hopes there will be com­mu­nity feed­back.


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