IW drafts timeline for growth-focused comprehensive plan review

Published 3:48 pm Thursday, March 28, 2024

Isle of Wight County staff have unveiled a tentative timeline for incorporating Supervisor Renee Rountree’s proposed “growth management” task force into the Planning Commission’s five-year review of the county’s comprehensive plan.

The supervisors voted Feb. 15 to create the task force as a subcommittee of the Planning Commission charged with evaluating the county’s readiness for a population surge from new housing and commercial developments.

A draft timeline Isle of Wight Director of Community Development Amy Ring presented to the Planning Commission on March 26 calls for the commissioners to name nominees by April to what Ring termed a “stakeholder workgroup” that will be tasked with updating the “Envisioning The Isle” comprehensive plan the county adopted in 2020. State law mandates the plan be reviewed every five years.

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The workgroup timeline calls for a “growth rate impact scenario study” by an outside consultant, the findings of which would be incorporated into proposed comprehensive plan revisions.

Ring said she has requested the addition of a “professional services” line item in the county’s proposed 2024-25 budget to cover the cost of the outside help. The draft budget, which has not been released to the public, is slated to go to county supervisors in April and be voted on in May.

If Ring’s funding request is approved, her plan calls for the workgroup to hold its first meeting on July 9. The growth rate scenario findings and a draft community survey would be available to the workgroup for its feedback from August through September.

Development of a new comprehensive plan incorporating revisions from the workgroup and consultant would begin in December or January. A final draft of the revised comprehensive plan would then go before the full Planning Commission in April 2025 and the supervisors that May for public hearings and votes.

As a subcommittee of the Planning Commission, the commissioners have the final say over the size of the workgroup and who’s appointed to it. Rountree, as of the supervisors’ February vote, had proposed at least one member from each town’s Planning Commission, one member from each of the county’s five voting districts and two at-large members for a total of nine. Isle of Wight’s School Board, in January, also asked for a seat at the table.

Commissioner James Ford cautioned against trying to incorporate too many perspectives, or too few.

“Sometimes these things can get out of hand; I mean they can get too big, and, you know, you’ve got to look at that. You basically come up with nothing at the end,” Ford said. “And they can be too small where one or two people would drive the decision.”

Ring’s tentative plan calls for the workgroup to break into smaller subsets, each of whom would delve into a specific section of the 2020 comprehensive plan. Currently, the plan is divided into 10 chapters titled “Guide the Isle,” “Preserve the Isle,” “Connect the Isle,” “Serve the Isle,” “Educate the Isle,” “Enhance the Isle,” “Envision the Isle,” “Create the Isle” and “Share the Isle.”

Growth management could be an overarching focus of the full workgroup or the focus of one of these subsets, Ring suggested.

Isle of Wight, already the sixth or seventh fastest-growing county in the state according to differing census data and rankings by the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center, saw seven rezoning applications for new and expanded subdivisions in 2023 that would collectively add more than 1,900 new houses to the county’s northern end. Another 2,200 homes spread across eight developments approved prior to 2023 are either in progress or could break ground any day.

The resulting influx of more than 1,000 new students from northern-end developments could put four of the county’s nine schools at or above capacity according to enrollment projections Isle of Wight County Schools shared with Smithfield’s and Isle of Wight’s Planning Commissions in December. A competing study Weldon Cooper released in January showed only a 2% uptick in enrollment through 2029, but did not take into account the impact of housing starts.

The 2020 plan had estimated 0.8% annual population growth, though Isle of Wight actually saw closer to 2% per year in the past three.