Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Henrico Zip Code Survey: Overshadowing the importance of the 2026 Comprehensive Plan

By now, we should all be familiar with the Henrico 'Zip Code Survey', but...
Where are the television ads, full-page magazine spreads, and newspaper articles about the 2026 COMPREHENSIVE PLAN? Why haven't we received glossy full color brochures in the mail to educate us about the importance of the plan which will shape the future of our own county?

As pointed out in his February 21st Henrico Citizen article, Editor Tom Lappas reminds us that the zip code issue now being addressed in Henrico is a two way street. "Henrico isn't the only locality that is losing tax revenue to the city; a similar situation exists on a smaller scale in Chesterfield County, which also has several "Richmond" ZIP codes within its boundaries."

Mr. Lappas goes on to point out that "Chesterfield officials are said to be very interested in the outcome of the Henrico survey, and they may try a similar approach if the proposal is successful here," and also that "A small portion of Hanover County carries the Glen Allen mailing address, so Henrico occasionally receives taxes that actually belong to Hanover." But you don't see Henrico talking about the inequity there.

With the postal surveys now hitting Henrico mailboxes, it was interesting to see a small number printed in the the bottom right hand corner of the postcard provided for residents to return. What is this number? When each resident enters the curtained box to vote in a state or national election, do their ballots sport any numbers which would identify their vote as coming from them in particular? We find this odd, very odd.

Why would it be necessary (or possible) to identify which way any resident responded to this survey? There is, of course a possibility that these extra numbers are a way to be sure no one has stuffed the ballot box- but certainly some other non-identifying means could have been chosen to insure this.

The ZIP CODE SURVEY card that arrives in some Henrico mailboxes says nothing of the tax issue, which was the topic used as a basis to promote the necessity of changing some Henrico locations names from Richmond, Va, to Henrico, Va... More than one savvy HV reader has brought this issue up via email. (Kudos for paying attention and alerting HV) Instead,

the Zip Code survey card reads:

"On behalf of customers in your area, Henrico County has requested that the Postal Service accept the name Henrico, VA as the last line on your mailing address. This change is being sought to bring greater addressing recognition to Henrico County's identity."

Why, that's not what Henrico told us at all! All of the representation that Henrico has given this issue has been solely about the loss of 5 MILLION DOLLARS of tax revenue, which "may be going to the City of Richmond"! Now we're really confused. It seems the USPS might have contributed the survey card text- if so, their take on it seems on point to us.

One way or the other, the City of Richmond has recently stated
that tax discrepancies are reconciled with Henrico every year. So whom are we to believe?

Also, why has no solution been put forth by the County to address the out of pocket cost which would affect businesses which would have to change their signage, advertising materials, stationary, much less repaint their addresses on fleets of vehicles?

What about the cost of reprinting all of each resident's personalized stationary? Residents and businesses time lost informing those who may mail them? Updating websites? Or the cost of replacing the stickers and rubber stamps used to address many outgoing mails? The list of these costs to citizens and businesses could go on and on.

Also of note in context to the ZIP CODE SURVEY, is the fact that Henrico seems to have used a decent amount of resident's tax revenue in their associated public relations campaign. A full page full color advertisement in high circulation local magazines must cost something these days, and Richmond Magazine had at least one of those - perhaps payed for by the County? And what about the postage for the survey 'campaign brochures' and the survey cards themselves?

What we call the 'campaign brochure' was an expensive looking two sided mailer, again printed in full color, on heavy, glossy paper that was sent out in by the County prior to the survey itself. HV readers have written in to point out that Henrico County's cable television channel has bee running several documentary style promotional advertisements at least once an hour, for the last month or so. These visual promotions must have been shot, edited, and musically scored by County employees, in-house. How was this funded? As a part of full-time employees regular work load?

It would be interesting to see the full budget amount used for the print and media campaign to support the zip code based possible name change from Richmond to Henrico.

