Instrumental county planner will now plan retirement

Retiring can be both bittersweet and satisfying. If your work can be seen in all corners of the county, recounting a career that spanned 25 years in Chesterfield, it’s pretty easy to be content with a job well done.

Thomas E. Jacobson, who was director of planning for 18 years and seven years as director of revitalization, will retire on Feb. 1. He was honored by the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors last week with a resolution recognizing his contributions.

“Tom is as much responsible for what we are as a county today as anybody in this room and frankly anybody anywhere,” said Dan Gecker, the Board of Supervisors new chairman, during last week’s meeting. “The look and the feel of Chesterfield is largely attributable to Tom’s vision and Tom’s work in his chosen field.”

Mr. Jacobson was immersed in his vocation, traveling to cities across the country and touring and often walking the street of successful and not so successful communities.
His commitment and dedication was such that he almost missed the birth of his second son because he was at a planning commission meeting.

Jacobson has been intimately involved in the community and worked to understand what communities needed to be successful. He established citizen participation as a key element of the comprehensive planning process. He also assisted development of community organizations such as the Chester Community and Jefferson Davis associations among others.

“I continue to be amazed at how many citizens, who devote time to committees and this hard work for no pay because they just love this community. My heroes really are the citizens that work so hard,” Jacobson said last week while receiving a resolution on his career accomplishments and retirement from the Board of Supervisors. “And I hope to be one of them [after retirement.]”

An accomplishment that Jacobson is especially proud of is the redevelopment of Park Lee, which resulted in Winchester Green. The project combines residential, office and retail on the same site. Residents have amenities such as sidewalks that Jacobson has been a proponent of for years. The success of the redevelopment effort on the Jefferson Davis Highway corridor in front of Winchester with some initial streetscape south from the city line to Route 288 has been a huge success in itself. Add in cooperation with the Jefferson Davis Association on initiation of the county’s first enterprise zone there and you have one more feather to add to Jacobson’s many hats.

“I have known Tom for a number of years and worked with him on numerous projects,” said Ree Hart, who has been a member of the JDA for years. “ His knowledge, commitment and positive attitude have contributed greatly to the success of our revitalization efforts in the Jeff Davis Corridor.  He has been a strong ally and enthusiastic cheerleader for my neighborhood and for the county.   He will most definitely be missed!  I wish for him a restful, exciting and happy retirement - I’m sure it has been well planned!” 

Jacobson also advised the board to devote resources to planning to secure the best outcome for county planning.

“Please spend as much time as you can on the future,” he said. “The planning process is amazingly powerful if you spend time talking, and we, yes we, debate sometime, about what our county is going to be like when it grows up.”

The most satisfying project that he has been involved in, which became the “Traditional Neighborhood Development” zoning designation, is the Chester Village Green project. Jacobson said he worked very closely with real estate broker and developer, Jim Daniels, to mirror the very few developments of its kind in the country.

“I don’t think Chester Village Green would have been developed if it hadn’t been for Tom Jacobson,” Daniels said. “Neo-traditional development had never been tried in this area before. It’s something you read about in books. He was supportive in giving some leeway to craft a zoning case when there was no precedent provided for, in the ordinance. He was very forward thinking in his help for us to do it.”

Jacobson developed a village planning and implementation program for all five historic villages resulting in active village community organizations, village design standards, public streetscape improvements, and quality new village development projects such as the new Ettrick Chesterfield Ave. redevelopment and streetscape.

Initiating and providing staff assistance to the Chesterfield County Sustain Our Communities and Preservation committees provided redevelopment in a new way.

Just recently the planning commission approved a resolution on Jacobson forming the preservation committee, which with the support of former supervisor Garland Dodd was responsible for preserving historic structures in the county. The preservation committee recently won the VACo Achievement Award (Virginia Association of Counties.)

If Jacobson stayed on with the county he would pursue the development of the James Riverfront. “I think it’s the most untapped resource we have in Chesterfield.”

His retirement will consist of continued work with the Jefferson Davis Association, teaching a planning class at VCU and staying in touch with planning trends across the country. He has three sons and one grandchild.

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