By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL -- Warren County leaders took a first look at the locality's updated Comprehensive Plan this week.
The Planning Commission met with the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday for a work session to discuss the plan as drafted, following months of work on the document.
Commission Chairman Mark Bower noted that this marked a good time to look at the Comprehensive Plan and address the county's future for the next five years. The state also requires localities to review their Comprehensive Plans every five years.
The commission decided the county vision should include the desire to maintain a residential growth rate of 2-3 percent, measured by single-family home permits, according to Planning Director Taryn Logan. Last year the county showed a residential growth of 0.35 percent, Logan said.
"When you consider, think back to 2004 and' 05, things were sort of wide open," said commission Chairman Mark Bower. "I didn't think we could even grow faster than that. There was so much going on there and that was 2.8 percent."
Bower recalled at that time officials often broached the idea of limiting growth to 3 percent.
"I think it's too much, too fast when it's that high," said board Chairman Archie Fox.
"I think from the economy's standpoint, when we get below 1 [percent], then we start hurting," said County Administrator Douglas Stanley. "But 3 percent was pushing it."
"If you're going to have that, you need to have that industrial growth to support it because those houses don't add to your tax base," Bower noted.
The county should maintain an industrial tax base of 30-35 percent, Logan said. The percentage reflects the base of 28 percent predicted by the pending start-up of the Dominion power plant.
"We've never had the luxury of having a healthy commercial-industrial tax base to support the folks that are homeowners in this community so I think it's a great opportunity, with some growth in that area as to too much growth in housing, to keep the taxes down," Bower added.
In the past, the value brought by industry did not keep up housing development, Stanley said.
Among the data presented, Logan pointed out that between 1990 and 2010 population appeared to shift, with the number of county residents increasing by 61.5 percent. Front Royal's population increased by only 21.5 percent in that period. Data shows 38.6 percent of the county residents live in town.
Work on the update began at the end of 2009 with a survey sent to residents that asked questions about county infrastructure such as roads, housing preferences, recreational facilities, land development, schools, visions for the future and other concerns.
Residents submitted 794 completed surveys either electronically or by mail, according to Logan.
Survey results show most respondents felt limited job opportunities and rapid development remain the county's biggest challenges, according to Logan. Half of the respondents said Warren County has changed for the better in the past five years while only 20 percent felt the opposite.
The amount of retail development felt "about right" to 46 percent of respondents while 37 percent said the county could benefit from more. Respondents said the county needed more nature parks with walking trails. Likewise they cited the replacement of the South Fork bridge over the Shenandoah River as the most needed transportation improvement.
Of the responses, 66 percent said they felt Warren County was on the right path for growth, Logan said.
This time county officials and the commission decided the Comprehensive Plan should incorporate parts of other local and regional plans created in the past five years.
The Planning Commission will hold a required public hearing on the draft document in December. The Board of Supervisors shall hold its hearing early next year.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org