I had my reporter hat on last week when I attended one of six district meetings being held by Chesterfield’s planning department to get input on the new countywide comprehensive plan. Typically, when gathering information for his readers, a reporter works to stay objective and stay out of the fray, frantically recording important things that are said while composing the article in his head.
That’s what I had intended to do at last week’s Bermuda District meeting when I was pulled into the conversation and became part of the story. Call me a nerd, but the exercise that Planning Administrator Barbara Fassett and her cadre of consultants had planned for the evening looked like too much fun.
A general round of responses to the questions, “What are the things you like about Chester and what would you like to see change,” yielded some expected answers and a few interesting takes on the state of the eastern end of the county.
Preservation items included making sure the Chesterfield Center for the Arts is built, protecting our historic and environmental resources, and keeping our taxes in the county through appropriate zip codes.
Others said we should promote our industrial base, tourism, sidewalks on all streets, and trails for fitness and to connect neighborhoods. Recreation was a common thread as some of those in attendance advocated more and better riverfront access, a riverfront trail, and parks that cater to activities other than organized sports. One person said she would like to see a public pool, while another said trails should tie into a major north/south trail called the East Coast Greenway.
Ian Wright, a Chester resident, said he thought schools should plan to be more efficient in the way they are built, “maybe up instead of out.”
Public transportation was mentioned numerous times when considering density and our network of roads. Mike Uzel, who lives off Harrowgate Rd., said he wants the county to make better use of the roads we have rather than building new wide swaths of pavement across the county. But then, most seemed to agree that we also need to be able to pay for all these things.
Former Bermuda Supervisor Jack McHale, whose district’s discretionary funds paid for the most recent Chester comprehensive plan approved in 2005, asked a question that this reporter has asked over and over again.
“How will we know that the things we worked for in the old plan will be included in the new plan,” McHale said. “The goals and policies of the old plan should carry over.”
Fassett replied that it was still early in the process. “We will meet with the different community groups to review and implement old plan ideas,” she said. The results would then be given to the steering committee for review.
Out of the 67 persons in the cafeteria of Curtis Elementary, 41 were non-county staff, steering committee members, or elected officials. During the second half of the meeting, the 41 divided into groups for an exercise in density – that is, how many businesses or residences are on each acre. As an example, the area around the center of Chester was used. There are 1.5 residences per acre in that area. The business density at Walthall Industrial Park is said to be 10 jobs per acre. After a more intense explanation of density, the groups went to work using chips on a county map to decide where residences and businesses, or a combination of both (mixed use) should be place. The groups had an hour to decide where the greatest densities would be placed and include road networks, mass transit, parks, recreation, and open space where each seemed important.
The results of the six groups were very similar. Higher density paralleled Rt. 288 with some along Jefferson Davis Hwy. and the east/west corridors on the other end of the county. Open space was placed mostly on the western end of the county.
In the end, what I heard, after speaking to several folks who participated, was that in the future, Chesterfield will no longer be a place of sprawling suburban lots, but a denser community with more mixed-use communities. As I left the building, I wonder whether the exercise was meant as a way to get input or as an education tool, softening citizens to the idea that the future of Chesterfield would include a lot more people living much closer together.
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