Monday, September 8, 2008

A Hands-On 'Community Visioning Session' in Varina on Monday September 15th

Can you envision what Varina will look like in 5 years... 10 years... 20 years?
Have a look at the slide-show above, and add 126,000+ residents,
because that's what Henrico's 'Capacity Analysis' documents project.

Are you aware that between 1990 and 2006 Henrico County lost 16%
its residual farms and forests - what the county calls “vacant land”?
That represents one percent a year- but obviously, it's on the rise..

Please come out next Monday night and
join the "working group discussion"
concerning the future of Eastern Henrico.

Next Monday, September 15th, from 7:00 p.m.,
a Hands-On "Community Visioning Session" will be held at
The Henrico Theatre,
305 East Nine Mile Road,
Highland Springs, VA., 23075

Varina residents are strongly urged to attend
this meeting, and participate in the planning
of our own District's future.
This is your opportunity to be involved.

Please download and circulate a color flyer or black and white flyer here, to help bring Varina residents out to this most important meeting.

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Our Currency: Our Future, Our Environment,

In this ever dwindling economy, it should be more than apparent that you can't spend what you don't have, unless you're Henrico County that is, because Henrico is not only spending your tax dollars, they're spending your future.

Comprehensive Planning in Henrico can easily be likened to "Futures Trading", as the future of our own commodities is what is at stake.
As you know if you read the local papers, the internet, and perhaps our blog, a great deal of change has been targeted for the Varina District in the drafts of Henrico County's 2026 Comprehensive Plan. Change that will not only cost residents money, but also cost us the future of our own environment.

These changes won't just affect Varina though, they'll affect all Henrico County resident's taxes, Virginia's environment, and the health and lives of future generations to come.

To create infrastructure (roads, schools, fire and police support) for new developments, Henrico County is currently spending 16 cents above each tax dollar they receive from you.

That means they (eh hem, WE) are losing money.

If 16 cents doesn't sound like much to lose, please realize how fast that can amount to millions of dollars in County spending. So, where will that extra 16 cents per tax-dollar come from? Out of residents pockets, via increased
fees and taxes.

Sure, many residents would rather be playing golf, collecting stamps, or watching cable tv... but the simple fact is that commodities like "Quality of Life", "Environmental Preservation", and "Historic and Cultural Heritage", can not be bought back once they're sold, and as residents of an area seriously threatened by the loss of just those commodities, we deserve the unbiased support of our elected (and non-elected) county officials. It's painful to "get involved" sometimes, but aren't "we the people" responsible for our own future?

Among the changes forecast for Varina are: massive residential growth, a shift away from our agricultural heritage, new roadways that will further divide currently farmed and forested land... all of which are repeatedly represented as positive change by those attempting their institution.

One of the points made in the Comp Plan's "Capacity Analysis" projects residential growth to rise by about 126,000+ people by 2026. Seeing that the vast majority of what the county calls "vacant land" is in the Varina District, where do you think those new residents would live? (Varina is Henrico's answer.)

"Capacity Analysis" download .pdf (large file):
download smaller "text only" version:

If you've paid attention to our county management in the past, you'll know that they repeatedly say that all of the extra money our county needs can come from "Economic Development", and that economic development is the backbone of our county. But just how much economic development can we afford? Wouldn't you rank the well-being of our residents, our environment, and our county's historic and cultural heritage above the spiraling growth of Henrico?

At some point very soon, our elected officials need to realize that sustainability needs to be the primary focus in Henrico County, not just continued growth.

After all, do you want to live on West Broad Street? It seems not, if you live in Varina. Growth has long been a concern in the Eastern part of Henrico. Just read the Richmond Times-Dispatch' May 29th, 2008 article entitled the same: 'Growth a Concern in Eastern Henrico'

Even when asked by the local government, the overwhelming majority of Henrico residents responding cited a need to control growth. "Overall, 82% of the (2005 Citizen Survey) respondents support further restricting or managing new development in rural areas not served by county sewer. Not surprisingly given such a large percentage, support was strong across all categories of respondents that were analyzed for this summary."

Yet County Planning continues to support growth alone, and there seem to be no growth restrictions or management provisions in the 2026 Plan to reflect these concerns. This is why Henrico County representatives need to hear from you, and all the residents you can rally to join in speaking up:

Next Monday, September 15th at 7:00 p.m., a "Hands-On Community Visioning Session" will be held at the Henrico Theatre, at 305 East Nine Mile Road, Highland Springs, VA 23075. Varina residents are strongly urged to attend this meeting and participate in the planning of our district's future.

The upcoming session came about through the support and planning of The Varina Beautification Committee, Envision Henrico, and The Partnership for Smarter Growth, as well a the care and effort of many Varina residents.

This past spring, Henrico County held a series of Comprehensive Planning meetings, one in each of the five county districts. Varina residents outnumbered those in attendance at any of the other open-houses. Why? Because Varina residents have the most to lose as a result of the changes proposed in the 2026 Plan.

