Head Of Zoning Plans To Leave

Published 3:02 pm Monday, December 31, 2012

CUMBERLAND – After two years of service to Cumberland County, Bret Schardein, planning director and deputy county administrator, is moving on to King William County where he has recently been hired as director of community development.

When asked about Schardein's work for the County, County Administrator Vivian Giles stated, “Bret is definitely an asset to the County and he will be missed.” She had asked Schardein to assist her as deputy county administrator “because he employs good judgment, I think.”

Although Giles has not yet made an official announcement regarding plans for the Planning Department, she did state that there will be a planning and zoning administrator for the County.

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Schardein reported to The Herald, and Giles confirmed, that Rachel Falkenstein, planning technician, will immediately help to handle the duties of the position after Schardein's departure on January 4. Falkenstein has been working in the planning and zoning office for over a year.

Schardein expressed great confidence in Falkenstein's abilities, adding “she has worked closely with me and…is up to speed on everything we do, so I have no worries there. I hope long term… me leaving, as well, provides a good opportunity for her.”

The County is in the process of updating its Comprehensive Plan, something with which Schardein has been very involved. As he prepared to leave Cumberland's planning department, Schardein shared with The Herald some of the assets and challenges Cumberland brings with it as it looks to the future.

Schardein wishes planning schools talked more about rural areas. “We love to talk about what was done wrong in urban areas or suburban areas but we kind of ignore rural, where…it is kind of a blank slate and you have a chance to…get it right from the beginning.”

Schardein sees a lot of promise for Cumberland as it moves forward. “You can build it or develop it or grow it however you want. So, I think having the raw land available is good. I mean, geographically, it is in a good position for growth in the future that certainly is going to come.”

He also considers the two state parks to be a great asset and is pleased with the amount of visitors they receive.

In fact, he believes Cumberland's access to the James River also holds potential which he'd love to see capitalized on more, stating that “it's a really important recreation, historic, natural asset that we have that I don't think we sell as much as we could.”

However, looking to the future, he acknowledges that Cumberland's rural setting also brings some distinctive challenges as it looks forward to development, reiterating an issue that many have already raised. How will the County encourage growth while also maintaining the rural nature and small town charm that so many love about Cumberland?

He points out that this is a tough issue for many rural areas, “especially one with as much history as Cumberland, you know; it is tough to balance growth and development….

“A lot of people want the amenities or the stores and things that they may have access to in, you know, suburban or urban areas, but… that can create a lot of friction and be difficult to balance in a rural area. You can do it, but it's not easy…”

County planning may seem like an odd life's work to some, but it is in Schardein's blood.

It is what his father does and has always done, says Schardein, “I grew up with it. It was what we talked about at the dinner table.”

Fresh out of high school, he had hoped to forge his own path, but found himself adding more and more related courses to his class schedule in college, “all of a sudden I found myself… gravitating back to local government.”

Since working for Cumberland, Schardein, an urban planning major, has found that “I've really enjoyed rural government…working for a small rural county.”

It is not just the multitude of opportunities open to Cumberland because of the availability of land and its geographical location, but also the relationships that Schardein sees as an asset for the county. A native of Henrico County, he was surprised by how everybody seems to know everybody else, “I really think that's interesting. I like that how it seems like everybody is connected here. That is pretty cool.”

This same level of close connection also holds true in county governance, “I really enjoy how close you are to both the elected officials, and the leaders, and the people…If I was working in a big locality there's a lot more distance, I think, between each of those.”

He also enjoys being involved in so many projects, whereas at a larger locality “you might just be one little cog in a big system somewhere else. But here, you know, from the time a project comes in, 'til you're actually seeing it being built, you're so involved in it and I love that.”

Giles plans to make an official announcement in the near future regarding Schardein's replacement and any changes which may occur within the planning and zoning office.