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.

Monday, May 19, 2008

WHERE IS the PRESS COVERAGE of current Henrico 2026 Comprehensive Plan Meetings? ...and trackback to: 'Conspicuous Construction in Richmond'

Paging Mr. Jones, Mr. Krishnamurthy, Ms. Martin, Mr. Springston, Mr. Williams! There's a call holding for you on the 2026 line.... Hello? Paging any hungry cub!

Here's a link to an interesting UrbanStudies blog in town, featuring a fine post entitled "Conspicuous Construction in Richmond". (Major hat tip to 'tarabara'.)

"With the many new developments such as Rockett’s Landing and Tree Hill Farm on the way, it is necessary to question the appropriate proportion of commercial and retail space needed to accommodate these new residences, and if this even plays a role. Either way, it is up to the citizens of the Richmond region to voice their opinions on what is happening to the open space in their region and question the effect of this development."

This all makes us wonder just how we "got where we are"... with prices for oil and staple food items skyrocketing, why does Henrico continue to foster rampant residential and retail construction? It seems they alone have decided that economic growth is the backbone of future growth in the county, to the dearth of any support of our local agricultural needs and environmental concerns.

Instead of just asking developers or retailers what they want, has anyone considered the desires of current residents of this county?

Ever considered asking parents what the neighborhoods their children grow in should contain- or asking seniors how they feel about crime? ..Commuters about transportation and traffic issues?

Where will the financing for the infrastructure made necessary by this planned building onslaught come from? Out of fees and taxes that we as residents will be asked to pay?

What about the funding for new roads, schools, and staffing needed in these 'growth areas'?

Where are any of these issues addressed in the Comp-Plan 'draft'?

Are Henrico residents are either disregarding the Comprehensive Plan meetings currently being held, or are they completely unaware of them- due to lack of promotion from the county itself,
coupled with non-existent "2026 Plan" coverage from the Richmond Times-Dispatch?

When covering Richmond's Master Downtown Plan, the RT-D couldn't be stopped. Feature stories and coverage of meetings kept Richmond's residents aware of the entire process. Maybe all of that running around in Richmond wore our friends at the paper out, or perhaps there is some other reason they have chosen not to tackle the sticky issues at hand in Henrico.

Not to mention Channels 12, 8, and 6- what about Fox 35? Or Henrico's own cable channel..17, funded by.. you and me.

Without coverage of how residents can get involved, the future looks like a muddy downhill slide imbedded with 'stories that sell', like rampaging pit-bulls, house-fires, and murders. What about shedding some light on local government goings on, hmm?

Fine RT-D staff-writers once covered the issues that come along with sprawl... such as the environment....One thing is certain, we need them now!

So dash to the nearest phone booth, Mr. Jones, Mr. Krishnamurthy, Ms. Martin, Mr. Springston, Mr. Williams, et al...... and don your super staff-writer suits- PLEASE!
Lest Henrico residents languish without the aid of your insights.

Meetings on the boards for this week include:

TONIGHT- Monday, May 19th
Fairfield District Open-House
concerning the 2026 Comprehensive Plan 'draft'
4:30 - 7:30pm
Wilder Middle School
6900 Wilkinson Road. 23227

TONIGHT- Monday, May 19th
Varina District Town Meeting,
tonight's topic:
"Meet Your Senator and General Assembly Representatives"
Senator Donald McEachin
Delegate Riley Ingram
Delegate Dwight Jones
Delegate Joe Morrissey
Delegate Chris Peace
Henrico Theatre
305 E. Nine Mile Road, 23075

THURSDAY, May 22nd

Varina District Open-House
concerning the 2026 Comprehensive Plan 'draft'

4:30 - 7:30pm

Ward Elementary School

3400 Darbytown Road

Let's get involved people, cable can't be that interesting... when the future of our county is at stake.

That's what Tivo and VCRs are for.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Henrico address change ...hotline set up if you didn't get a survey

Responses to the ZIP CODE SURVEYS still out now must be postmarked by Saturday, May 10. If approved, the name "Henrico" will become what is being called "the preferred location" by the end of the year.

An added last minute touch: WWBT12 reported that "Letters mailed to "Richmond" will remain an acceptable alternative," but the online text for that story has since been removed from Channel 12's website...

12 also reported that "If you did not receive" a ZIP CODE SURVEY,"a hotline has also been set up for residents who did not receive a post card. That number is 1-866-900-9845" No deadline was given for the use of the hotline.

..and if the 'Address Change' is successful, you can always see it as a symptom of what's to come, and realize the importance of every residents participation in Henrico's 2026 Comprehensive Plan. Educate yourself, and pass the word now.

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

Will 'Henrico address change' spell R.I.P. for Highland Springs?

In a letter to the Editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch today, Charles Hague, wrote in to report what the paper has entitled:
"Little-Known Facts About Address Change"

"Editor, Times-Dispatch:

Henrico residents in 11 ZIP Codes are receiving a survey from the postal service asking about a proposed change to their mailing address from "Richmond, VA" to "Henrico, VA." Surveys must be returned by May 10. Residents should be aware of some less publicized facts regarding the proposed change:

Responding "yes" includes changing "Highland Springs, VA" to "Henrico, VA." Highland Springs will be relegated to a "secondary" address. Highland Springs has been a "primary" address since its founding in 1890 and has maintained its own ZIP code, 23075, since ZIP codes were established in 1963.

The many flyers, brochures, and other advertisements distributed by the county show a list of seven items under the heading "Just what could $5 million do?" Note that $5 million will do only one of the items listed. Some citizens have incorrectly interpreted the materials to mean that all seven items could be done.

The problem of incorrect reporting of tax revenue is a statewide problem that could be resolved for all localities by the Department of Taxation and/or the General Assembly.

Some citizens believe that making the change may reduce their home and/or automobile insurance premiums. It most likely will not. Insurance companies base their premiums on the location of their policy-holders, not their mailing address.

Please consider all of the facts and respond to the survey as best benefits not only Henrico, but also the City of Richmond and our entire state.

Charles Hague. Richmond"