By Alex Bridges
Warren County could see more industry on U.S. 340-522 north of Front Royal under the next Comprehensive Plan.
The goal of expanding industrial space on the major highway in the county comes as one of several changes to the state-mandated plan heading for approval.
The Board of Supervisors scheduled a public hearing on the updated Comprehensive Plan for 7:30 p.m. July 16. As government activities go, an updated Comprehensive Plan rarely draws public attention. But as Planning Director Taryn Logan has explained, the document remains one of the county's most important tools in development.
"We refer to [the plan] for land-use decisions, definitely, and the staff will look at the Comprehensive Plan to see if [a project] is in conformance and then the recommendation that we make really is based upon that," Logan said Monday. "When we meet with applicants, we use the plan as our guide. It's always present in our reviews and in our recommendations."
State law requires that municipalities review their Comprehensive Plans every five years. The state does not require that counties, cities or towns update the plan each time, though many municipal governments do amend their documents to reflect changes in goals and practices in development.
A major difference between the current plan adopted several years ago and the proposed document addresses a change in the county's priorities for the development of the U.S. 340-522 corridor. Most of the land along the corridor to the north of Front Royal and beyond the commercial sector remained zoned for agricultural use. But the Planning Commission and staff learned during their discussions about the plan that the county's supply of land for industrial and commercial use remains limited. Planning officials have agreed the county would benefit by expanding the stock of land for industries.
"The five-year update is for us to re-evaluate, look at what's happened over the last five years and see if any of the changes are recommended," Logan said.
The plan concludes with recommendations and suggestions on how the county could implement the goals identified in each chapter of the document. Suggested ways to implement the plan's goal range from general, such as encourage open space to extend bicycle and hiking paths.
The plan suggests that the county develop zoning criteria to encourage clustering of housing construction. The plan also recommends the county encourage the expansion of the voluntary agricultural and forestal districts in the rural areas. At the same time, the plan recommends the county "aggressively market" the municipality to industrial and commercial prospects. In the economic development area, the plan encourages the county to expand and extend its enterprise zone to permit state and local tax incentives to new businesses.
County staff and the Planning Commission began going through the previously adopted Comprehensive Plan in 2009. Work started with a survey sent to residents seeking input on topics addressed in the plan. The Planning Commission and staff then set out to update the document.
This update covers the entire Comprehensive Plan, as opposed to the occasional review of sections of the document
Even though supervisors approve a Comprehensive Plan every few years, Logan explained that the county offers a way to amend the document. Developers or other applicants whose request does not conform to the Comprehensive Plan can seek to amend the document. That process also requires public hearings and approval from the commission and supervisors. Amendments to the Comprehensive Plan remain a popular, often-used avenue for developers in some counties. Warren County planners have not fielded many requests to amend the Comprehensive Plan, Logan said.
Some amendments come down from the state level. For instance, the state required the county to include the Urban Development Area sector in its Comprehensive Plan. Logan recalled that the county worked with Front Royal, which also had to amend the town's Comprehensive Plan to reflect the Urban Development Area.
"I think that it provides the framework for the county residents to see how the county is going to look and function in the future," Logan said. "Like if you move to a community, your Comprehensive Plan kind of lays out what the community's goals are, where development's going to occur, what uses are prepared to be where. It's a guide for the decisions that are going to be made by the community leaders."
Copies of the plan are available for viewing at Samuel's Public Library, the Planning and Zoning Department office and on the county's website at www.warrencountyva.net.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or email@example.com