A letterbox with the inscription Letter to the editor

On June 15, the Town of Warrenton released its draft 2040 Comprehensive Plan draft, all 437 pages of it. The planning commission indicated it would hold a public hearing and make a recommendation to the town council on July 21, just five weeks after the release of this extensive document.

The town council plans to hold its public hearing on Sept. 8, potentially adopting the plan that night. Our read on this important plan is that it outlines a new trajectory for the town, aspects of which are far too significant to be hastily decided.

The town seems to be in a rush to move the draft forward. When two commissioners on June 23 suggested taking more time for review, town staff discouraged delay, stating they “have a lot of people who are waiting on this document ... there will be zoning ordinance amendments that have to happen on the heels of this, depending on what’s decided.”

For this reason alone, the plan deserves ample time for review and scrutiny by the community members it will affect.

The plan increases residential housing in Warrenton by shifting nearly all areas currently zoned for industrial and commercial use to by-right mixed-use zoning, which allows an unknown combination of residential, commercial and/or industrial development and eliminates Warrenton residents’ right to weigh in on development proposals within those zones. Therefore, it is paramount that residents know more about these by-right mixed-use areas before the plan and associated ordinances are adopted.

Language in the 437-page draft is ambiguous, and at times contradictory, about the types of housing the town intends. The plan expresses a need to increase affordable housing, and yet, it emphasizes that 60% of the new residential areas are slated for market-rate housing and lacks any specifics on retaining or setting aside affordable units.

The plan acknowledges a 0.39% annual population growth projection in Warrenton, yet it proposes costly water and wastewater expansions to accommodate a 2.3% annual growth rate. The mismatch suggests an intention to recruit new populations from surrounding jurisdictions to achieve a growth rate well above the town’s projected growth.

Furthermore, rather than do the difficult work of recycling failed strip mall development along U.S. 29, the plan proposes a bypass, through conserved land, around the western side of Warrenton by building out the Timber Fence Parkway and acquiring land for a new “Southern Parkway” from Va. 211 down to U.S. 29. The town seems to want residential growth without regard to the consequences in costs for services. And, if its ambitious growth goals are not realized, after investing in water and wastewater expansions and a new bypass, existing taxpayers will be burdened with those costs.

These are some of the bigger issues in the plan that deserve thoughtful and transparent discussion.

The Piedmont Environmental Council calls on the town to slow down this process and consider that this major planning decision is being made during a pandemic. Times like these require the town to actively pursue public input, which takes additional time and effort. Doing so will not only increase community buy-in, but will also ensure the plan truly reflects the community's desires. The plan will be improved through the process, and Warrenton will be better for it.

Julie Bolthouse

Fauquier County Field Representative, Piedmont Environmental Council

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(1) comment

dcg3

Thanks to Julie Bolthouse and PEC for their thoughtful review of the proposed plan. The process does seem to be rushed given the COVID-19 distractions and, as is, the draft entirely ignores the likely impacts of the pandemic itself on commercial and residential demand and the capital markets which drive all the proposed scenarios. I would urge the Planning Commission to require additional consultation and consideration of the fiscal reality.

The overwhelming litany of Goals (8) Policies (69) Objectives (53) and Actions (165) are not well rooted in the Annexes provided by RKG nor are they prioritized or sequenced. It is difficult to understand how this Plan, if adopted, would help the Town of Warrenton navigate difficult and informed choices. A “Results Framework” would help discern a critical path.

The pernicious claim that unfettered densification in any mixed-use area would be a desirable outcome is totally unsubstantiated and needs more consideration. Similarly, the Transportation and Circulation Chapter concludes that the Timber Fence By-Pass should be built to alleviate congestion along Broadview without any basis in traffic data or consideration of VDOT’s upcoming investments in Broadview Ave. Worse, there was no consultation with any of the directly affected communities in the Rady Park-Olde Gold Cup-Silvercup axis which is concerning at least.

Given the sunk costs in the draft Plan, it would be well worth going the extra mile to making sure the path forward is much clearer and the consultative process more inclusive. Dave Gibson

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