The three Bath County supervisors attending a work session on the new comprehensive plan Tuesday all expressed support for the overall plan as proposed.
Supervisor Richard Byrd summed up the consensus, saying, “I don’t have a big problem with the document. Really don’t have anything that will keep me awake at night.”
Byrd, supervisor Jon Trees, and chairman Cliff Gilchrest did take issue with a number of items in the plan presented May 8 to the board for review and adoption. The Code of Virginia requires the board to take action on the plan within 90 days.
Three citizens attended the meeting, including Sherry Ryder, who will return to the position of county planner July 2. While board members joked about her being a private citizen for two more weeks, they did call on her for some questions about the plan.
Board members focused mostly on issues related to growth but also made some changes relating to commercial wind industry and affordable housing.
Gilchrest referred to the plan’s long-term goal, as stated by citizens in visioning sessions, of “avoiding sprawl/development and preservation of balanced growth.” He said the plan affirms and supports what county citizens said they want.
Bath resident Glenn Criser echoing that statement. “In the last five years, growth hit us all at once,” he said. Criser said the comprehensive plan is “very important to Bath County” if the county wants to avoid growing out of control.
Planning commission member Lynn Ellen Black said while the plan addresses growth, it “doesn’t mean we are endorsing growth.” The planning commission has prepared the plan revisions over the past two years with help from citizens and the county planner.
“You can’t stick your head in the sand” about growth or any issue, Black said. The plan, she said, “tries to address, tries to control.”
Trees asked supervisors how the plan determines what kind of growth will occur in what locations.
“I don’t see what type of growth in what areas of the county,” he said.
Byrd expressed similar concerns the revisions left some areas too susceptible to growth by not being specific enough.
If development is pushed in areas with public utilities, Byrd said, “Hot Springs and Warm Springs are going to get eaten alive. They are going to be on top of each other. He asked whether the revised plan allows anything to be developed in those areas.
Gilchrest, Ryder and county administrator Bonnie Johnson pointed out the plan is the basis for land use regulations and the zoning map, which are the real teeth of land use control. Johnson agree with supervisors that “all the data should be put on one map.”
“It’s a plan, not an edit,” Gilchrest said.
Ryder added the plan is a guideline for land use regulations.
Ryder and planners will begin updating the zoning map and land use regulations after the supervisors adopt the new comprehensive plan.
Supervisors agreed to minor changes of language such as changing “provide” to “promote” in a statement about growth areas, to avoid implying the county would pay for infrastructure for new developments. But otherwise, they didn’t see the need for major changes in the document related to growth and development.
Potential wind energy facilities
Trees raised the issue of commercial wind generation in the county, a subject the revised plan addresses. The plan specifies such utilities could only be allowed if doing so preserved existing view sheds. Within that limitation, Trees questioned whether some sites, such as near Paddy’s Knob, might be viable locations for a wind energy plant.
“We must have alternative sources of energy,” Trees said.
Gilchrest said the latest information he had seen indicated new wind towers might be smaller and more efficient than existing wind utilities such as the one in Tucker County, W.Va., which, he said, weren’t inconspicuous.
While not endorsing wind utilities in Bath County, Byrd and Trees agreed with Gilchrest the county “doesn’t want to completely eliminate the potential down the road” for some commercial wind
Ryder explained senior planner Daryl Crawford of the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission, has prepared a model land use ordinance to deal with wind power. Crawford will present the ordinance to board members in a work session set for July 24 at 6 p.m. in the courthouse.
No wording was changed in the section addressing wind power facilities, but the paragraph was moved to the utilities section.
Byrd pointed out a couple of the goals under utilities would need to be tweaked to avoid placing the county in the position of possibly helping to pay for or being required to make strategic alliances with wind energy companies. No specific changes were agreed upon Tuesday.
Trees noted a recent House bill requires the county designate areas for affordable housing. “Are we doing that?,” he asked.
“No we are not,” Gilchrested said. Byrd agreed.
Gilchrest explained the plan says the county will “promote the development of affordable housing,” including starter homes, but all three supervisors questioned how the county could improve housing choices for low and moderate income families.
The board members suggested improving vocational and trade education as a way to improve the incomes of county citizens, thus making housing more affordable.
Other ideas were posed, including using government grants such as Community Development Block Grants and allowing manufactured housing in more zoning districts.
Byrd didn’t feel there was a lot the county could do to put money in people’s pockets, but he said the county can impact “what comes out of somebody’s pocket.” He pointed out the county work force is primarily in the service industry. “Service work is without question the hardest work and the lowest pay,” he said.
By keeping the cost of county services and taxes down, Byrd said the county could increase the amount of money families have for housing. “Five dollars might not be much for me,” he said, referring to an increase in water bills, but “it might be a lot for someone else.”
The board voted to continue the work session until Tuesday, June 26 at 6 p.m. in room 115 of the courthouse in Warm Springs.
A public hearing on the comprehensive plan will be held in early August before the board takes any action.
By Charles Garratt
21 June 2007
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