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HRPDC has plans for Western Tidewater

Coastal resiliency, developing a regional, high speed fiber network and supporting the growth of the offshore wind industry are some of the priorities that the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission is backing for 2021.

Norfolk City Councilwoman Andria McClellan was elected this month to chair the organization, which represents 17 Hampton Roads communities with an overall population of about 1.7 million people.

In her new role, McClellan said she’d like to meet with the leadership and members of all of the jurisdictions that the commission serves to better understand their needs because “you’ve got everything from very urban to very rural” and understanding the needs of each community is important.

At the same time, “we want to ideally speak with one voice. But I do think the beauty of the planning district commission is the opportunity where we can all learn from one another — what might work in my community might work in yours,” she said.

McClellan has served as a member of Norfolk’s City Council since 2016. She is also chairwoman of the commission’s coastal resilience subcommittee and vice chairwoman of the regional broadband ring’s Southside Network Authority. McClellan is also exploring a run for lieutenant governor of Virginia.

The HRPDC is one of 21 planning district commissions in Virginia. It includes the cities of Chesapeake, Franklin, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Poquoson, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Virginia Beach and Williamsburg, the counties of Gloucester, Isle of Wight, James City, Southampton, Surry and York and the town of Smithfield.

After pivoting to online communication and collaboration, the commission’s work has gone on in the coronavirus era. It’s even been a bit of a benefit — with everyone connected digitally, the commission’s nearly 50 officers, made up of city council members, members of the county board of supervisors, county administrators and city managers, haven’t needed to travel to the organization’s headquarters in Chesapeake.

Dealing with COVID-19 also presents a more intangible opportunity for growth, McClellan said.

“Here’s the opportunity that COVID presents — it’s fast-forward change,” McClellan said. “We have the opportunity to try out new ideas because we are thrown into an environment that nobody ever anticipated. We are living through it. We’re having to be creative — everything from how restaurants work on our main street, to how do we provide government services through an electronic, internet interface. Things that would have typically taken longer we’re doing quickly because of necessity,” she said.

Isle of Wight County Administrator Randy Keaton worked for the planning district commission before starting his present position. He was the deputy executive director of the commission from 2013 and was co-interim executive director. Then, when he came to Isle of Wight as one of the county government’s top leaders, he received an appointment as commission member.

“I think she’s going to do a really good job,” Keaton said. “She’s very involved in the planning district commission. She’s very well aware of regional issues, which I think that’s the key factor for someone in that position to understand how all the communities work together and how we can do things, together, better for the betterment of the entire region.”

Bob Crum, executive director of the regional planning district commission and a sister organization, the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization, also lauded McClellan’s leadership and vision on advancing initiatives of regional importance.

Regarding wind energy, “the opportunity for Hampton Roads is this: not only is this good, clean renewable energy, which is important to us since we all know as we deal with climate change and sea level rise, looking to more sustainable, renewable energy resources are very important, this is a job creation opportunity for us,” Crum said.

As interest and action on wind energy grows, Crum said there will need to be wind turbine staging areas, transportation, permitting, underwater exploration, design, installation and maintenance. Hampton Roads is fortunate to have a good natural harbor to facilitate the installation and maintenance.

McClellan said developing the offshore wind supply chain might be one of the commission’s biggest initiatives in the coming years, and the industry could possibly support 5,000 jobs in the region. She also said communities in Western Hampton Roads have something that the larger cities, particularly Norfolk don’t — space, which provides options for site development for incoming industries and companies.

A Hampton Roads native who attended Virginia Beach Public Schools, McClellan received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia in 1991 and went on to start a career in sales and marketing. She graduated from the Wharton Management Program at the University of Pennsylvania in 1996 and then ran two small businesses before returning to Hampton Roads in 2000. She resides in Norfolk’s Ghent neighborhood with her husband, Mike, three sons and two dogs.

Newport News City Councilman David Jenkins will serve with McClellan as commission vice chairman.