Cumberland Begins Update

Published 4:17 pm Tuesday, April 10, 2012

CUMBERLAND – The County's Planning Commission is beginning the process of updating Cumberland's Comprehensive Plan, with assistance from the Commonwealth Regional Council (CRC), and during a recent joint meeting the Commission and Board of Supervisors heard from the CRC as to how the update will proceed in four phases.

According to Mary Hickman, acting CEO and president of the CRC, the regional planning organization is under contract with Cumberland to provide technical assistance for the update and the process will include the review of the existing plan, meeting regularly with the Planning Commission, preparing and assisting with a telephone citizen survey, assisting with preparation of draft sections, conducting community meetings, and a presentation of the final updated plan.

Completion of the project is expected within 18 months, said Ms. Hickman.

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“We have found that by grouping it together it is much more efficient,” advised Ms. Hickman to the group. “Grouping it together lets you see how it all comes together. We're proposing to provide technical assistant to the County in a four-phase element with the first being the introduction and demographics being the first phase. The next one is actually looking at your community resources…”

A Comprehensive Plan is a “master plan for the future,” according to the CRC's presentation and it is also a published report to the citizens that is adopted by the local government.

The plan should, according to Ms. Hickman, reflect the ideas, values, and desires of the citizens.

The reason for the update is to prepare for future changes and to identify concerns and the aspirations of local citizens as well as to conform to the state's requirement of updating the plan every five years.

New elements that must be included in Cumberland's plan this time, different from the last update, include needing a transportation plan section, sections related to historical sites, affordable housing, natural resources, urban development areas, and a specialty policy issues section, according to the presentation.

“Phase Three is a very important phase,” noted Ms. Hickman to the Commissioners and Supervisors. “We're dedicating a specific time to it and it's the current land use and land patterns and incorporating the urban development areas.”

Phase Four of the plan involves a specialty policy area, just as a resource of general planning topics, said Ms. Hickman.

She offered that the specialty section should be able to “guide” decision making throughout the County.

“Also goals, objectives, and strategies and a much more in depth capital improvement program section which is a requirement of the Code of Virginia” are aspects of the specialty section, she noted.

According to Ms. Hickman, the CRC's staff will stick with the Planning Commission's current meeting schedule in order to provide assistance and work through the planning and updating of the Comprehensive Plan.

“That will make it more efficient for you to go through this process,” she said.

The Commission and the CRC worked together going over the citizen telephone questionnaire in March.

“It is your survey,” advised the CRC's acting CEO and president. “We're here just to provide assistance and do it the best way that you desire.”

In April, the phases will begin, Ms. Hickman noted.

“We will request comments, questions, and changes for comments to us,” she offered to the Planning Commission about the sections that are included in Phase One. “And then we'll move on into those sections that are included.”

Throughout the Comprehensive Plan update there will also be up to three community meetings that the CRC will be available for assistance to help facilitate.

“Community participation is so crucial and important in comprehensive plan planning,” noted Ms. Hickman.

After the presentation, Planning Commission Chairman Dr. Bill Burger suggested that the Commission consider scheduling, again, like in the past three community interest meetings throughout the county.

Last time, the Comprehensive Plan community interest meetings were held at three different locations throughout the county, he noted.

Suggestions And Comments

After the presentation, Supervisor Bill Osl suggested that the Commission and the CRC look into utilizing citizens, groups and organizations that are already readily available with information.

“Getting the citizens involved is difficult,” he said. “…I thought if we set up some committees, just citizens committees, on a variety of elements that are in the plan and there are some groups that are already established that could form the core or the base so if you want to talk about industry or economic development we have a person that does that and we have the IDA that could go off with that. Agriculture-Cumberland Farm Bureau and they have a board and a broad variety of members across the county.”

“Again, I'd like just to throw that out there for consideration,” added Osl. “The schools-there are people there who are set up… It would be interesting to see if we could establish some citizen committees to see and work on some of those sections and bring it back to the Planning Commission.”

Chairman Dr. Burger agreed and said, “No sense in reinventing the wheel. If they have it, we also would like it and it might spur some more community involvement…”

Ms. Hickman said, “In these phases it's the complete analysis. Where you were, where you are, and then where you want to be is touched upon in your goals, objectives and strategies…”

Osl added, “I'm just trying to find a way to get the community more involved in the process… That's my thought.”

Afterwards, Bret Schardein, Cumberland's planning and zoning director, noted the length of time between now and when the Comprehensive Plan will be before the Supervisors, again, for approval.

He said, “A lot is going to go on between now and then and make sure you are updated. If you have questions make sure you get in touch with staff or with the Planning Commission. Just make sure you are involved in the process before it comes back to you.”

Dr. Burger noted past community involvement and said, “I would like to thank the Board for coming in…When we do have these public meetings I hope you will attend simply because if you can come maybe some other people will come…So I would like to get a lot more. It's not my county, it's not your county, it's their county and we need their input so if you folks come often times some of them will tag along with you. So we're looking forward to it.”