Thursday, June 11, 2009

Henrico 2026 Vision Plan needs Revision- say residents representing all districts

The current Comp Plan draft will endanger your health, raise your taxes, and destroy the environment...

In considering whether to adopt this draft, the Henrico County Supervisors hold your future health, morals, safety, and welfare in their hands, and you do too.

See what local residents are doing, and find out how you can help. The Board of Supervisors will hold a "work session" on July 14th, and then vote on adopting the plan in August, when most people are on vacation.

Frank Thornton, Richard Glover, David Kaechele, Patricia O'Bannon, and Jim Donati could easily be called "career politicians". The word "entrenched" has been used plenty about them. They've been Henrico County, Virginia's Supervisors for longer, it is said, than any other BOS in the United States. Few doubt Henrico is fiscally managed by pros, the AAA Fitch ratings reflect that. But not everything is about economic development, and the county won't "die" if it desn't keep growing, as one Homebuilder's Association rep said in the TD last week. The common sense view concerning just what sound growth policy amounts to has been questioned for some time now. That they've run amok and need to be checked is the word on the street among conservatives and liberals alike.

Considering the current draft of the county Comprehensive Plan, many say the Supervisors, Planning Commission, and Planning Department are "stuck in the past." Official Statistics show that rampant growth in Central Virginia has now passed Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads in land consumption. Folks around here watch in horror as a 1980's style high-growth Comprehensive Plan, throwing open the gate for more sprawl and pollution moves closer and closer to being adopted.

This ain't the 80's anymore, last time we checked. Things have changed, the economy has gone way south, hundreds of homes sit vacant, motgages are harder to get and people care more about the planet, thank the Lord- you're welcome Mother Nature. But Henrico's government still seems seized with the need for more- like "there aint no stoppin' us now".

The most important things we can say about the Comp Plan are:

None of us here are against change- at all.

All of us expect it. Well, some change. But as taxpayers we insist on the balanced and educated governance necessary to foster and ensure a safe and healthy amount of growth.

None of us want to "stop all development".
Development will happen. But those who spoke drove home the fact that the county's own statistic, that there has already been enough development approved to meet projected population changes up to and through the year 2026, is enough to show that. Enough housing already sits either unfinished, unsold, or foreclosed on already. Enough. Let's manage that. One obvious way to do that would be to set it up so Henrico remains a desirable place to live.

And best for last: None of us here want any farmer not to be able to sell their land, or "cash in their 401k" as some are calling their acreage.

That is their right. Zoning is in place in currently farmed areas to allow for residential development, and if you own farmland or any land and want to sell it, whoever buys it can apply to raise the residential capacity from there.

This is why the Zoning Process is in place. To allow the residents their own voice in our democratic process. Anyone who owns or buys land can apply to re-zone it. Again, that is why that process is in place, so that developers can apply- and it seems to work pretty well that way in their favor here, but this is supposed to give residents a chance to weigh in- instead of the Supervisors or Planning Commission deciding for them what will happen in their community (like this draft is doing.)

But there's no reason to pimp that land out to be raped of its resources. Henrico sits on both the James and Chickahominy Rivers, and their watersheds and forests should be each of our responsibilities to preserve for future generations.

Henrico farmland defended
Henrico farmer Steve Gallmeyer eloquently defended the need for both green-space and retaining Prime Agriculture as a Land-Use designation in the 2026 Plan. He also spoke of the need for Supervisors to support PDR/TDR Programs (Purchase or Transfer of Developmental Rights) now in place as nearby as Goochland and New Kent. Although Supervisors have received countywide requests for these programs for over ten years, they have never been adopted. Gallmeyer's family farms produce- sold at their stands locally, and also raises grain.

Our elected officials and the county staff whose salaries our tax dollars go to pay are supposed to serve the public. Foremost among their concerns should be our and health and safety. Guarding the health and safety of those of us who already live here. This plan does not support that. Period. It's obviously slanted to the tipping point to favor developers- instead of representing the current taxpaying residents who live here.

Serious traffic congestion, crime, wildlife habitat loss, dwindling farms, and a polluted watershed are becoming hallmarks of Henrico County- an area that still has a chance to make a turn-around and opt for a cleaner, greener future. Students attend school in trailers, are encouraged not to walk to school, and are shot and killed in their neighborhoods. Law enforcement is working harder and harder to keep up with more and more violent crime.

Any more of this and it will be very difficult to keep marketing all of those empty and fore-closed McMansions and un-sold tract homes as being located in "safe and beautiful communities " with "great schools".

Each Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission Meeting usually includes some award giving and back patting for all of the different reasons Henrico is "excellent", but look at the issues above and tell us that they have not been ongoing issues for years now.

