STRASBURG — A lack of communication between jurisdictions is sometimes a complaint of government work.
A town may be working on a project while the county is working on a similar project, but the two localities may be unaware of each other’s actions, bustling ahead in their respective silos.
On Thursday, those involved with planning and zoning decisions in Shenandoah County and the surrounding area met for lunch in Strasburg to build connections in a less formal setting.
Strasburg Town Planning and Zoning Administrator Lee Pambid said the lunches give like-minded folk an opportunity to keep in touch with each other outside of a public meeting.
“This is something a little bit different,” Pambid said.
The group will get together periodically, choosing different locations to meet and touch base, Pambid said.
This was the first in-person interaction the group has had the COVID-19 pandemic started last year, he said.
In addition to Pambid, in attendance for the lunch at the Old Dominion Doggery & Burger Shoppe on East King Street were:
• Tyler Finkle, Shenandoah County planner;
• Brenna Menefee, zoning and subdivision administrator with Shenandoah County;
• Amanda Kerns, regional planner with the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission;
• Lemuel Hancock, former Woodstock planner and recently appointed Shenandoah County community development director;
• Edinburg Mayor Daniel Harshman, who was previously on Edinburg’s planning commission;
• Meghan Rupkey, New Market planning and zoning administrator;
• Eric Bittner, Middletown planning and zoning administrator;
• Matt Wendling, Warren County planner and floodplain manager.
After placing their lunch orders — which included a hot dog topped with a crab cake, a crab rangoon burger and a spicy hot dog with sauerkraut and mustard — everyone introduced themselves and shared a bit about their professional experience.
Discussion quickly turned to work, which included a proposed public transit system for the Shenandoah County area. The Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission is working on a request for proposals, Kerns said.
The system could be a way for employers to get people to and from work, and students could get to Lord Fairfax Community College if it were extended to Middletown.
“That’s exciting,” Hancock said.
Other discussion topics included the proposed Rails to Trails project, which would convert a defunct Norfolk-Southern railway line that runs from Broadway to Front Royal into a multi-use trail for walking and biking.
Some structural improvements are needed for a bridge that runs over Stoney Creek in Edinburg, the planners noted, while Wendling pointed out that one significant challenge with the project is getting ownership of the rail from Norfolk Southern.
There was also a discussion about Shenandoah County’s Comprehensive Plan, a guiding document for planning decisions. Wendling praised Shenandoah County and Finkle for involving citizens in the work.
The Virginia chapter of the American Planners Association encourages cooperation and will host conferences as a networking opportunity for planners, Pambid said. In Richmond, where Pambid previously worked, get-togethers similar to this existed, but he couldn’t recall such a gathering in this area.
Following the lunch, the planners shared some cake and ice cream at the Strasburg Town Hall before returning to their respective jurisdictions.