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Warrenton comp plan revised, but conservation groups still have objections

From Fauquier Now - https://www.fauquier.com/news/warrenton-comp-plan-revised-but-conservation-groups-still-have-objections/article_ec3b8584-6599-11eb-9c7b-9b60504328c0.html


The Town of Warrenton’s revised comprehensive plan, called Warrenton 2040, was revealed at a Jan. 26 planning commission meeting. The new 81-page plan has been trimmed down from 502 pages by Planning Commissioners Paul Lawrence and Ryan Stewart, along with town staffers. The plan has been in development for over a year.

Many of the technical details and data-heavy sections have been removed from the main body of the plan, but clarifying explanations, data and analysis are still accessible through clickable hyperlinks. The restructuring was in response to feedback that the original document was unmanageable. The new version is also lighter on text and heavier on graphics, again with the aim of making it more accessible to residents.

“We’ve tried to whittle it down to general overriding principles,” Lawrence explained at an Aug. 25 meeting.

The plan will serve as “the official document tying together community features with the overall vision for its future,” the opening statement says.

In the first, longer version of the plan, many residents expressed concern about the term “by-right” being used in reference to future housing and business developments in certain “character districts.” Most of those references have been removed. Other changes include the addition of the Oliver City and Haiti Street neighborhoods to the “Historic Resources” section of the plan, Warrenton Planning Manager Denise Harris explained. The revision also includes added language about pr

otecting neighborhoods both inside and outside the “historic district.”


Growth

Two groups that follow land-use issues in the county have already commented on the revised plan.

Members of the group Citizens for Fauquier County, which identifies itself as “the guardian of Fauquier’s controlled growth and rural agricultural character,” were some of the most vocal critics of the original draft last year. “There was a recognition that original 400-plus pages was overwhelming,” said Chris Bonner, one of the organization’s directors. “Now it’s possible for a human to read it.”

But Bonner claims that most objections to the #rst draft of the plan went unanswered in the new version. He said, “I think it’s clear that it will take our small town and make it a city. Gone forever will be the small town many of us have come to embrace. ... It’s inevitable that Warrenton will grow, but we believe growth should be organic, not forced.”

Julie Bolthouse, land use representative for the Piedmont Environmental Council, also provided a list of objections that remain after the revisions. She said that although there have been improvements, -- like removal of the term “by-right” from sections of the plan -- most of the group’s concerns have not been addressed.

For instance, in July, some questioned whether the town’s current water and sewer capacity was adequate for the projected growth. Bolthouse said the town should provide an explanation about how demand for water will be met – and how much improvements would cost -- if the plan’s population growth estimates are correct.


Housing

Like the original draft, the most recent comprehensive plan draft includes a call to diversify the town’s housing options.

The number of people in Warrenton who are not middle- aged or older has not grown significantly in the past decade, according to a report in one of the plan’s hyperlinks. “From a housing perspective, the town appears to lack the diverse housing options (both housing price and type) desired by younger populations who may not desire or are not ready to purchase a home,” the report says.

One of the stated goals of the comprehensive plan is to position Warrenton as a place where people could both work and live, but a lack of housing options limits the ability for residents of more modest means – like teachers or public safety worker, for instance – to live where they work.

This illustration from the updated comprehensive plan shows some “middle range” housing options.

The PEC is asking that the town include an evaluation of existing capacity under current zoning and a growth target for meeting the desired housing goals.

The group also suggests that the town provide the maximum percentage of residential and minimum percentage of commercial desired in each character district in order to help guide zoning decisions.

The comprehensive plan – in the Land Use and Character Districts section, on page 60 -- still suggests that some residential buildings could be approved without going through a re-zoning process.

Echoing many similar complaints, Bonner said, “Having developers apply for re-zoning allows for public oversight and gives the town an opportunity to ensure that infrastructure keeps pace with development. In addition, as part of the approval process, developers may provide proffers to offset impacts, such as traffic now.”

Another concern: The revised comprehensive plan, like the original, allows for some buildings to be #ve or six stories high. Bonner pointed out that residents commenting on the comprehensive plan said that building heights should be kept to two or three stories. “No fewer than 66 comments mentioned that buildings shouldn’t be five or six stories,” he said.


Two new roadways

Another controversial part of the original comprehensive plan was the inclusion of the Timber Fence Parkway and the Southern Parkway; both proposed roadways are still included in the new plan with similar language.

The Timber Fence Parkway would connect U.S. 211 in western Warrenton to U.S. 17. The Southern Parkway would begin as a multi-use trail network with a long-term plan of using the right-of-way for a limited access bypass around southern and eastern Warrenton from U.S. 211 to U.S. 29/17/15. Neither project is included on the list of near-term goals.

Bolthouse said it is the PEC’s position that mention of the Southern Parkway should be removed from the plan altogether. Developers, not existing taxpayers, should pay for road projects, she said.

Bonner summed up the objections to both roadways, “Increased traffc will take quiet neighborhood streets and make them into through streets.”


What happens now?

Written public comments on the revised plan may be sent to Denise Harris (dharris@warrentonva.gov) by Feb. 8. The planning commission will hold a special work session on Thursday, Feb. 11, at 7 p.m. at 21 Main St. to discuss the revised plan, but there will be no public hearing (since there was a public hearing when the original version of the plan was presented).

The planning commission could vote to send the plan to the Warrenton Town Council at its regular monthly meeting, on Tuesday, Feb. 16.


Reach Robin Earl at rearl@fauquier.com