Locals from across the entire county had their last chance on Tuesday night to speak publicly about the plan now under consideration by Henrico's BOS, who have certainly not stopped our county from receiving the recent dismal marks given for our local air quality. Something needs to be done to better these leaders records.

Water-rationing has become a regular occurrence here, strangely still not considered as a lacking resource in the projected population growth. Many aging communities are found without proper support services in Henrico. Transportation is more and more focused on multiple vehicle trips, and multi-car families- without our serious lack of mass transit opportunities being addressed in this plan. All of that aside, the general focus of county leaders still remains on growth. More, bigger, newer, better- build build build.

Looking at this meeting online, is it any surprise that out of the thirty-some folks from across Henrico who spoke about the Plan Draft, by far- most were against it and requested changes?

Logical, well researched presentations were heard from college student and senior citizens alike. Three doctors spoke Tuesday night about the low air quality and lack of safe outdoor activity available to local children. Lawyers and land-use professionals focusing on the ramifications of the plan spoke about their grave concerns for the future of Henrico if this draft is adopted.

Sure there were a handful of people who probably got put up to saying how great the plan was- or how residents are responsible for preserving the character of their own communities themselves- even Henrico County Employees got up and touted the merits of the plan!

A supervisor even told one gentlemean who spoke for the need of "safe-zones around schools" that the County does not encourage children walking to school! Liability anyone?

This is probably why they recently came out with "Henrico does not support crossing Broad Street on foot. Or that flak about not wanting to spend money cleaning up park trails because Henrico doesn't encourage people to ride their bikes (liability again)...

Also attending to speak were residents of Short Pump (who spoke of their sadness at what it has become), historians and preservationists (some were citizens appointed to county boards and committees), a UofR student who won our hearts pointed out (among many other well thought out points) that sprawl is destructive to our rivers...

Residents who said they have been working on this for decades to keep Henrico safe and beautiful; farmers, residents, and cyclists who want--- Well Hell- see for your own selves- a link to the new-fangled streaming video is here for you to see these people in action.


Click here and pull the video slider to the 38 minute mark to see an update from the Planning Department on where the 2026 Plan Draft now stands.

That runs until the 1 hour and 1 minute mark. 1:01 is where the public comments begin. The meeting which began at 7, got to the public comments on the plan at about 8, and ran long- until after 11.

All of the public comments were and are worth watching, and a modern convenience to see from the homestead. We urge you to look at all the whole thing, but


One of our county's most highly praised and award winning journalists, who is a professor in critical thinking and critical writing, Nicole Anderson-Ellis, who has studied and reviewed the Plan in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Style Magazine throughout its draft changes, reviewed the Plan as she would an assignment, and gave her best suggestions for the health, morals, safety, and welfare of our county's residents. Her review would be difficult to refute in any way.

So why would these people from all walks of life, from all parts of the county come out in foul weather, to stay late on a weeknight to give their grave concerns over Henrico Governement's "vision" for our future? Because for their various reasons, most of them well founded, they all care deeply about where they live.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

What can you do?

Please take the time to communicate with Henrico's Board of Supervisors that changes need to be made before this plan is adopted. Ask them to pause and re-draft this plan. None of us want to live our lives waiting in traffic, pay to foot the bill for further sprawl, or be endangered by ecological imbalances that can be avoided.

1. Protect your home:
Is the county planning to run a road through your property? Read the draft 2026 Comprehensive Plan. Especially check your property on the Land Use and Major Thoroughfare Maps.
This information is on file at county libraries and on-line:

2. Tell at least two neighbors

3. Contact the Board of Supervisors:

Board of Supervisors
Henrico County, VA
P. O. Box 90775
Henrico, VA 23273-0775

Phone: (804) 501-4206
Fax: (804) 501-5361

with suggestions including:

* More resources for established neighborhoods, fewer new tax-draining subdivisions

* Keep "Prime Agricultural" on the map ("Rural Residential" is not the same)

* Put new construction on in-fill land to protect our rivers, streams, and wetlands

* More bike and pedestrian transportation choices

* Encourage tourism; preserve valuable historic/scenic/agricultural resources

* Listen to the citizens' overwhelming mandate to protect rural landscapes

* Find more information
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Further Reading

Style Magazine:
Neighbors in Waiting
by Peter Galuszka


Henrico board to hold public hearing for vision plan
by Laura Geller Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Richmond Times-Dispatch:
Varina residents urge that growth be wise

by Katherine Calos

Richmond Times-Dispatch:
Land Use: To Pave or Save Henrico's Farmland?
by Nicole Anderson-Ellis
Draft Plan 2026- Henrico County
by Sam Perry

Bacon's Rebellion:
Land Use Planning from the Bottom Up

by Charley Finley

All excellent journalism- great job everyone,
thank you all so much.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Monday, June 8, 2009

Henrico Comp Plan coverage- Turn on WWBT12 News at 6 Tonight- Last Public Hearing on the 2026 Plan tomorrow at 7pm

Finally, the LAST "Public Hearing" on Henrico's 2026 Comprehensive Plan will be held tomorrow night at 7pm at the Western Henrico Government Complex Board Room. If you care about Henrico's future, pollution, the watershed, or local green-space, you should attend.

