Environmentalists worry about change to comp plan

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

The Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors has unanimously approved comprehensive plan revisions that could allow residential development in environmentally sensitive areas.

The changes also added a layer of mapping showing those areas, known as Resource Conservation Areas (RCA), some of which were left out of the 2008 Comprehensive Plan — particularly on the Newport Development Service District map. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

“If any one good thing came out of ISLE 2040 it is that we recognized this wasn’t mapped properly,” said Isle of Wight County Assistant Director of Planning and Zoning Richard Rudnicki at a recent Board of Supervisors meeting.

The 2008 Comprehensive Plan had called for very limited low-density residential development in Resource Conservation Areas, as well as what were considered appropriate land uses for those sensitive areas — wetlands, farms, forest, open space, limited park facilities, blueways and trails. The areas, about 50,000 acres countywide, also include Resource Protection Areas, which are specifically defined in the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act and are given heightened protection.

The 2008 comp plan stated there were 350 acres of resource conservation land in the Newport Development Service District. The revision bumps the amount of acreage to 1,891.  The Newport DSD was the area targeted for higher density development as part of ISLE 2040. That plan failed in July 2015.

The Carrollton area, which includes parts of the Newport DSD is currently the fastest growing area of Isle of Wight County.

The change in acreage was due to a disconnect between the total amount of RPA acreage — 50,000 — in the county and what ended up on the development service districts maps, according to Isle of Wight County spokesman Don Robertson.

The comprehensive plan revision approved April 21 would allow for “more intense uses,” such as residential, after an “investigation shows no significant environmental constraints.”

The change also states that within the county’s development service districts, “the adjacent land use types should be considered for determining the appropriate level of development.”

Robertson says the change could, in fact, reduce the potential area for development because an applicant has to show that there is not an environmental issue, such as wetlands, that would prohibit use.

For example, rural agricultural conservation land use would be appropriate for a property surrounded by that land use type, Robertson said. If the property had suburban estate on one side and mixed-use on the other side and, minus any environmental constraints or prohibitions, a transitional land use could be used, he added.

Changing a land use along with a rezoning application would be a public process and go before the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, Robertson said.

Christy Everett, Hampton Roads director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said it seems like the changes create less stringent controls on Resource Protection Areas, which is the “last critical line of defense” against continued environmental degradation.

Everett would want to know the degree of oversight and verification that will be in place for future development in those areas.

“I would be very cautious for the county to allow further threats to buffer areas and critical areas. It’s an important line of defense against pollution coming off the land,” she said.

The revision was made prior to a state-required comprehensive plan update that is budgeted to cost about $175,000 in the proposed fiscal 2017 budget.

Newport District Supervisor William McCarty said that everything in the comprehensive plan needs a serious going-over so that development is not disproportionate in one area over another.

There is already a lot going on in the northern part of the county, so the Board needs to look at developing other areas, he said.

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He favors including residents in the upcoming comprehensive plan update rather than relying exclusively on government officials and consultants.  {/mprestriction}