During the past several years, as Supervisors and Planners have worked on the Comprehensive Plan, there have been no public meetings to allow for the inclusion of residents, or to address local concerns. Though in the RT-D article on Henrico Growth (linked above) we find:

"Henrico Planning Director Joe Emerson disagrees. He said details of the proposed plan are available on the county's Web site, in county libraries and at the planning department. Before voting on it, the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors will each conduct formal public hearings on the plan, he said."

""I think the process has been open and continues to be open," Emerson said."

But open process involves more than quietly making documents available to the public. True public process involves asking the people what they want, and applying their answers to fit their needs too.

Those would be the needs of the people who pay county employees salaries... the needs of those who live in the county, who support their own communities, who care about their neighborhoods, their children, and the future of the land on which they live, learn, and play.

The infrastructure necessary to support current residents should be addressed first and foremost, not just the new support systems needed to allow for future residents, who have yet to come.

As other than the Open-House meetings mentioned above, and the results of a Citizen Survey which administered county-wide in 2005, there has been no call for, or allowance of actual public inclusion in Henrico's 2026 Comprehensive Plan draft. To date, the current Comprehensive Plan draft shows little, if any County Planning response to the Citizen Survey results.

So, in late July, a petition requesting "expanded public process" for the draft 2026 Henrico County Comprehensive Plan was presented to Varina Supervisor Jim Donati, Ray Jernigan, and two members of the planning staff by an ad hoc delegation of concerned citizens: Charlie Finley, Lynn Wilson, Bob Gary, and Jane Koontz. These citizens suggested that Henrico County "partner" with community organizations in pulling together a Varina community-facilitated public meeting, prior to the formal public (2026 Plan) hearing before the Planning Commission. Which is yet another meeting that calls for your future attendance.

As a result of the efforts of the ad hoc delegation, Varina Supervisor Jim Donati has since agreed that 'Community Visioning' will be the focus of the Varina Town Hall meeting on September 15th, also present that evening will be a 'facilitator' from the consulting firm McBride, Dale and Clarion; the firm still under contract with Henrico for the 2026 plan.

Notices for Monday's meeting now in circulation ask that residents "
Mark your calendars for this most important event and help us get the word out!" and go on to say ..We want Varina to know "growth is targeted for Varina, and how Henrico County is planning for future Land Use and Transportation in our neighborhoods. We also want to convey this meeting to be much more than the limited county "Open Houses" in May, that citizens are encouraged to participate in the planning process on September 15. The meeting will involve breaking up into small focus groups, then reconvening to share results, which the facilitator and planning staff will compile and share with us later."

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Another set of recent fliers circulated by ROOT (Residents of Old Osborne Turnpike) reads as follows:

"Hello Neighbors,

There's good news and bad news. First, the bad:

* Between 1990 and 2006 Henrico County lost 16 % of its residual farms and forests - what the county calls “vacant land.”

* The draft 2026 Henrico Land Use Plan re-labels even more farmland as "suburbs", paving the way for more houses, more cars, and a whole lot less of the open land that has characterized this county for the last 400 years.

The good news?

* So many of us have stood up to protect Varina that government officials are finally listening.

* In 2005 Henrico conducted a survey in which 82% of respondents said they “support further restricting or managing new development in rural areas.”

* Jim Donati admitted in a Style Weekly cover story that “'If you put houses on, say, a 500-acre field, you have to build a new school for that and hire more police officers and maybe build a new fire station.' Add in water and sewer service, and the county ends up losing money, spending $1.16 per $1 of income."
(To read the entire story click on

* To make sure Varina's future is shaped by Varina residents, not by real-estate developers, like-minded neighbors and neighborhood associations (including ROOT) have joined forces to create Envision Henrico.

So...please join us on September 15th at the Henrico Theatre as we discuss with Jim Donati and other county representatives what Varina has been, what it is, and what we want it to be."

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Planning for the future of the county in which we live should involve the active participation of all of us. It should be by residents input and desires that Henrico's future is shaped. If you have any questions about what we may otherwise lose, scroll down and review some of the posts listed in the Historic Varina "Blog Archive" in the column on the right.

Think about why you moved to Henrico while you have a look at our county from the air

Where you see gray instead of green is where continually unchecked development has removed the natural surface of the earth, resulting in deforestation, watershed pollution, and overcrowding to name only a few. Most of us agree that green is better than gray when it comes to the environment in which we live, work and play.

So come out next Monday night and speak up in favor of green, speak against the light pollution that accompanies development, speak for sustainable growth. If you can't get a sitter, bring your children, and let them see what public process is all about; let the county see your children, whose futures their plans will affect. Speak for yourself, speak for your neighbors, speak for future generations, but speak now please, as this is no time to hold your peace.


Want to learn more about the growth projected in the current draft of Henrico's 2026 Comp Plan?

Read HV's February post: "Future Density and Varina, How much growth can we afford?"

Read what happens when even those who stand up in concern continue to go unheard:
"Varina Cell-Tower Case Draws Interest"
"Despite Concerns, Wyndham Expansion Approved"

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