Tensions at the July 11 Board of Supervisors meeting ran high. An overflow crowd showed up to speak during a public hearing on proposed changes to the rural lands chapter of the county’s comprehensive plan.
Before beginning the public hearing on the rural lands rewrite, Supervisor Chairman Chris Butler (Lee) tried to calm fears by emphasizing that the comprehensive plan is not a collection of ordinances, “it is a set of guidelines,” he said.
He dragged out a copy of the current comprehensive plan -- a huge binder with tabs indicating each chapter. He described the plan as a map. “A map has to be updated,” he said, “or you are going to get lost.”
He acknowledged that “We are not going to be here forever. Supervisors will come after us. They will make changes too. This needs to be updated so we don’t get lost.”
Although the language in each of the two updated versions is similar, version B is less restrictive. It allows for more flexibility as supervisors make decisions about land use, what is permitted outright and what special exceptions might be necessary.
This flexibility allows farmers to more easily find creative ways to distribute their products. Butler said that, in fact, farmers on the county’s Agricultural Committee – of which he is a member -- are behind version B. “They were at first opposed to version B. Then they read it.”
Here lies the problem for the residents who object to version B: They don’t want to leave rural land questions open-ended. They want a strong document that states clearly that development is to be carefully restricted to maintain Fauquier’s rural character.
An example: Version A keeps the language from the 1990s version of the Rural Lands section of the Comprehensive Plan: “Tourism enterprises in the rural areas must be compatible with agricultural and forestal activities in the same areas and any conflicts between those uses must be resolved in favor of the primary uses of agriculture, forestry and historic and natural resource preservation.” Version B removes the wording that says, “and any conflicts between those uses must be resolved in favor of the primary uses of agriculture, forestry and historic and natural resource preservation.”
Another example of a loosening of the language: Version A says, “Infrastructure impacts on viewsheds must be thoroughly evaluated.” Version B changes “evaluated” to “researched.”
Several of the 13 speakers Thursday night referenced the famous “camel’s nose under the tent;” in other words, small changes could open the door to big ones.
We do not question Butler’s or Supervisor Chris Granger’s (Center) commitment to our agriculture community. All of our supervisors have shown through word and deed that they care deeply about Fauquier’s rural character.
But, as local preservationists have warned, Fauquier may be only one election away from never-before-seen growth.
We agree that the language of the comp plan should be a roadmap for future supervisors,
but it’s important to recognize that supervisors on future boards may not have the strong rural traditions valued by Fauquier residents today.
The roadmap should leave no room for wrong turns.