Hands-On Planning

Published 1:36 pm Tuesday, October 30, 2012

CUMBERLAND – The first phase of public participation in the revision of the Cumberland Comprehensive Plan is now complete and some of the results are clear. Citizens feel that economic growth – and a grocery store – need to be a priority for the county. However, there is no clear consensus on how to best encourage economic growth while still maintaining the rural quality of life in Cumberland.

The Process

The Commonwealth Regional Council is assisting the County with the Comprehensive Plan revision process.

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The CRC is a regional planning agency which is in partnership with five area counties: Amelia, Buckingham, Charlotte, Lunenburg and Prince Edward.

The County chose not be a member of the CRC this year, because it did not budget the money needed for dues. However, the contract to assist the County in the revision of its Comprehensive Plan was approved by the CRC when the county was still a member.

Mary Hickman, acting president and CEO of the CRC, stated that the CRC's goal is to “help move the process along or provide assistance as needed.” Any work that is done by the CRC is presented to County staff and the Planning Commission for input and finalization.

Barbara Terry, a planner with the CRC, was very enthusiastic about her work with Cumberland. She stated that although she has worked with several other localities to help revise their Comprehensive Plans, she particularly enjoys working with Cumberland because “the planning commissioners care… They go by the Comp Plan. They believe in it. They think it's a good document. And they don't just dump it on a shelf. They actually use it.”

After compiling the data from citizen surveys and public forums, the CRC will present a report to the Planning Commission for their finalization and to aid in the revision of the current plan.

Surveys were administered by the CRC and Cumberland Planning and Zoning staff over the phone, online and in person. The survey was also publicized via print and radio media, posted fliers and the County's web and Facebook pages. A total of 258 residents were surveyed.

The Results

The majority of those surveyed were generally pleased about the overall quality of life in Cumberland, according to the Survey Summary Report. Cumberland's friendly people, rural character and peaceful setting were seen as the county's primary assets.

However, the majority of those surveyed did not give high marks for the services provided by the County or for opportunities for public involvement. Similarly, a large majority found programs and facilities for youth and seniors to be lacking.

When she reported these results during the Cartersville public forum, Terry wondered if part of the low ratings for opportunities for youth and seniors was a result of a lack of communication: “A lot of that is not knowing what's out there. You can improve in that area but there are still things that people are not aware of.”

When asked what “activities, programs, facilities or changes would you like to see in Cumberland,” the response was resounding, a grocery store. The next three most popular suggestions were economic growth, reduced taxes and a YMCA or some other recreation center.

Room For Growth

Hickman summarized the survey results during the Cartersville forum: “There is a consensus that development is not happening fast enough. One of the emphases is a need for attracting businesses and jobs and the desire to expand the programs and opportunities, such as youth and senior services. And, like so many of our rural neighbors within this region, the concern for maintaining the rural character and environmental quality."

It was very clear that the vast majority of those surveyed, 87 percent, felt that the county's commercial growth was too slow. However, while the desire for economic growth is clear, how to maintain the positive attributes the county already has while encouraging economic growth is not.

For example, those at the public forum had conflicting viewpoints on the priority of maintaining the historical feel of the courthouse area while also encouraging economic growth. Some attendees thought that maintaining a visually attractive setting was more important than others.

Tim Kennell, a former member of the Board of Supervisors, summarized, “everyone knows where Cumberland is because they pass through it. The goal should be to find a way to have people stop, instead of pass through it.” He felt that increasing the visual appeal of the courthouse area by removing the aboveground electrical lines would encourage people to stop.

Another concern was whether residential growth should or should not be encouraged. Those surveyed were almost split; 40 percent rated residential growth Just Right while 51 rated it as Too Slow. Some attendees raised concerns about how residential growth could be encouraged while maintaining Cumberland's small and friendly communities and also keeping out increased drugs and crime.

Maintaining current water, air and environmental quality was also very important to a large majority of survey respondents and was raised as an issue during the Cartersville forum. Attendees expressed a desire to solicit business that did not negatively impact the county culture, such as landfills might.

Throughout the Cartersville forum there was also a general consensus that the basic county infrastructure needed to be strengthened to attract new businesses. In particular, the expanding waterline and need for county-wide high-speed internet were discussed. There was also a general desire to keep industrial activity to designated areas, fully utilizing the industrial parks the county already has.

Darlene Pelot, who served on the Cumberland Industrial Development Authority for over 15 years, was present at the public forum in Cartersville and remembered a similar meeting she attended over ten years ago. At that meeting, also a public forum to gain input for the Comprehensive Plan, she took part in visioning and brainstorming activities. She stated that it does take time, but now, “we've had years to see the things we talked about actually happen…It's exciting.”

Public Participation

Of the three public forums that were offered this month, the largest turnout was on October 15. Bret Schardein, planning and zoning administrator, reported that about 22 people attended the Planning Commission meeting that night. According to Terry, 13 went on to participate in the public forum.

It was the most people that had been to any planning meeting during the two years he had been in Cumberland, Schardein said, adding, “it was good to see people come out.” The rezoning meeting for the Dollar General had been the breakaway record holder before that Monday, with 15 citizens in attendance.

Terry confirmed that there has been more participation by the public during the current revision of the Comprehensive Plan than in the past.

The Planning Commission will use the compiled results of the surveys and public forums in upcoming work sessions to revise the current Comprehensive Plan. Another opportunity for the public input is slated to occur the spring of next year.

Finally, the Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing and prepare to vote on whether to adopt the Comprehensive Plan. If all goes according to schedule, the new Comprehensive Plan should be in place by July of 2013.