'We Can't Do It Without Help'

Published 3:37 pm Thursday, February 27, 2014

BUCKINGHAM — The Buckingham County Planning Commission is seeking help from the Board of Supervisors in updating and bringing the County’s Comprehensive Plan and zoning and subdivision ordinances into compliance with state code.

The action comes two weeks after supervisors voted five to two to reject the two bids submitted for two different reviews of the three documents.

Planning Commissioners voted five to one to request supervisors provide the commission with professional guidance or assistance with the three documents “due to the lack of time and expertise the volunteer commission (has).”

Email newsletter signup

The wording of the motion, following a lengthy discussion on the topic, was put forth by District Five Commissioner Sammy Smith and District One Commissioner and Commission Chairman John Bickford during the commission’s February 24 meeting.

“The Board of Supervisors decided to direct that back to the Planning Commission, that we would do this work in-house and not hire anyone to do that,” began Zoning and Planning Administrator Rebecca S. Cobb, referring to the three documents. “They also directed that, before we get started on doing the revisions to the comp plan and the ordinances, that we devise our strategy and our plan and bring that back to them to let them know how we plan to go about doing this work…I’m just looking to you guys to begin that discussion as to how you want to go about this.”

Responding to a question from Bickford regarding the time- frame of the revisions, Cobb explained that the Comprehensive Plan needed to be reviewed this year. “That would mean having our edits done, have our public meetings done, have our board of supervisors have their public hearing and approve it all this year.”

“Working with those time constraints, we’re going to have to have a lot of meetings. And a lot of work sessions. And a lot of sub-committee meetings. This will take a tremendous time expenditure by this committee to get this done in this time-frame…Does the commission, here, feel they have the time to do this?” questioned the commission chairman.

“I may have the time, but I don’t have the talent,” Smith responded.

“We’re talking about sub-committee meetings, probably at least two or three a month. I would assume we’re going to have two or three work sessions a month…probably two hours or three hours each…It’s going to take a real commitment and a lot of time. So, my question is, as a commission, are you going to be able to commit to that…That’s something you need to be thinking about,” Bickford cited.

District Seven Supervisor Danny Allen, who represents the board of supervisors on the commission, said it depended on how deep the commission dove into the plan.

“We’re doing a review, we’re not doing a rewrite,” District Seven Commissioner Alice Gormus indicated.

“Again, my question to the commissioners, and I’m not trying to steer you one way or another, I’m just trying to say that it’s a major commitment,” Bickford added.

“I don’t think we have the time (to) do this,” District Six Commissioner Chet Maxey began. “I’m like Danny, we need to look at priorities that the Berkley Group and Chandler Planning Group, a sub-committee needs to look at them…It’s no way in the world we can go through all that…I’m like Sammy, I don’t have the expertise to know all the changes that need to be made when it comes from the legality standpoint.”

Bickford said that he was trying to prepare the commissioners for the commitment.

“Do we have a choice?” Maxey questioned.

“We can send it back to them and say…the commissioners don’t feel like they have time to do it or the expertise. We’ll send it back to the board (of supervisors). They can make the call,” Bickford commented.

“I think most of us probably don’t have the expertise to deal with the codes and changes…It’ll be a lot of research…” District Four Commissioner James D. Crews cited.

“We can’t even write an executive summary,” Commissioner Smith began. “I bet you there’s nobody on this board, right now, that could write an executive summary. And that’s not downgrading anybody, because there are some pretty smart people up here. But, correct me if I’m wrong, if we screw this up, and we’re no longer in compliance, not only will we be doing the County a disservice, we’ll be doing the Commonwealth of Virginia a disservice. And the first time it comes back to bite us, it’s going to cost a whole lot more than the $75,000 that we’d have to pay to somebody else to do it…” Smith stated, referring to the bid that was submitted collaboratively by the Berkley Group, Chandler Planning, and the Farmville-based Commonwealth Regional Council (CRC) for $75,306.

“We can’t do it without help,” Maxey reiterated.

Bickford agreed, adding, “I don’t think we can do it correctly without help…”

“I mean, I think that we can do these county-wide meetings, and all that stuff, you know, if you want to pull in help for some of the other stuff, but, why pay somebody, you know, $2,500 or something per meeting, to talk to somebody, and there might not be but one person show up, or two?” Gormus questioned.

