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Forum explores opportunities, challenges in Fauquier

Tuesday, Jul. 26 | By James Ivancic
Nadia Stanfield, George Grayson and Phil Yates do their homework as part of the first Community Conversations forum in May. A second was held July 12. Photo by Debora Franklin
There are opportunities to make Fauquier County a better place to live, work and play, but obstacles exist as well. A July 12 public brainstorming session considered both.

The session at Fauquier High School was the second in a series of Community Conversations designed to draw citizens into planning for the future.

A group of about 60 citizens and elected and appointed officials attended the latest forum. Attendees heard presentations that helped set the stage for small group discussions that followed.

Group members discussed the evening’s topic – first, opportunities and then obstacles – for about 15 minutes each as a leader for each group summarized their points in one sentence or phrase on poster paper mounted on easels. The ideas, some of which bubbled up from more than one group, were then shared with whole audience.

Among the obstacles or things lacking the groups identified was the need for more reliable cellular coverage, wider road shoulders, bike lanes, housing that young people and young professionals can afford, senior citizen housing.

Also cited were higher wage jobs, help for young people lacking experience find work, more diverse job opportunities, vocational and workforce training, sidewalks, healthy food options and more local markets for local producers, more incentives for small farmers, more cultural opportunities, and more services for the mentally ill and substance abusers.

One participant noted there the ideal of managed growth espoused by some can run head on into an obstacle with a desire for “more.”

But when it comes to the future, Fauquier County is a “blank slate” and “we can define our future” to a greater extent than other nearby counties, said Andrew Hopewell, assistant director planning for Fauquier County.

A discussion member said that Fauquier can also learn from what others have done. There was a suggestion that needs be prioritized based on the greatest return compared to its cost.

Another thought that dollars are flowing out of the county and could be retained if the county was its best customer.

“What are we outsourcing now and what can we bring back?” to Fauquier was asked rhetorically.

The growth taking place in the county’s towns and service districts was seen as an opportunity.

Other things working in the county's favor is the federal and state funding now available for transportation alternatives to building more or expanded roads.

The suggestion was made that businesses do more to “piggyback” on each others efforts. The hospitality industry – motels, hotels, restaurants – could do more to capitalize on equine events at Great Meadow, for example.

Another idea floated was that the county could promote “ecotourism” and historical tourism.

And by creating more jobs in Fauquier, a “reverse commute” could bring more people who live outside the county to Fauquier for work. They would in turn boost the local economy.

New employers drawn to service districts could bring jobs closer to where people live.

The remaining forums are scheduled for Sept. 21 and Nov. 16, also at 7 p.m. at Fauquier High School.

“We’ll start to organize the ideas next time,” said Kimberley Fogle, director of Fauquier Community Development. An action plan will come out of the process in December.

The forums, she explained, are intended to explore “where we could be, should be and where we want to be in the next 30 years and what do we want to do about it.”

She said the process had a research phase involving the identification of trends, opportunities and challenges.

The county has hired consultants to help with the process. Planning Resources Inc., of Wheaton, Ill., and Renaissance Planning of Charlottesville. They have been paid $53,000 by the county for research, background reports, presentations and facilitation work. The county just received a $50,000 PATH Foundation grant for future work, Fogle said.

There is a project website at fauquiercommunityconversations.org.

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