Citizens group drawing up new land use map

CHARLES TOWN – A pair of meetings to be held over the next five days could have major impacts on the shape of future development in Jefferson County.

[cleeng_content id="878258946" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]The two comprehensive plan workshops will ask citizens for input in forming a future land use map that will be included in a revision to the county’s comprehensive plan. The map, which will be used when considering future rezoning requests after it has been finalized, will be presented to the public in January.

Developing the future land use map is part of the process for drawing up the 2014 Comprehensive Plan, with the aim of shaping what direction development will take until 2035, though the plan will be revised again in 2024. Citizens who attend the meetings will have access to an existing land use map that was prepared by the planning staff and that details present development patterns.

The whole process has been led by a steering committee of citizens as well as the staff of the Planning Department, which held a joint meeting with the County Commission Thursday to provide an update on their progress.

The group told the commission that they have so far held three open public workshops and conducted an online survey to gather input from citizens with a stake in future development.

“We took a lot of information,” Jennifer Brockman, director of the planning department, told commissioners.

Those results have so far been compiled into a 20-page draft list of 27 goals, with as many as 13 objectives per goal.

At last week’s meeting, the effort caused Commissioner Dale Manuel to recall a study completed on the eastern section of U.S. 340 that was ultimately shelved. Manuel said he hoped mistakes made during that process would not be repeated.

“I know we all want to avoid what happened with Route 340,” Manuel said. “I don’t want something that, once it’s complete – the comprehensive plan – and comes before this body, is just unacceptable.”

Commissioner Lyn Widmyer laid the blame for shelving the study at the feet of the commission.

“We had a public participation program with lots of people involved, engaged and giving recommendations and this commission did not even discuss it,” she said.

Brockman said there was still a great deal of time for the statement of goals and objectives to be revised.

“There is going to be opportunity to give us more feedback – to do more edits,” Brockman said. “We’re hoping this will be done by the end of August or September,”

She said she hoped planning staff would be able to hold a joint meeting with the County Commission and the Planning Commission to ensure that there was a broad consensus.

“If you don’t agree with the direction that the goals an objectives have, then we can’t write the recommendations. We need to know that you all are in agreement,” Brockman said. “We don’t want to waste the next six months writing recommendations if you don’t agree with where we are going.”

County Planner Seth Rivard said that development of the future land use map would lead to major improvements in the planning process going forward. The map will focus on three major types of growth areas: urban growth areas, preferred growth areas and villages.

Of these, Rivard said, the most pivotal may be the development of the preferred growth areas – sections of the county outside of municipalities but near to transportation and utility infrastructure.

“In the 2004 plan, we’ve defined what the growth areas were, but we never said what should be in them within the locations,” Rivard said. “We should be a little more granular.”

Rivard emphasized that development of the map would not impact current land use.

“We are not going to change anybody’s zoning or development rights,” he said.

Commissioner Walt Pellish argued that setting up a flexible, rapid development approval system will be key to shoring up the county’s stressed finances.

“This county is at a critical crossroads, and we have one heck of an opportunity to solidify our future,” Pellish said. “This county is all about, in the future, securing more revenue.”

“We’ve got a big hole facing us,” he said. “And in order to protect this county and the citizens of this county, we’ve got to find a way to generate new revenue. To my way of thinking, that does not come from taxation. It comes from economic growth.”

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