Sunday, November 30, 2008

Local Press exposes Henrico planning shortcomings

Supervisors agree now is not the time to help farmers and other land owners protect their land from future development.

What? Isn't the 2026 Plan supposed to guide land use for the next 18 years? So much for looking ahead.
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This post covers the latest actions of Henrico Supervisors as reported by The Henrico Citizen and a nice Style Weekly track-back to a big Comp Planning issue: “The law says people have a right to develop their property,” by asking 'but does the law say people don't have the right to choose not to develop their property?'

Take a moment here to think about your children or grand-children's future, when there may be no sources for locally grown produce. In a future when there may be no natural forests, or large open tracts of land to filter the pollution that's a known byproduct of sprawl.. which can happen because now is not the time to plan for the future?
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"The Henrico Citizen" started the holiday giving season early- with real in-depth coverage of the latest county Comprehensive Plan happenings. Finally. Local press goes where our state's number one newspaper won't.

H .......U....... R.......R.......A.......Y.......!..!
You can read the whole Henrico Citizen article Officials Review Draft of 2026 Plan yourself,

but in this here post, we'll talk turkey about the meat of the Citizen's coverage... with that fine periodical's work in green, followed by our crew's responses.
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Citizen: "Henrico planners have been working for more than three years to craft a draft version of the document, which represents the county’s vision for future land use, road systems, parks and open space. The existing Comprehensive Plan was last updated in its entirety in 1995; the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors use the plan as a guide when voting on land use issues."

HV: Three years is an awful long time, considering what still needs to be done...And the county continues to call the Comp Plan a "guide". The official "Comprehensive Plan FAQ" states the plan cannot re-zone your land, but HV posts have pointed out that the Plan will change the accepted use for your land raise your taxes.

Local case studies show that this is not usually something that can be changed. Read about higher taxes and land use designations here, and here, and earlier this month, here.

Citizen: "During a joint work session with the two bodies Nov. 12, Planning Director Joe Emerson said that officials had received 365 comments from the public during the process, with about three-quarters relating either to the purchase or transfer of development rights (PDRs and TDRs) or the need for more bicycle and pedestrian facilities."

HV: Good grief! 365 comments in three years? Something's wrong with this picture.

If over 3/4 of those resident's comments ask for programs to preserve land, or bicycling and pedestrian plans, shouldn't officials respond with action?

If residents ask Henrico to make bicyclists and pedestrians safer, and the county refuses, what happens when people get hit by cars in areas that could have been adapted to provide residents a safer passage?

Citizen: "Members of Envision Henrico, a citizens group that seeks to preserve county land and history, contend that the county hasn’t been proactive in its attempts to inform, educate and solicit feedback from citizens about the plan. They believe that hundreds more comments are necessary in order to gauge the public’s true opinions about the plan."

HV: At least we aint alone in worrying about what's going on around here. Looks like these folks are still working hard to make the public aware. Keep it up!

Citizen: “[W]e believe that outreach to the community and public input has been inadequate given the potential impact on landowners, taxpayers, neighborhoods, history and environment of the county,” group officials wrote Nov. 10 to the Board of Supervisors and other county officials."

HV: No contest.

Citizen: "But Emerson told the two bodies Nov. 12 that county officials had undertaken “numerous efforts” to reach the public since 2005, including a citizens’ survey, an internet site devoted to the plan and proceedings, press releases and frequent updates on the county’s cable TV access channel, among others. Envision Henrico members point to one of the results of the survey that showed 71 percent of respondents were unfamiliar with the Comprehensive Plan as proof that Henrico has work to do."

HV: Alright- here we go with the "numerous efforts" line. (This one causes a large amount of chatter over here).

It don't matter what the county has done, if it aint working. Do more.
It obviously aint working.

Refer back to HV 10/27 post, where the HV crew met to compare the 106k dollars spent on Henrico's "Zip Code Campaign" to the 2,300 dollars spent on advertising the Comp Plan in the last three years.

Citizen: "At last week’s work session, board members discussed the possibility of re-examining the PDR issue, which they considered in 2003 before rejecting. Though they advised staff members to prepare a report about existing programs, supervisors agreed that the time to implement such a program in Henrico is not now."

HV: Not now? If the county is currently planning our future for the next two decades, then when are they planning to preserve land? In 2026, when there's nothing left to worry about preserving?

Out of the suggestions Henrico received, the Citizen reports high numbers requested a PDR program is made available, and the Board just says no? What about those resident's rights, huh?

How can Henrico reps keep hollering about "property rights" without providing these rights to the folks who own and live on the land and want to keep it undeveloped? This kind of planning will succeed in squeezing taxpaying landowning folks right on out of the picture.

Citizen: "Through PDR programs, localities permanently preserve undeveloped land (typically farmland) by buying the development rights from landowners, who otherwise might be inclined to sell to developers. Such programs exist in nearly 20 states and are considered popular because they provide a steady stream of income to the landowners (usually over a period of time) while allowing them to remain on their property and pass it down to family members."