Pages and pages of interesting "reader reaction" has been posted online in response to zip code related articles published in local papers- please take time to read the reader's opinions following each article:

"Henrico, VA effort adds to divisions" (Richmond Times Dispatch Apr 28, 2008)

"Henrico, Va.' May Become Reality" (Henrico Citizen, February 21, 2008)

"Richmond counters Henrico effort..." (Richmond Times Dispatch May 03, 2008)

Much of the reader response to recent press seems to have more to do with regionalism, and opinions concerning how Henrico and Richmond officials behave in context to just that. Many residents have written in to point out that the ZIP CODE SURVEY seems to have more to do with regionalism or the county's inability to properly filter tax data- than where their tax dollars are ending up, and some valid points have been made. But bickering over opinions of those both inside and outside of the city limits isn't going to solve what's at hand now.

None of the ZIP CODE SURVEY questions we've asked above bother us as much as a more important issue at hand this May. Which is:

WHY hasn't a similarly zealous effort been made by our elected officials and those whose salaries our tax dollars employ, to campaign to educate Henrico residents about the importance of the 2026 Comprehensive Plan?

As covered by Historic Varina on March 18th in "Knowledge of Comprehensive Plan LOW among Henrico County residents- Survey says", the '2005 Citizen Survey' let Henrico Officials know that "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." It still doesn't seem like Henrico is spreading the word about the Comp Plan.

In case anyone reading this still does not understand: The Land-Use "suggestions" made in the 2026 Comprehensive Plan WILL affect how the land in your neighborhood will be used for the next eighteen years. Whether these 'guidelines' are described as mere "suggestions" or not- they will guide how land is used, and there is very little, if any, preservation of open space suggested. The plan is undoubtedly pro-development, and as a result does not take into consideration your "quality of life", or that of future generations.

Where are the television ads, full-page magazine spreads, and newspaper articles about the 2026 COMPREHENSIVE PLAN? Why haven't we received glossy full color brochures in the mail to educate us about the importance of the plan which will shape the future of our own county?

The outcome of residents involvement in the 2026 Comprehensive Plan has a much greater effect on the future of the area in which we all live. Whether your envelopes are marked Richmond or Henrico, the Land Use and Major Thoroughfare Plans will do much more than Henrico is willing to let on, to shape the way Henrico ends up being (or not being).

Where are the funds coming from to build two major interchanges in Varina? Many major Thoroughfare Plan changes which were proposed in the 2010 Plan, and then removed from that plan, have been replaced in the 2026 Plan. There may be a future roadway extension planned right through your property, but Henrico County certainly isn't advertising that!

More residents should be asking questions. Good questions, like those asked in recent public meetings:

Susan Rhodes, who also lives in the western end of the county, asked how the county will pay to educate hundreds of new students who likely will come as a result of residential development.

Henrico resident Tom Townsend questioned why the Board of Supervisors doesn't impose cash proffers on developers. He said increased traffic congestion in the Short Pump area resulted from an "unabated volume of rezoning approvals over the last several years" and an imbalance between infrastructure funding and growth.

"How can the supervisors address this traffic congestion and more directly correlate rezoning requests and approvals with the necessary infrastructure to support this growth?" Townsend asked. "Why doesn't Henrico County impose cash proffers upon developers during the rezoning approval process to fund and help pay for these necessary infrastructure improvements rather than spreading the cost of this infrastructure on all citizens in the county?" Thank you Ms. Rhodes and Mr. Townsend, sincerely.

To read the 'answers' given to these questions, read Virgil Hazelett's explanation, as eloquently covered by Melodie N. Martin, Staff Writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch in "Development debated at session- Speakers, supervisors offer explanations about growth impact" on Wednesday, Apr 09, 2008 (Thank you Ms. Martin)

Most of our readers are now probably familiar with the Comp Plan, but how many other Varina and even Henrico residents understand what the proposed plan holds for them in their locations? It is very important that residents attend the Comprehensive Plan Meetings, and each give the county input on how the plan will affect them.

Please review the Comprehensive Plan Chapters and familiarize yourself with the new "Land Use Designations" and "Major Thoroughfare Plan" (links are in the upper right column of this page).

There is no doubt the final draft of the 2026 Comprehensive Plan will change your quality of life more than any envelope label ever will.

Want to read more?
"Meetings give you a voice in county's future
Public is invited to offer input on plan outlining land use through 2026"

Richmond Times Dispatch- Sunday, May 04, 2008

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