District Five Supervisor Cassandra Stish, a former member of the planning commission, who was in attendance at the meeting, commented that during the last revision of the Comprehensive Plan, the CRC assisted. “When they hosted those meetings, those were really robust, very interactive work sessions with community members…” she explained, adding that the CRC led numerous exercises with the board and commission.

“It’s worth thinking about, even if you don’t do all of it, that Commonwealth Regional Council has a really good understanding of this community, having most of it’s people from here…They have access to the raw documents, which are easy to update…” Stish related.

Bickford, again questioning the commission, asked, “I guess my point is, as a committee, do you have the time to spend?”

“I don’t,” Smith responded.

“I don’t have the time. Unfortunately, I’m very busy at this time,” Bickford explained.

“I do,” Gormus told the audience.

“I don’t really have time either,” Crews added, “I don’t feel like I have the expertise to make a lot of decisions that need to be made…”

Bickford called for discussion regarding sending the matter back to the supervisors.

“You’re trying to do something you don’t have the expertise in. They do this for a living; that’s their job…We have to decide tonight, as a board, whether we want to send this back to the Board of Supervisors with our recommendation…” Bickford stated.

Responding to a question from Supervisor Allen, Cobb told the commission that state code requires the Comprehensive Plan be reviewed every five years.

Bickford, a local timber consultant, called the review a golden opportunity to get ahead of the curve because of the current state of the economy. “It’s going to be a time in the near future, hopefully, things are going to turn around, and people are going to start coming in again…”

“You’re saying let’s send it back to the board of supervisors, and say ‘We need some help.’ And this is the opportunity we need to take advantage…” Maxey questioned.

“That’s my opinion, is we send it back to the board…” Bickford responded, with Smith agreeing.

After making a motion to send the proposal from the Berkley and Chandler Groups back to the board of supervisors, which would later be rescinded, Gormus told Smith he was wasting his time.

“I think $75,000 for 4,000 billable hours is cheap,” Smith interjected.

“I don’t think we’re $75,000 dollars off of the mark,” Gormus responded.

“I think the board of supervisors has rejected all those (bids) and we’re in a start-over position,” County Attorney E.M. Wright Jr. told the commission

Smith added that he didn’t think that the supervisors got a chance to look at the proposal, because, as he explained, the ad-hoc committee supervisors created didn’t report the work back to the planning commission before the report went to the supervisors. “All they got was a price and public comment,” he added.

“In my opinion, we don’t have the time or the expertise to do it correctly…” Bickford added.

“The motion was made by Mr. Talbert to reject the RFP’s and have the work done in house…So, I won’t say it can’t be resurrected, but I think to ask the board specifically to resurrect those RFP’s and choose…If you can broaden whatever this commission wants to ask for, it would give more flexibility to trying to come to that answer,” Wright commented.

Supervisor Stish suggested the commission take the project one step at a time, and suggested using the services of the CRC with the Comprehensive Plan. “Just go step by step…” she said, suggesting another RFP for the review of the ordinances only.

“To me…we’ve spent 17 or 18 minutes talking bout this. We could have gotten two or three lines straight by now. If we are serious about being on the planning commission, this is part of what we are tasked with. If you don’t want to do the work, stay home,” Gormus stated. “Come on folks, we’re not this lazy.”

“That’s not lazy,” Maxey interjected. “Everybody’s already got too much on them now. You may have the time, but I don’t have the time to spend four or five nights a week or a month even coming up here and going over the Comprehensive Plan. I just don’t have that kind of time to do that…”

“Due to the lack of time and expertise on the volunteer planning commission, we need professional guidance and or assistance with the comp plan, and the zoning ordinances…” Smith offered as a motion.

“That’s a declaration…What are you asking the board to do for you?” the county attorney asked.

“What I want them to do is accept the Berkley Group,” Smith responded.

Bickford suggested adding the language of “we request,” into his motion, saying, “Due to the lack of time and expertise on the volunteer planning commission, we request the Board of Supervisors provide us with professional guidance and/or assistance…”

“I would think they would be our best help…” Allen said of the CRC.

The motion carried five to one with Gormus voting in opposition.

“I still think that we need to be very specific about what we want…If we go in there and have just a blank line, I wouldn’t vote for it. I can see three things that we might need help with, but some of these other things, we are very capable of doing,” Gormus reiterated.

“I don’t think it’s as bad as we’re making it to be,” Allen added.

“I don’t think so either,” Gormus concluded.