The only time your voice doesn't count is when you don't use it.

In a brief teaser for their related story on tonight's news at 6pm, local television Channel 12 called the Comp Plan a "work in progress". So that means there's still room for change, right?

12 also let slip that Henrico County Planning Department Director Ralph Emerson "doesn't own a crystal ball- or his job would be a lot easier." Instead of this, the news is Emerson and his department use "current densities", "land use patterns" and "look at infrastructure." These factors show planners that "more people in one area" will drive the need for retail and service support there. If H.C. Planning also included Henrico residents suggestions they wouldn't need a gypsy fortune-teller. Try taking the public temperature- or listening to the taxpayers you represent- anyone? Hello?

We see where "more people" live and say: concentrate the building there, please. Some building will occur county-wide, but it's been noted that there are enough projects on the books now to more than accommodate any projected residential growth in Henrico until 2026.

Want to learn more about what hangs in the balance if you don't get involved? The Virginia Conservation Network has provided a neat bulleted list to get you up to speed.

Channel 12's story at 6pm tonight is said to include coverage of both sides of the story. And why would there be more than one side? Because developers and those who support that industry remaining unchecked like to portray anyone concerned about Henrico's environmental future as "Anti-Development". It just aint so. None of us at HV have ever heard anyone in any of the county meetings we've attended say "all development must stop", only that it needs to be done with a sensitive vision for the sake our future.

Coincidentally, the current Comprehensive Plan in Henrico has been titled "Vision 2026". We're still asking readers to encourage our elected leaders to open their eyes and include the vision of the people who live here.

H.C. Planning may not have a crystal ball, but it shouldn't take hearing aids to include the the repeated requests of residents who have worked hard during the entire Comprehensive Planning process in their attempts to educate county planners and leaders about the need for green planning- still conspicuously lacking in the plan as it now stands. Discounted as ignorant farmers or crazy tree huggers, those who share our green vision for Henrico couldn't be further just that. e're just a bunch of tax-payers who care about nature, and want to be ensured it'll last a lot longer than the next latte in a styrofoam cup.

Reader responses to pro-green journalism and editorial coverage of the 20206 Vision has continued to become more rabid of late. Snarling readers have attacked the last couple of environmentally concerned media bits, calling Envision Henrico members and others concerned about the future of Henrico's last remaining green-spaces and watersheds a handful of pretty creative names.

Angered tree-haters providing write-in commentary have called locals concerned about Henrico's environmental future "idiot", "anti-growth crazies", "living-in-the-19th-Century cronies", "anti-growth-zealots", "hicks" and "eco-nit-wits" among other hilarious names.

Similarly extreme comments that make poor rebuttals have also been posted locally, like: "Henrico officials realize that progress has to happen or the county will die." Die? My my... are we in that much trouble? Funny- we keep reading about Henrico's AAA Fitch ratings. So we have to sell out our remaining green-space to bail the county out of the hole? News to us.

As for the name calling, when the residents who show up at meetings on the Comp Plan include concerned and educated professionals in the fields of forestry, conservation, education, and the like, it becomes apparent that anyone responding so negatively in the local media is either a developer or has invested in the plan to tarmac the remainder of the county.

So how come no-one who hates the environment or local history ever shows up in person to holler this stuff at any of the public meetings provided for this purpose? Maybe it's the same reason that the yellow game piece is usually the last color to be chosen.

Now watch the news at 6 tonight on Channel 12.. and think about what which green matters to you in Henrico- it is the green that lines the pockets of developmental concerns, or the green that will provide clean air and water for future generations?

Encourage your friends and neighbors to attend this one last meeting tomorrow, Tuesday June 9th at 7pm at the Western Government Center Board Room on Parham Road, and make your voice count.

Get involved and read more here:

Richmond Times Dispatch: LAND USE: To Pave or Save Henrico’s Farmland?
by Nicole Anderson-Ellis

Bacon's Rebellion: Land Use Planning from the Bottom Up
by Charley Finley

and the latest effort of a locally based Green-Building professional we can all get behind

Green Modern Kits : Why We Not Only Need To Have Prime Agricultural Zoning,
But Need To Viligantly Protect It

by Copeland Casati

Friday, January 23, 2009

Press Reveals locals response to "Henrico, Va." Comprehensive Plan

...Will the Planning Commission "do the right thing"
and allow residents input help shape Henrico's future?

