#6 -- Chesterfield’s comprehensive plan rides a rocky road

The Chesterfield County Planning Commission completed their review and edits of the countywide draft comprehensive plan in November and presented it to the Board of Supervisors after two-and-a-half years and as much as $1.5 million. The board delayed their review of the approximately 200 page document until January 2012.

In May of 2009, the Board of Supervisors appointed a volunteer citizen steering committee of 34 members to work with the Renaissance Planning Group, a private consultant, to develop a draft comprehensive plan. A comprehensive plan is an advisory document that allows county staff, leaders, potential businesses and citizens to understand the vision and goals of the county.

The draft plan’s objectives and strategies relate to land use, county facilities, transportation, cultural and economic development as well as number of other areas of  county government to anticipate and deal constructively with changes in the community.

Virginia law now requires that each jurisdiction in the state have a comprehensive plan, and that it be updated every five years.

The citizen steering committee completed its work, county staff met with almost 3,000 citizens and the planning commission took control of the plan and worked with it for 10 months in 2011.

According to one soon to retire staff member, the draft plan in its current state is a less effective plan than the current comprehensive plan.

In March the commission conveyed its dissatisfaction with the physical structure of the plan and how it wasn’t “user friendly.”

“How are people going to do business in the county when they don’t understand how the plan works?” said Russell Gulley, commissioner representing the Clover Hill district. Gulley stressed that the items of the plan were not linked in a user-friendly way.

Greg Larson, Planning Department assistant director, answered that technology will link the different sections of the plan.

“Who is the client?” Midlothian Magisterial Planning Commissioner Rubin Waller said, “It’s not the staff; it’s not the board; it’s the citizens.”

The director of transportation, John McCracken, said his staff had not provided input on the plan, but that he didn’t like it.

The Board of Supervisors had directed the Planning Commission to present the draft plan in a public hearing and to take action on the plan no later than their July 19, 2011 meeting.

As commissioners reviewed various sections, including the housing and revitalization sections, they decided they didn’t like the word “policies” and agreed that it should be changed to “recommendations.” The word policy was also removed from the chapter headings of the draft plan at hundreds of locations throughout the draft plan.

Policies is defined as “a course of action adopted and pursued by a government,” while recommendations is interpreted as “to advise, as an alternative; suggest.”

Kirk Turner, who is the director of the planning department for Chesterfield, wasn’t able to give his opinion of the changes, but said, “The Planning Commission will be making a lot of changes to the draft plan, but it’s up to the Board of Supervisors to make the final decision.” He said the board will decide whether they like the steering committee language, which is the current draft comprehensive plan or the revised edition being worked on by the commission.

Supervisors voted to give their planning commission an additional five months, until December 15, to complete their review of the comprehensive plan. The commission had requested an additional two months, until September 15, but the Board voted 3 – 2 to give them more time to get additional public input.

“There are some roads in my district that will go from two lanes to four, and some people are very concerned with that,” said Dorothy Jaeckle, Bermuda District Supervisor and Vice Chair of the Board. “So I guess you could say that I am looking out for some special interests.”

“We hired an outside consultant to tell us,” said Marleen Durfee, Matoaca District supervisor.  “So are we going to have a planning commission plan or are we going to have a plan that we paid a consultant to put together for us?” She also mentioned that the 33-member steering committee also blessed the plan.

Jaeckle continued, “I’m actually concerned that they didn’t ask for enough time. I would like see more time for public input.”

Village News published over 90 articles and briefs on the draft comprehensive plan during its progress from the steering committee to the completion of the review by the planning commission.

One resident responds to the draft plan to date:

“Comprehensive Plan is one of the ‘buzz words’ associated with Agenda 21, which arose from the 1974 UN adoption of a ‘New International Economic Order.’  Words associated with this are: Smart Growth, Sustainable Development, Social Development, Light Rail, Livable Communities, Urban Renewal, Urban Development Areas, COMPREHENSIVE PLANNING, Visioning Processes, Going Green and other Socialistic or so called ‘Progressive’ terminology.”

The key references in the letter are “1974” and “economic order.”

On Jan. 25, 2012, the Board of Supervisors will begin its review and possible changes of the draft comprehensive plan. To date there are two versions. One compiled by a consulting firm and an edited version presented to the Board by the planning commission.


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