It’s taken more than a year of intensive effort by two committees of county employees and citizens, but on Tuesday afternoon it was clear more talking needed to be done.
James City County supervisors met with the planning commission in a work session to address the first draft of the new comprehensive plan, a guidebook that will inform how the county is built out. Talked focused on the main issues – sustainability, population growth and density, and economic development – and how these ideas are represented in the plan.
Eventually, though, talk came around to the basics: how to express succinctly the county’s vision for the future while being true to citizens’ input.
The draft plan, titled “Historic Past, Sustainable Future,” aims “to manage growth while preserving the county’s natural beauty, improving education, providing superior public services, and maintaining a healthy economy.” It’s a huge document, with hundreds of pages addressing most aspects of when, if and how James City ought to grow.
Planning commission member Jack Fraley said growth, housing and economic development were the top three issues to county survey respondents. He pointed out the new projected build-out, which is the estimate of potential development in the county, is roughly between 178,000 and 187,000 units in the new plan.
The county currently has about 62,000 people, and the projected build-out could possibly triple the population. “Is this consistent with the county’s vision of sustainability?” Fraley asked.
“The clear message I get from citizen comments,” said supervisor John McGlennon of the Jamestown district, “is that there is concern about the pace of growth; it’s too fast. I think they expect to see [mention of] it in the comp plan.”
Supervisors weighed in on the issue, generally agreeing it warranted more discussion.
Density and population discussions led to talk of sustainability, which planning chair Richard Krapf of Stonehouse brought up, equating sustainability with good environmental practices. He suggested the board consider a weighted checklist for land use changes that would take into account eco-friendly practices. A developer with a high score might get incentives of some kind, he said.
“But what does sustainability mean?” asked Powhatan district supervisor James Icenhour. “It’s problematic to quantify.”
Some supervisors agreed with Icenhour, though Fraley managed to lay out a very lengthy and precise definition of sustainability.
McGlennon felt “the whole comp plan to me is about density and sustainability. Is this comp plan sustainable? I have serious doubts. We need to control population by density and planning.”
He and supervisors Chairman Jim Kennedy both discussed the possible shortage of water the county could face if building and growth continue at the rate possible in the plan. Other supervisors were concerned with having adequate public services for a larger population.
With many of these important issues under discussion, Krapf revisited an earlier suggestion of adding an executive summary to highlight critical ideas.
“It would outline the drivers of growth, discuss the monitoring of issues, and be succinct,” said Fraley. “Someone could read the first two pages and get a good idea how the county approaches issues.”
“We need to somehow call out issues most important to the citizens in the county,” said Powhatan district planner Debbie Kratter.
Most supervisors at the table agreed with the idea of some sort of executive summary to begin the plan.
With much discussion coming back to citizen input, solicited often during the comp plan process through surveys and public comment sessions, Icenhour pointed out some sobering statistics. “According to citizen comments, only about 40 percent think we’re headed in the right direction. That means 60 percent thinks we’re headed in the wrong direction. Seventy percent think we don’t listen to them.”
He said he believed this was because the county hadn’t implemented citizens’ ideas much in the past. “We need to restore credibility with our citizens.”
“We need a more concise vision, and be responsible to citizens,” Kratter agreed.
Planners and supervisors discussed the idea of creating a vision statement for the comp plan, and most thought it a good idea.
“Where we want to be as a community and where we want to go, needs to be defined,” said Kennedy. Most heads in the room nodded in agreement.
Read the plan draft in its entirety herebut be warned – it’s hundreds of pages long (though broken into sections). Visit the comp plan websiteto find out meeting schedules and get more information about the process. The plan is likely to go to a vote before the supervisors in October.