Local media and bloggers cover the issues as Henrico County's Planning Commission continues to consider the 2026 Comprehensive Plan, still in its 'draft' phase...

Will the Commission act on comments made by residents who gave little praise at last nights hearing? Will resident's repeated pleas for greener and more sustainable planning result in adaptation before the draft moves on to County Supervisors?

Attendees reported there was little room or time for many more people to be heard. The hearing began at 6PM and residents who spoke were limited to "two minutes". Some were cut off mid-sentence, but in the end were asked back up to testify for another "one minute" towards the hearing's end.

If only two dozen people let the Commission know of their concerns, then what if 90 or more people had showed up- would it have been one minute? Or thirty seconds? Richmond City Council gives more residents more of a voice than that...

...and after years of repeating the same requests, will any of
residents suggestions ever make it into the plan itself?
Do you expect to see Open Government in action?

It's a good thing the Times-Dispatch published pretty much the same article online twice, because any coverage will help.

Two related online RT-D pieces are listed as:

"Preservation, smart growth urged in Henrico" and "Residents want Henrico’s history, landscape preserved"

Plus...Channel 12 has some more here from the luscious Tara Morgan:
"Henrico residents weigh in on the county's future"

We understand Morgan's coverage of the meeting made WWBT 12's late night news, allowing residents Jane Koontz and Nicole Anderson-Ellis an addition to the "two minute" rule.

WWBT's Morgan relayed both sides of the Comp Plan woes by including Anderson-Ellis' informed perspective against assurances from the county's paid Comp Plan consultant, Greg Dale.

Morgan quoted Dale who said: "What this plan attempts to do is to accommodate a forecasted growth of about twenty years in what we hope is a balanced and responsible manner," and again: "Dale says they want to avoid sprawl and encourage rural preservation. But some don't see it that way."

HV responds:
Planning for the future cannot "hope" or "attempt" to be "balanced". The Plan must be written to ensure that both the avoidance of sprawl and guidelines for rural preservation become constants in the planning for the future of the county.

The "hopes" and "attempts" Dale outlined are not visible in the current draft,
but further sprawl, traffic and higher taxes are.

How can Henrico claim they want to encourage anything but sprawl when the PC and BOS have thusfar responded to one of most repeated resident requests,"Developmental Rights programs" (PDR / TDR, to preserve open, forested and farmed lands) by responding like this:

Folks, we are supposed to be planning for the next seventeen years right now, now is the time to include preservation options. Now.

...We also hear the current draft will stop farmers and other landowners from putting acreage into conservation easements to protect open tracts into the future. This needs to change.

The lovely Miss Morgan printed response from home-town favorite, brilliant writer and eco-advocate Nicole Anderson-Ellis. Ellis had the audience cheering and applauding as she read the Commission the results of their own 2005 Citizen Survey that have still not been put to use in the draft. This will help Henrico residents realize the Plan is not based on the scientifically administered survey that was taken to find out what residents wanted their futures to look like.

"Further restriction on development, protecting rural areas, less growth, lower density, this is what your constituents say they want in effect this land use plan does the opposite," says Anderson-Ellis."

HV cheers: You Go Mama! Thanks for letting the record show that the results of the Survey our tax dollars funded are not yet been included in the draft. Now is the time for change.

On to the Times-Dispatch- where Melodie Martin's editors have finally let her write something that isn't chopped up into fluff. Martin's articles detailed the testimony of an astounding FOUR Henrico residents. Out of 24 people who spoke, Martin included Jane Koontz' quote:

"Dense land-use categories should not be used to line the pockets of developers or large landowners. Our agricultural base is being depleted by targeted growth for Varina," Koontz said. "All Henrico taxpayers, including West Enders, are going to pay through the nose for the excessive growth targeted for Varina."

Look. See? Please do something Smart

Both of the RT-D's stories stated Michael Czekajlo, "who lives in the western end of the county, was among half a dozen people who bemoaned the county's reputation for being one of the least bikeable and walkable localities in the Richmond area."

"As it is, I can't walk anywhere with my kids. I can't cross Broad Street from Target to go to Whole Foods, which is idiotic," Czekajlo said. "I think there is a general disconnect between the plan and the quality of life people want."

HV gives a big hat-tip to Mr. C: Wow! Thanks to this West-End resident who took the time to attend (we are betting he didn't walk) and present what so many have been saying. Not to mention his hitting the quality of life part head on. We want an exclusive. We would like to hear you and your childrens' take on this.

