Planning commission proposes drop in projected county growth rate

The Hanover Planning Commission feels that projecting a 2 percent average annual growth rate is too aggressive for the Comprehensive Plan in today’s environment.

The Commission held a workshop April 11 to focus on the latest update to the planning document. The Comp Plan looks at land use, transportation, and community facilities needs over a 20-year period, and the plan is re-examined every five years, as required by state law.

The workshop was the commission’s first since holding a series of public input meetings throughout the county in February and March.

“We did receive a tremendous amount of input at all six of the community meetings,” Planning Director David Maloney told the commission. “The modifications to both the text and maps being presented this evening are in large part as a result of that input that we have received.”

The commission spent over two hours discussing various facets of the draft plan.

Cold Harbor planning commissioner Ashley Peace brought up the population projections.

The current plan projects the county’s population to grow between 1.5 and 2.5 percent annually for the next 20 years, for an average annual growth of 2 percent.

The average annual growth rate over the past five years has been roughly half a percent.

“The 2 percent just seems very aggressive, so I don’t know if there’s any opportunity to scale that back just a little bit?” Peace suggested.

Maloney said, “I’m not disagreeing with you at all in the short run. The 2 percent is probably very optimistic, but we don’t know what that new normal is. So, if we’re going to change it, what are we changing it to, and what are we basing that change on?

“Because of the very unusual conditions we’ve experienced over the last four or five years, we don’t have a good set of reliable data to tell us what the future’s going to be.”

Chairman Harold Padgett, Chickahominy commissioner, asked what might be the impact of lowering the projected annual average growth rate to 1.5 percent.

Maloney described the Comp Plan as a “placeholder rather than an exact predictor.” The growth rate is used to project the need for public facilities such as schools and libraries. If the projection exceeds reality, then those facilities would merely be delayed.

“But that placeholder is still in the comprehensive plan. Then whenever that need occurs, it’s still consistent with the plan. It’s just a matter of timing,” Maloney explained.

Peace said, “I do think it’s extremely critical and important for planning on how you’re allocating your resources, and I think over-projecting our potential growth moving forward also sends a message that is not accurate or correct to the community.”

She continued, “We certainly heard a lot throughout the community meetings that people are almost afraid of too much density, too much growth, too many people moving into the county, when in reality the likelihood of that happening in the next five to 10 years is almost zero. So I just think that it creates a sense of fear and urgency that doesn’t actually exist.”

The commission decided to scale back the average annual growth rate to 1.5 percent—the low end of the current 1.5 to 2.5 percent range.

Planning staff also revised the draft update to put a cap on residential density.

Under the current plan, the multi-family land use designation has the greatest density, with a range of eight to 15 dwelling units per acre. However, the county’s mixed-use ordinance allows for double the plan’s recommended density, allowing for potential densities of up to 30 units per acre under the proper zoning.

“It’s challenging to envision a development of that significance in the context of Hanover County. That really is a very urban scale of development. We are clearly a suburban and rural locality,” Maloney said.

Staff’s proposed amendment would limit residential density to no more than 15 units per acre, even in cases of mixed-use developments.

“From the staff’s perspective, [anything greater] would be out of character for Hanover County,” Maloney said.

The Planning Commission has scheduled additional Comp Plan work sessions May 9 and May 16. Both meetings begin at 4 p.m. in the Board Room (auditorium) in the County Administration Building.

These meetings are not public hearings, but all interested individuals are invited to attend.

More information about the Comprehensive Plan update, including working text drafts, is available online at www.co.hanover.va.us/planning/compplan2012.htm.

Posted on Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 11:22 am