The Comprehensive Plan 

Last Tuesday waterfront property and riparian rights lawyer Bryan Peeples attended a workshop on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The purpose of the workshop was to allow citizens to provide input into the next Northampton County Comprehensive Plan which is currently under revision. 

Virginia Code §15.2-2223 requires every county, city, and town in the Commonwealth to adopt a Comprehensive Plan for the physical development of its territory. The Comprehensive Plan is the overarching guidance under which all planning zoning decisions must be made. In other words, the Comprehensive Plan outlines the strategic vision of the community, and all local laws and ordinances must conform to that vision.

 

Comprehensive Plan Review: The Importance of Public Input

By law, the Comprehensive Plan must be reviewed every five years. Tuesday’s workshop was a chance to see the importance of community involvement in local government decisions. This is because the Comprehensive Plan is intended to represent the vision of the local residents. In order to accurately reflect the wishes of the community, it is important that local government officials get a good sense of the concerns and desires of the citizens. For this reason, the Northampton County Comprehensive Plan review process includes a public survey, citizen interviews, and several public workshops like the one last Tuesday. 

The workshop was led by Berkley Group, which is a consulting firm specializing in local government issues in Virginia. The Berkley Group began by giving a brief overview of the process that goes into revising a Comprehensive Plan. As explained above, the Berkley Group is actively seeking public input during this stage of the review process. Over the next several months they will develop proposed revisions to the Comprehensive Plan based on the feedback received from the public. This proposed plan will then be presented to the Northampton County Planning Commission for their recommendations, and finally to the Board of Supervisors for approval.

 

Northampton County Residents Engage in Bettering Their Community 

Northampton County is a community of just over 12,000 people. As of Tuesday’s meeting, nearly 600 residents had already completed surveys. Although this is only about 5% of the total population, the Berkley Group explained that respondents reflected a good demographic representation of the total population, and 5% is actually a higher response rate than they see in most communities. This relatively high response rate is probably due in large part to the efforts of groups such as Citizens For a Better Eastern Shore, which actively promote citizen engagement in local government.

There were approximately 60 people at Tuesday’s meeting. The meeting began with an explanation of the Comprehensive Plan and the process of updating it, followed by a brief overview of the survey results received so far. Then the audience was divided into small groups. Each group was given a map of the county and asked to discuss questions such as which areas are ripe for redevelopment, and what areas should be preserved in their natural states. After forty-five minutes of group work, each group presented its answers to the entire audience.

 

Northampton County Residents’ Concerns For The Eastern Shore

Although each group had slightly different answers, there was a remarkable amount of consistency. In general, the groups felt that the strengths of Northampton County are its rural character, natural resources (especially access to the water), agriculture/aquaculture, and a strong sense of community. The areas of concern were education, lack of affordable housing, and healthcare. They generally agreed that more business and housing development in areas like Exmore and Cape Charles was desirable, but that the rest of the Eastern Shore should remain predominantly rural.  

Several residents expressed concern with the number of poultry houses on the Northern part of the shore, while others pointed out that the chicken industry provides jobs to many local citizens. Those opposed to the large number of poultry operations were primarily concerned about pollution, and in particular, with the environmental impact to the county’s limited fresh water supply. As I explained in detail in another article on this blog, water quality is an issue of grave concern. The Eastern Shore gets its fresh water entirely from underwater aquifers which are being polluted and depleted by large “confined area feeding operations” (CAFOs) such as those operated by Tyson and Purdue. 

In conclusion, the public meeting seemed to be a big success. The Eastern Shore is a truly unique and beautiful area, and it was great to see so many residents engaged with their local government for the betterment of Northampton County. If you need assistance with planning or zoning issues, environmental concerns, or riparian property rights, call Jim Lang and his team of waterfront property lawyers and let us help you! Click here to schedule your consultation.