The two remaining comments Martin jotted down concerned historic preservation:

"Richard McNeil, who serves on the county's historic preservation advisory committee, urged stronger protections for historic sites in the plan. County resident A.R. Goodwin cited records showing that 162 of 183 county-recognized historic sites and structures were destroyed between 1976 and 1998."

"We have a wealth of historic preservation areas and cultural resources in Henrico County. However, they are not protected by anything other than a lick and a promise," McNeil said."

The county must be hipper than we think to appoint McNeil to advise on historic preservation issues, we're hear he's well educated in local history and architecture.. but his phrase intrigued us in last night's online RT-D. Maybe he's a British linguist or an Aerosmith fan- either way, emails have related that though McNeil and others who commented sometimes had the Commission and audience laughing in appreciation, Goodwin cited the loss of over 80% of Henrico's historic resources.

The Henrico resident complained that the statistics, suggestions for low cost historic preservation tools, and online petition she introduced to Supervisors last year were never recorded in that meeting's minutes.
Looks like the petition can even be signed anonymously. The study is a .PDF and the petition a website. Citing the large number of losses recorded in '98, she asked why the county still has not included any real historic preservation guidelines in Comprehensive Plans since.

The need for preservation of history ranked high as a hearing topic; both RT-D articles allowed history and preservation to be included in the headlines.
Renowned local historian, Dr. Henry Nelson (founder of the APHA, or Association for Preservation of Henrico Antiquities), Fred Fisher (of Westover Plantation), and The APVA's Sonja Ingram also each requested that the Commission add active historic preservation planning to the draft.

Emails have come in to help us detail the requests and concerns of others who spoke, bringing the total close to thirty speakers. Local cycling association leaders, members, and residents who love to bike all spoke of their health and safety issues. Comments ranged from their inability to plan safe commuting routes to the amazement they get from those they tell that they pedal in Henrico regularly. "How did you get here safely?" one resident reported he is regularly asked. All called for the draft to include plans for safe routes to be adopted.

Others in attendance took to the mike to repeat requests that have been recorded in the 2026 Comments Manual, now available online. Several people asked for stronger wording than the "loose promises" included- asking that "might" and "could" be replaced by "will" and "should" where preservation is addressed in the draft. Numerous residents asked for active planning protect and preserve the James and Chickahominy Rivers and their watersheds, and the
the unique and renowned botanical site in Elko.

Sheila Sheppard of the Partnership for Smarter Growth and Envision Henrico spoke about the rising air pollution currently affecting the daily lives of many county residents. She also told the Commission that continuing to encourage building farther into unpopulated areas would shift the focus away from aging neighborhoods with infrastructure already in need of maintenance and upgrade.

Reverend Martin of the New Bridge Baptist Church on Nine Mile Road relayed the planning needs of his congregation, saying many neighborhoods in the area had become "locked in" by new development and have no safe pedestrian routes. He went on to tell the Commission that that there were very few job opportunities for youths in his area, and coupled with the lack of mass transit this would continue to make it difficult for young people to gain the employment necessary to help build their futures. (New Bridge Baptist's website details the inspiring history of this church founded in 1864, as well as its promising plans for the future.)

One specifically amazing case was brought up by resident Jeanne McNeil, who told the Commission that she and her community have invested several years of work to successfully have their neighborhood rezoned from 'Industrial' to 'Residential'. Her family home is included on the Virginia and National Registers of Historic Places and several other homes in her immediate area are eligible. But even after her community has worked with the Planning Department, the 2026 Land Use Plan Map still suggests her neighborhood be designated for the development of future Office Space (OF).

Do readers see what's wrong here? We all need to participate to hold the county
to their "goal" of including residents in the process.


We thank all of the readers who sent in their 'hearing notes', and
the press who covered the hearing for make this post possible.

The Planning Department is still accepting comments on the draft.
We encourage you all to pass this post on, and ask others to participate
by emailing their support of the topics addressed and any other
changes your area needs considered to

Want to read more? Local writer and
'All Around Good Egg'
John Sarvay
has a post responding to RT-D's coverage of
the hearing's announcement on the January 22:

"TD Previews Henrico's Comprehensive Plan"
Check out Sarvay's Award Winning Local Blog: Buttermilk and Molasses
where he has also been covering the 'Richmond Regional Cultural Action Plan', he's the real deal, man. We leave you with his words:

"What if newspapers started telling stories that mattered for the society
we're building,
instead of the one we're leaving behind?"

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

HENRICO's FUTURE: traffic, tarmac and tree loss- Will it cost you not to get involved now ?

A Planning Commission Hearing that should focus on our environmentally sustainable future will address plans for growth in Henrico until 2026. But will officials say there is no way to budget for these green necessities? Our answer will be
The first county "public hearing" to allow residents to speak out about
The 2026 Comprehensive Plan (draft) will be held on

in the Board Room of the County Administration Building
in the Government Center at Parham and Hungary Springs Roads

If school redistricting boundaries have got you concerned, have a look at the bigger picture.

