Friday, May 23, 2008

2026 Comp Plan changes reflect some recent Varina participation, but knowledge of Land-Use Plan still ultimately LOW

Yesterday's Varina Comprehensive Plan "Open House" had possibly the largest turnout at county meetings yet, buzz says. But vying with Three Chopt District open house attendance is ridiculous if the numbers compared were only 50 vs. 60.
Varina residents trickled in to Ward Elementary school, which hosted the Henrico Planning department's 2026 Comprehensive Plan "in process", but the flow was steady. Despite the highly disappointing lack of forewarning from the County and Richmond press, Varina locals showed where their hearts lie- in the dirt.

The soil of our district, its history and its future, seemed a major topic among those attending. Concerns over proposed road-widenings and extensions, as well as pending "Land-Use" designation changes were among top topics of concern, eavesdroppers report. Our moles also relayed residents conversations with some planners voiced a high concern for protecting our district's agricultural heritage, historic sites, environmental preservation and the rights and safety of bicyclists who pedal our roads.

Posted outside the meeting was a group petitioning alongside a banner reading "Henrico Concerned Citizens". (High marks and many thanks to those who took the time to get others involved- you dedication is very appreciated.) Signatures were being collected in favor of the county including residents in the Comprehensive Planning process, which to date, has been formulated largely in closed meetings with the aid of outside consultants.

Large placards displayed around the meeting space featured various maps of Henrico. As residents visited each well manned station, they were able to speak with county representatives from different departments and voice their concerns for our county's future. If county reps didn't know the answer, there were volumes of information on hand in which they were able to look up answers- or at least provide insight.

There is no doubt that updating the entire Comprehensive plan has been a massive undertaking, and the materials presented were both well created and displayed. Henrico employees on hand to serve residents' informational needs were well dressed, cheerful and personable, despite the task at hand. (Would you want to meet and talk with large groups of concerned citizens, one by one... after your long day at work would have usually ended?) Each person involved in the current draft should be highly commended, whether they were evident at the Varina meeting or not.

Yet Comprehensive Plan faults are still evident and widespread. Chief among the concerns of many HV readers and also among those attending yesterday's meeting, was the dire lack of Henrico County's advertisement of both the current 'open house' meetings themselves and the Comprehensive Plan itself.

If the initial results of the 2005 Citizen Survey let our county employees know
"71% of Henrico residents who responded to the survey on which future planning in Henrico is based said they were not familiar with the "Land Use Plan"" then something is still drastically wrong. As Henrico proposes major changes for our district in particular, the onus is on those whom our tax dollars keep employed- to inform us of the future being created by the Comprehensive Plan.

Again, after Henrico's recent awe-inspiting (and no doubt highly costly) coverage of the Address-Change Survey and zip code 'hooplah', we here are very ashamed of our own county, and the serious lack- strike that- complete lack of information put forth publicly about the Comp Plan. This is our resident's land, quality of life, and future that is being swept under the proverbial rug.

How can the county be so busy creating this plan that they do not realize the importance of informing the citizenry that it even exists for comment and suggestion? Two years is a long time to keep this plan so unknown. We rightfully wonder what Tamra McKinney (Henrico's Director of Public Relations and Media Services) has been doing? If promoting awareness of the 2026 Plan hasn't been at the top of Ms. McKinney's to-do list, then we need to ask: why not? ... and who has deemed this unimportant enough to completely ignore addressing?

Varina residents are right to petition, asking for transparency in the Comp Planning process, as Henrico County has made little effort to promote knowledge of even the existence of the plan, other than to put it on their web-site. Only one small blip has been printed in the Times-Dispatch about the 2026 Plan meetings which is shameful! If given full media coverage, (as was done with Richmond's 'Master Plan') these meetings could have actually raised local awareness and invited residents inclusion and participation in what should always be a public process.

If yesterday's meeting in Varina drew more residents than any other district 'open-houses' held yet, we still need to get those numbers up. Varina is home to vast undeveloped tracts for which the county has little protection or preservation proposed. HV readers and meeting attendees alike pointed out the evident lack of planning for permanent protection of open-space in Varina. One resident was overheard to tell planners "we need to make sure we leave a great deal of this land AS IT IS, so that we'll still have something remaining in twenty years."

Recent updates to the comprehensive plan draft called in by Varina residents include the addition of a new "Suburban Mixed Use" area at the southern end of Osborne Turnpike (proposing commercial use to be mixed in with new residential growth), and the 'downsizing' in density of several areas formerly marked to include multi-story buildings and commercial uses. These changes in the draft seem to be explained as the result of Varina residents' responses to the 2026 Plan online- which is still open for resident's input.

Our district's future can still be affected by your voice and actions.

Click this link to learn more about the Comprehensive Plan. Then you need to review the chapters, maps, and diagrams and be sure to fill in the comments section for each plan chapter.

If you didn't attend the Varina open-house meeting, the Brookland Comp-Plan meeting is still available for you to attend. It will be held on Thursday May 29th, at the Western Government Center, from 4:30 to 7:30 pm.

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