September 10, 2010
Editorials, Virginia

Residents want to keep rural character of county

The Franklin News-Post, 10 September 2010

Franklin County’s rural character has always been a great asset, and according to the results of a recent land-use survey, residents want to keep it that way. The survey was commissioned by the county as part of its 2025 comprehensive plan, and the idea was to get a handle on how residents see current land-use regulations and what they envision in the future.

Growth, planners say, is coming. Maybe it won’t be as rapid as it has been during the last 10 to 20 years, but it will come. And most of it will occur in the areas where it has been occurring – Gills Creek and Westlake with some in Rocky Mount and Boones Mill. Much of the county will see little growth, which means few if any changes in land-use regulations will be needed.

Residents made it clear in a series of meetings in July that any new regulations should be tailored to fit the needs of a particular area, and that’s exactly what the county is planning to do. Neil Holthouser, the county’s director of community development, is working to preserve a “rural continuum,” even in areas that will see growth. In other words, the rural character will be preserved whether it’s in a subdivision or commercial center.

Many in the county have traditionally been opposed to zoning, and county officials see no need to impose zoning where it is not needed. In fact, localized land-use planning can mean that ordinances specific to a certain area may be better suited to protect residents’ property.

A fine line can exist between the rights and responsibilities of property owners. Some want to have the leeway to do with their property as they choose; others want some protection to preserve their property’s value and scenic quality. Any land-use regulations must maintain a balance between the two, and the county seems to be very aware of this as it plans to basically customize any new rules to a specific area.

Recommendations from the survey touch on another area that has seen some controversy in other parts of the region – wind turbines for the production of electricity. For example, Patrick County initiated a structure height ordinance that, in effect, prohibits the tall towers needed for a “wind farm.” Results of the survey show the county must protect scenic areas, including “ridge tops,” where a wind farm would need to be located.

The county is on the right track because preserving scenic beauty and keeping a rural character are essential. We want to see a degree of growth, but not at the expense of what makes the county so special.

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