How many more years can our longstanding Supervisors be supported in this backwards-thinking land-gobble?
There are incentives for revitlization of existing areas, but no real promotion of this important necessity. Haven't we all seen the traffic and crime results of massive growth? Or do these issues have us so busy we just "don't have time to get involved?"

As neighboring Chesterfield considers windmills as an energy alternative, and countering the dire effects that mass grading has on their watershed (and the James, and the Bay,) consider the deaf ear that Henrico's officials have turned on resident's eco-minded 2026 planning input to date. There is noticeable concern, both East and West over Henrico's incessant need to grow.

While blog posts seem to have become the new version of the AP wire for many RT-D 'articles' of late, there are a few the local press has missed. Tied for our idea of the "Saddest Post" are blog entries showing what's happened in Short Pump in the recent past. If pictures are worth a thousand words each, these would be bottomless pages.



"Sadness beyond belief (a tiny rant)"

"John Rolfe Parkway Construction in Full Swing"

Great job bloggers- keep your coverage coming!

And if our readers still aren't concerned, maybe they need an eye exam...

Which is better?


OR This?

...If you need a clue, the replacement of farms with roads and parking lots can increase your taxes just as much as it harms the environment.

And which do you prefer...

OR This?

... because if you think "that can't happen to me" or "they won't put a road through my neighborhood," that's probably the same thing the folks above thought until the John Rolfe Parkway extension was proposed.

Check the 2026 Land Use and Major Thoroughfare Plan maps (linked at right) for your area now. Even if nothing major is planned for your neck of the woods, the current plan can still cost you plenty.

Both of the posts "tied" above are cautionary tales, showing what can happen to our entire county, if residents don't make their opinions known. Take the opportunity to do just that by taking the time to speak to Henrico's Planning Commission about what you think is important for our future as a county. The Commission will hear locals speak freely about the draft of the Comprehensive Plan on January 22nd at 6pm.

You can't be "too busy" to care about where you live.

This is the plan that will determine development patterns in Henrico for the next seventeen years.

Topics to consider addressing are:
* the lack of planning to preserve the environment and watershed,
* smart transportation planning to help cut traffic and vehicle trips,
* the importance of including open-space preservation,
* saving what remains of our county's history,
* the future of our drinking water supply

.... the list goes on. But you can always

review posts from our archives for other ideas.
It's free, and open for your review
all day, all night, 365 days a year

So remember, when they tell you about "budget cuts" and the lack of funding available for planning that Henrico remain a safe and desirable place to live, it's a matter of where your tax dollars are spent.

Issues like a funding line item request for repaving the Belmont Golf Course parking lot and fixing the course itself, totaling FIVE MILLION DOLLARS?

During a county "work session" in February 2006, while discussing Henrico's Capital Budget, County Manager Virgil Hazelett reported that the Belmont Golf Course had put in a request for 5 million dollars to increase the number of parking spaces available at the facility and to make improvements at the golf course. Yep, word for word:
February 2006 Work Session minutes-
line 290:
"In addition, Belmont Golf Course has a request for 5 million dollars. All we say is its to fill up the holes that Mr. Archer creates out there, but it is to increase the number of parking spaces available at the facility and to make improvements at the golf course."

No telling how much was actually spent at Belmont for the turf repair and tarmac. Anyone want to dig up the final Belmont Golf Course parking and course improvement totals?

The 2008 budget for Henrico was A BILLION DOLLARS ...yet there are no funding options available to preserve open-space or assist farmers in keeping their land in production before development gobbles up all of the remaining fields and forests in Henrico?

Press coverage has shown parcels "redesignationed" on the 2026 Land Use Plan Map may remove some local's rights to put acreage into 'conservation easements'? The county won't respond to requests to create ways for farmers and silvaculturalists to preserve their own land?
And this is "OK?"

Henrico residents already face 'water rationing' every year, and no one wants to question this new plan that will allow for thousands and thousands of more homes to be built here?

Clammer for Trader Joe's and other fresh foods purveyors has been high in the West End, but do we all need to keep paying for interstate trucking to transport our healthy ingredients while polluting the atmosphere and driving up the price at the market check out?

When the county spent taxpayers dollars to ask residents what they wanted in preparation to create the current comp plan draft, Greenbelt creation was a topic that ranked high among citizens who participated in the "2005 Citizen Survey." The results showed

"There was some support for creating a storm water utility that could be integrated into a larger Greenbelt/Greenway system of open spaces, parks and naturally preserved areas. Overall, 60% of the respondents supported doing so."

