Will task force help or bypass planners

Published 6:57 pm Tuesday, October 24, 2017

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

Last month, the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors signed off on a task force made up of community stakeholders to provide input on the updating of the county’s comprehensive plan.

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The Isle of Wight Planning Commission, which is legally tasked with preparing the county’s comprehensive plan, was not asked to comment concerning creation of the task force. However, the commission has been told of the formation of the task force and given the list of names of who would be on it, according to Planning Commission Vice-Chair Cynthia Taylor.

Taylor said she did not know who will manage the task force. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

“We’re still learning about it (the task force) ourselves,” said Planning Commissioner Don Rosie. Rosie said that the commission had no input on who would be on the task force. The nominations were submitted and approved by the Board of Supervisors at its meeting Sept. 21.

Planning Commissioner Rick Gillerlain said he has expressed concerns about the commission’s lack of inclusion in the forming of the task force to County Administrator Randy Keaton, and requested a closed session at Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting Oct. 24. As of Monday afternoon, he had not heard back.

“It is a subcommittee of us,” said Gillerlain of the task force developed by the Board of Supervisors, “so why not make us a part of it?”

Gillerlain has pointed to a passage in “The Job of the Planning Commissioner,” a textbook Isle of Wight County Planning Commissioners have been studying to receive a planning certification, which touches on the role of planning advisory committees.

“Because they are also playing an advisory role, such citizens’ committees can become a freewheeling duplication of, or worse yet ,an end run around, the planning commission,” the textbook, written by Albert Solnit states, according to Gillerlain. “… A close working relationship between the commission, the staff, and the citizens’ committee should be spelled out at the very beginning.”

The textbook also advises that at least two planning commissioners be appointed to serve such a committee, something Gillerlain said he has been advocating for.

Gillerlain also said that the survey developed for the comprehensive plan was not created by the Planning Commission, but was merely presented by county staff to the commissioners “as a demonstration.” He called the survey a “rehash” of the survey created for the controversial ISLE2040 plan several years ago.

Rosie, who was on the commission during the previous update of the comprehensive plan, said he believes the task force is a good idea that will allow for more public contribution in the plan.

“It didn’t happen on that scale the last time,” Rosie said.

The Planning Commission’s involvement has been brought up at recent meetings by Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree, who said he’s heard a concern that the task force might be going over the commission’s head.

Acree asked County Attorney Mark Popovich at the Board’s meeting Thursday about the legality of creating the task force.

“There is nothing under the law that prohibits you from creating a task force,” said Popovich. “You can create a task force for any reason.”

The Planning Commission is tasked with making evaluations, conducting investigations and surveys as part of its review process for the comprehensive plan, according to Popovich. The formation of the task force does not impede that, he said.

The county is also in the final stages of hiring a full-time Principal Planner to work on the comprehensive plan, among other things, for the county.

The idea of hiring a new employee also did not come before the Planning Commission, according to Taylor.

“That’s strictly a personnel matter,” said Taylor of the new employee to be hired to work on the comprehensive plan.

Though the Planning Commission is just learning about the nature of the task force, it’s been in the works over the summer, with county supervisors identifying potential members to be on the committee between June and July.

Planning and Zoning Director Amy Ring said at a recent Board retreat that she would be sending out an email to members of the Planning Commission explaining that the task force is an advisory committee to ensure that there’s active participation by “major constituent” groups in the county.

Any findings or recommendations made by the task force would be presented to the Planning Commission, Ring said.

Ring said that the county had still been unable to get in touch with a couple of the individuals nominated by the Board to be on the committee, but that she planned to hold its first meeting in mid-November.

The task force will be less formal, and won’t have to worry about appointing a chairman, according Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson.

Ring informed the Planning Commission at a work session Sept. 12 that the task force would be appointed by the Board later that month.

The six commissioners present at the work session did not inquire any further about the task force.

The idea for the task force was also mentioned at an intergovernmental meeting held over the summer, with Taylor and Planning Commission Chairman James Ford in attendance.

The 20-member task force includes business owners, public officials and private residents. Hardy District Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson is also an appointed member of the committee. Other members are Allen Turner, Joe Puglisi, Leah Dempsey, Ed Easter, Bill Kessler, John Glover, Brenda Reynolds, Andy Cripps, Jim Henderson, Diana Beale, Sahil Tak, Grant Hasty, Andrew Gregory, Daryl Butler, Jay Holt, Barbara Wiggins, Tom Hearn, Jane March and Beverly Walkup.

The county held 10 public forums around the county in June and July to gather input on the comprehensive plan with a theme of “What’s Important to Isle of Wight?” The theme of the second phase, to begin in January, will be “Where and How to Grow?”

Potential names for the plan were submitted to the county from residents and placed in a survey, which awarded “Envision the Isle” with the most votes.

Asked if the Planning Commission should have a bigger role in the process, Rosie said that staff have set up an agenda, informed the commission, and “pretty much invited everybody to the plate.”

“It’s a starting point,” he said, “and you’ve got to start somewhere.” {/mprestriction}