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Surry adopts 2040 comprehensive plan

Surry County’s 20-year comprehensive plan goals include expanding broadband internet access, attracting and retaining young residents, protecting the community’s rural character and environmentally sensitive lands, and enhancing opportunities for healthy living.

The county’s board of supervisors approved the county’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan earlier this month.

Local governments in Virginia are required by law to adopt a comprehensive plan that addresses land development, transportation, agriculture, economic development, public health and the preservation of agricultural and forest land, among other issues.

Greg Grootendorst, chief economist of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, presented some of the Surry plan’s highlights and goals at the board’s Sept. 3 meeting, which was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The planning district commission is a forum for local elected officials and administrators to deliberate and decide on issues of regional importance. It also provides research and expertise on issues such as emergency management and water resource management, according to the organization’s website.

In gathering input through more than a dozen meetings with residents of Surry County, Grootendorst said the takeaway was that “when we asked a lot of people ‘What do you want the county to look like?’ they want the county to look like what it looks like right now. But change will happen whether you want it to or not. Change is happening.”

In terms of building the local economy, Grootendorst said the focus is on cultivating businesses that improve the quality of life, growing Surry’s economic base and designing an economic development strategy.

“One of the interesting things as an economist is a lot of people really want to jump to economic growth and diversification but I can assure you that the reality is that the No. 1 thing people really want is quality of life,” Grootendorst said.

Surry faces some challenges in that regard. Grootendorst said one issue that sets the county apart from any other jurisdiction in the state is that Dominion Energy’s Surry Nuclear Power Station provides a huge component of local tax revenue — over 60%.

“We talk about the power plant quite a bit throughout the comprehensive plan because it’s such a significant player in the comprehensive plan. Grootendorst said. “It won’t be there forever.” The power plant opened in the early 1970s. It supports about 900 jobs in Surry and provides about 14% of Virginia’s electricity, according to the company. Dominion has said it wants to keep the plant operating through 2053, a lifespan of about 80 years.

“One of the things we can do,” Grootendorst said, “is start planning for a future without the power plant now. And it would be a wise decision to start planning for a future without it. Especially when it comes to things like local tax revenue.”

Grootendorst also said the county needs to consider and support housing plans that incorporate a bit more density in development.

He also called the board’s attention to two other data points that will influence development and long-term planning decisions. The first is that many people who work in the county don’t live in the county and vice versa. The other is that Surry’s population has declined slightly in recent years, “and that’s different than what we see in Hampton Roads, Virginia and the U.S.”

David Harrison, Surry’s economic development director, said the county is taking action to get started on some of the initiatives highlighted in the plan. They include focusing on stabilizing businesses in the community, continuing to offer COVID-19 relief grants to small businesses, pushing for improved infrastructure — specifically roads — and recruitment of industrial business prospects.
“Surry’s greatest asset for implementation of the plan is the relationship that exists between boards and commissions and staff,” Harrison said. “It will take all of us working together collectively and collaboratively to achieve goals outlined in our 2040 Comprehensive Plan.”