Yet no Greenbelt or Greenway planning exists that we can see in Henrico's current plan for the future ... unless they're saving that to show us 'later'.

So when anyone tells you there's "no funding available" for preserving agricultural and forested lands, or creating ordinances to ensure tree preservation,

Study multi-modal transportation options, or new ways to encourage mass transit as bus routes face budget cuts,

-or "no way to plan" for the protection of remaining historic sites from encroaching development, you can always give them the same argument they're using to promote the need for further sprawl:

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Rural Route 5 Threatened -Last Meeting Tonight- P-7-08 - will Henrico County care?

If you've ever driven the "scenic route" when traveling east through Varina, you know Route 5 provides a beautiful and bucolic drive. All of that may begin to change tonight, when Henrico Supervisors vote to support or deny a 130' cellular tower that would be visible from the historic Virginia Byway. Some of the shots in the HV banner above are seen from Route 5.
"Indeed, the nearly 3,000 miles of roads on the state-designated Virginia Byways program, designed to highlight areas of natural beauty and historic significance, are almost exclusively in rural areas," according to January 29th RT-D coverage of Richmond's
south of the James "Riverside Drive", the road that City Council will soon vote to protect through the program.

But 5 is already a Virginia Byway, a rating that was given to focus the rural setting and historic beginnings. Will that really help here? Residents watch each planned change for signs of the County promised "high quality" development standards.

Route 5 diverges from Old Osborne Turnpike just past the still quiet driveway to Tree Hill Farm, cutting inland from the James on its way towards Williamsburg.
Also known as "New Market Road" in part of Eastern Henrico, tourists driving, riding, and cycling through Richmond's historic sites follow the centuries old road past protected civil war battlefields, and farms still threatened by the lingering promise of sprawling development.

Chapter 7 of the Henrico's 2026 Comprehensive Plan draft describes the road like this:

"New Market Road Corridor"
"New Market Road (State Route 5) is the earliest roadway connecting the City of Richmond to Williamsburg. The corridor has generally maintained its rural character and contributes to the rural visual identity of the eastern portions of the County. The roadway itself is currently maintained by the Commonwealth of Virginia."

Since last May the cell-tower proposed right off of 5, (near Midview Road) has been deferred, and gone through public meetings, and deferred again. In December one public meeting experienced what a local called a "cute little wrinkle." The problem arose from the fact that only those in support of the tower's erection showed up at a scheduled County meeting about the tower. Those in opposition didn't get the notices in time.

Is this "a selective mailing tactic/strategy whereby attendance at "community" meetings is manufactured to favor one side of an argument?" as one native says they had to wonder. Or a normal bulk mailing problem with the postal service? This mishap reportedly left County representatives virtually scratching their heads... wondering how on earth this could have happened.

While looking for answers our crew was told to "read through enough Planning minutes and you'll notice that it's a recurring theme... Planning says they do more than they're required to by law". But similar lags and glitches happen with alarming frequency in the Planning notification process, not everyone has the internet and the postal service does their best.

The way we understand these cases are supposed to go down is that the cellular provider applying for the tower location is asked to provide alternate locations for the tower in question. But when we tried to find out what the alts for this case are,
we still don't know.

P-7-08, as the Route 5 case is called has been deferred at least 6 times if not 8. We lose track because there is sometimes a weeks long lag before information from some meetings is released. This should change sometime in February when Henrico Supervisory and Planning Commission meetings are scheduled to be available as live-streaming video up here on the world wide web.

Apparently the case report for P-7-08 originally asked that the County be notified of other sites the company has considered to place the tower. These were presumably offered up, but are (for some reason) not included in the report. This is the kind of detail that residents look for. Where else could this go? County staff is reported to have mentioned something to the effect that once that information had been given to the County, they were (automatically!?) satisfied. But there is no mention of alternative locations from the reports we found. After this long that should be known by all involved.

Somehow this doesn't sound very much like Open Government...

The cellular company representatives were reported to have been asked by opposing residents for a list of alternate sites at the various meetings. Eventually, during one of their presentations, they apparently put up a list of names of a few surrounding property owners in the vicinity they said they'd contacted, but that's it.
"And that's the extent to which anyone in the county verifies any of that?" a longtime resident asks, "Does this seem fair?"

More from the residential base: "The erratic thought process behind supporting the need for towers is and has been clear. Also the idea that splatter painting them will make it look like a cloud- like they'll become invisible... ridiculous."

The cellular tower issue will appear in many more backyards, in Varina and across the Henrico, soon (happening already, actually). But it was somehow absent from the minds of all those attending the Henrico Theater Comp. Plan meeting last September 15th in Varina.

The whole communications tower subject needs feedback at the upcoming Planning and Supervisory hearings on the 2026 Comprehensive Plan.

