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?"

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