On June 15, the Town of Warrenton released its draft 2040 Comprehensive Plan draft, all 437 pages of it.
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 planning 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.
Piedmont Environmental Council