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Conservation official: Urban addition a plus

Interim director says Warren County should follow Shenandoah approach

By Ben Orcutt - borcutt@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- The interim director of a local conservation network says that Warren County only needs to look at its neighbor, Shenandoah County, to see that urban development areas are a good idea.

"This approach is being used very effectively elsewhere," said Megan Gallagher, interim executive director for the Shenandoah Valley Network, an alliance of conservation groups from Frederick County to Augusta County.

Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman Archie A. Fox has said that he is "outraged" by a state mandate for urban development areas, and Mayor Timothy W. Darr said the council has decided to send a letter to Del. Clifford L. "Clay" Athey Jr., R-Front Royal, who sponsored the legislation, and Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, seeking clarification of the mandate and an extension of the July 1 deadline for complying.

Every Virginia city and county that experienced a 15 percent or greater population growth between 1990 and 2000 must select urban development areas under the law.

The urban development areas are meant to set aside land suitable for high-density development. The land must be close to major transportation networks and have access to public services such as water and sewer. The designated area also must allow for a minimum of four dwellings per acre.

Warren County must select 674 acres for future residential growth, as well as 43.6 acres for commercial use. Planning staffs from the town and the county have been cooperating on the project.

Gallagher said Shenandoah County embraced the principles of urban development areas in its comprehensive plan nearly five years ago, before the state's legislation was passed in 2007. Shenandoah's plan, Gallagher said, was to preserve agriculture by directing growth toward its towns.

Just last week, the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors passed a rural areas plan, Gallagher said, "that went all the way to implementing a UDA approach."
Gallagher said Warren County and Front Royal officials need to take a closer look at the urban development area concept.

"When we say direct growth, there's this big hullabaloo in Warren County that New York City's coming to Front Royal," she said. "But in fact, that's not true, and Shenandoah County also shows that example."

The idea, Gallagher said, is to have traditional, historic growth, with restaurants, shops and schools within walking distance of homes.

"It will allow a huge variety of housing types from the lower density on the edge to the higher density for people who may need an apartment -- elderly, affordable, whatever," she said. "So we already have an example right next door that I wish Warren County would spend more time studying. They [Shenandoah County] went from comprehensive planning to rural zoning to town planning and found it easy to implement the UDA approach that the General Assembly was sort of catching up with them on."

Gallagher said one of the ironies about the backlash in Warren County is that the urban development area legislation gained broad support in the General Assembly.

"The legislation was supported by both the builders and the conservationists, which would indicate to me it's a fair compromise," she said. "In the Shenandoah Valley, I truly believe it reflects the goals of rural counties like Shenandoah and more urbanizing counties like Frederick, who've been actually working on this for years.

"Warren needs to talk with neighbors, simmer down, learn that this is not a ugly mandate but is in fact good for taxpayers in reducing the cost of public services and good for preserving agricultural land, which most residents in the valley would like to do both."

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