HV: What the venerable Citizen missed here, is that no one is asking Henrico to buy their land. Other "localities" could "permanently preserving undeveloped land" here, "by buying the development rights". So some other area that wants to build more where they are, could buy the rights of Henrico landowners who don't want their land developed.The real story:

Residents are asking for these programs to be made available. This means: residents are asking for these programs to be recognized by our county. PDR and TDR programs are funded each year by the State of Virginia. There are also a whole bunch of different ways to do this. Many areas have come up with creative ways to support these programs, but those are areas where the officials listen to their constituents. Henrico residents are asking the county look into it, but our officials are saying no. Again.

Between 2000 and 2003, petitions asking for PDR and TDR programs in Henrico were submitted to county officials. Documents with over 600 signatures from Henrico residents were given to Mrs. O'Bannon, the Tuckahoe District Supervisor. She and County Manager Hazelett met with petition sponsors, some of whom belonged to the local Sierra Club chapter. Residents from these groups attended many county meetings, sometimes making comments supporting the need for these programs- until... those residents were politely asked "not to come back", because county officials would not support these programs.

Residents are still asking, and it looks like Henrico is still saying no.

If you want to learn more about how these programs work, VDACS- The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has the answers.

Citizen: "But Henrico would need to develop a funding source in order to implement such a program, and the tight economy means that would be difficult.“Realistically, you don’t have a source of funds probably for the next two to three years,” County Manager Virgil Hazelett told the board and commission."

HV: Again,the State of Virginia provides funding each year, and even if all realistic funding sources were 2-3 years out, or even an unrealistic decade- these programs should remain a possibility for Henrico landowners. PDR/TDR programs are legal and popular in Virginia, and are a right that should not be removed from county residents. If the Comp Plan goes through without including this, it will not be a possibility in 2-3 years.

Does anyone really think this will
be remedied by retroactive amendments to the comprehensive plan on a case-by-case basis? Better ask Santa now. Start writing.

Citizen: "Some landowners in the county have taken creative approaches to preserving land. Tuckahoe District Supervisor Pat O’Bannon cited two examples of residents of her district who voluntarily zoned portions of their property as conservation districts, which reduced the value of the land and, consequently, their taxes."

HV: Mmmm, "creative approaches". What Mrs. O'Bannon is still completely missing is that new "Land Use Designations" proposed in the Land Use Plan Map now in draft, will remove resident's rights to apply for and get conservation easements.

Maybe Mrs. O'Bannon didn't read Style Weekly's coverage of this topic, "Where the Grass is Greener", that included:

Style Weekly- July 16th, 2008: ""Jernigan is equally pragmatic: “The law says people have a right to develop their property.” Of course, the law limits that right through zoning and permitting and land-use plans. And when asked about the limits Henrico’s proposed plan would put on property owners’ right to get conservation easements, Jernigan voices surprise. “So if it shows SR1 [suburban residential 1], you can’t put it in conservation?” he asks. “I’ve never heard that. I’d like to find out about that.”

Donati, a self-proclaimed “property-rights guy,” suggests that the problem can be remedied by retroactive amendments to the comprehensive plan on a case-by-case basis. He cites examples of exemptions the Board of Supervisors passed to allow high-density development in parts of Henrico where it conflicted with the comprehensive plan.

Such a gesture of support from the county would satisfy the law, Reed and Wilson agree. And some counties have amended comprehensive plans to accommodate easements, though it’s a lengthy process requiring two public hearings. Neither Henrico or Chesterfield has ever made such an exception for an easement.""

HV: For more on this, read "Where the Grass is Greener" from Style Weekly, or HV's post: "Turf War depicted in Style"

Citizen: "Henrico County itself owns 7,845 acres of land in the county – about 55 percent of which is vacant or being used for recreation or parks, Emerson said. In addition, the National Park Service and Civil War Preservation Trust own more than 1,000 acres in Henrico, all of which are preserved as open space."

HV: Who is "Henrico County, itself"? Isn't that us, the taxpayers? Didn't our tax dollars buy that land too? But we can't decide what will happen to County land or the land we own privately? This could be read to mean the county is not preserving open space, but the two groups above are.

How many readers are sick of the term "vacant land"? Farmland and forests are not vacant, and do not cause Henrico residents taxes to rise. What does cause tax hikes is when county officials decide it is necessary to extend water, sewer and other infrastructure into "vacant" areas. That will raise all of our taxes.

Citizen: "Emerson told the board and commission that the draft plan has addressed a number of issues relating to pedestrians and bicyclists, such as encouraging sidewalks and bicycle paths with new development. But he said the board could add to the 2026 plan a countywide bicycle plan to encourage the construction of bicycle lanes on county roads, either with all new roads only or with renovation projects as well."

HV: Didn't the article say cycling and pedestrian paths are one of the top two requested items sent in by residents? The Board "could" add a bicycle plan? What about "will?"

Citizen: "Planning officials will revise the plan and present it to the Planning Commission during a 6 pm work session Dec. 11 at the Glen Echo Building at the county’s Eastern Government Center.

They tentatively hope to hold one or several public hearings in January prior to the eventual consideration of the plan by the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, which holds ultimate decision-making authority."

For details or to read the Draft 2026 Comprehensive Plan, visit

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