Back in the area surrounding the historic roadway we heard "We're all going to die unless this tower passes, since [they say] we need it for 911 calls...that's the recurrent theme now... No info, strangely, on actual numbers of dropped 911 calls in the neighborhood, or elsewhere..." one resident related.

Sarcasm is an obvious side effect of their dismay: "Plus, "it's invisible"" - "we won't know it's there", and
"the tower will blend (completely) into the landscape," some say they have been told again and again.

Maybe we should request some blimps? Or a water tower?
...the bottom line is, we think this is all wrong for 5.

People could talk about this for hours, it's all gone on so long now, but nobody wants to be named: "Do you really believe that reasoned arguments, supported with real data, work with anyone at the planning or supervisory level? Based on examination of archived minutes and personal experiences watching cellular cases, and sitting through a few meetings, I haven't found that they do."

Another Henrico cellular tower case called
P-16-08 ended oddly last Fall, after an unknown number of deferrals. The case was in the Chamberlayne Farms area of the Fairfield District.

An area resident asked if they could speak for a minute after the cellular representatives had made their final presentation. The wish was granted, which is pretty magical, because usually residents are told upfront that there is no "rebuttal" allowed. Henrico residents can tell you:

"Fighting for your neighborhood "rights" usually goes this way:
Opposing residents speak 1st- the applicants speak 2nd, the end."

(But how can they allow one requested rebuttal and not all?)

Following the company rep's final word the resident (rumored to be a member of the press- unless the name is a coincidence) is said to have asked Officials if cell towers were 'Utilities' (like the power company) or if they were service providers (like 'Pizza Place'). The resident learned the answer was "service provider". Next question for those in charge was if a cell tower was a "by rights development". We understand the answer was "no". Decision was deferred for the time being.

That tower was proposed to go into the vacant corner of a strip mall fronted by a large oddly shaped parking lot, in a residential area where houses faced the location from across a street in between.

At the next meeting when neighbors returned to hear the outcome, Supervisor
Thornton was given the floor, and after saying something about the area being a residential neighborhood, he went on to say something like: "inappropriate at this time". The case was P-16-08. The tower was denied.

While attempting to understand the logic behind that denial, we could never quite get to the bottom of it.
The reasoning of the BOS shoot-down of the Chamberlayne Farms case remains unclear, based on Mr. Thornton's vague response...but we ask

if it's "inappropriate at this time" to place a cellular tower
in a shopping center, in a well developed
Fairfield neighborhood,

then why is is any more appropriate to place a tower
in clear view of Route 5, which Henrico
recognizes as a "Scenic Corridor"?

In a desire for understanding of how this got this far, we put out the word, people dug for facts, and learned enough to share this information about the 'Midview' case with you.

A Henrico County staff report concerning the Route 5 case can be found here

It's pretty long, but it's listed to give disclosure to the best extent possible. We understand that while the Midview area tower near Route 5 was originally supposed to be disguised to look like a 130+ foot pine tree, P-7-08's proposal has now been changed to look like a 'stealth pole' (a giant pole painted to look like the sky around it.)

You can read the whole thing, but here are some of the facts printed in November:

This request is not consistent with a County preference for locating towers in areas not zoned, planned or utilized for residential purposes. In addition, the proposed location would have significant visual impacts on residential dwellings and the Route 5 corridor, which is designated as a Scenic Corridor in the 2010 Comprehensive Plan.

Based on the information provided by the applicant, the proposed 134' high communications tower would negatively impact adjacent residents as well as the scenic value of the Route 5 corridor. Staff recommends denial of this request.

While recognizing the need for wireless services in growing areas, the proposed height and close proximity to existing and planned residential development could impact surrounding uses.

The tower would also be visible along New Market Road (State Route 5). This road is noted as a Scenic Corridor in the 2010 Land Use Plan, and the tower would be located approximately 1,200 feet from the roadway. The County's Siting Policy for towers (Siting Policy "i") states that no tower shall be located within 1,400 feet of Route 5 unless an acceptable stealth tower design is utilized.

Siting Policy a: Towers in areas zoned or planned for residential uses are strongly discouraged.

Siting Policy i: No tower shall be located within 1,400 feet of Route 5 unless an acceptable stealth tower design is utilized.

Based on GIS, Waters of the U.S. and/or hydric soils are present (indicating possible wetlands) Corps of Engineers and DEQ permits may be required.

Topography and Land Characteristics Adaptability: Information submitted by the applicant indicates the presence of Resource Protection Area on the property, impacting the area available for the placement of the proposed tower.

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If Comprehensive Planning suggests parts of our county are protected, but these suggestions aren't used, then what are the guidelines for?
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