July 15, 2020 · OPINION
Warrenton master plan deserves more deliberation
The 437-page draft plan would guide Warrenton’s development over the next two decades.
By Julie Bolthouse
Piedmont Environmental Council
On June 15, the Town of Warrenton released its much anticipated Warrenton 2040 Comprehensive Plan draft, all 437 pages of it, including appendices and details that have not previously been released to the community.
The planning commission has indicated it plans to hold a public hearing and make a recommendation to the town council on July 21, just five weeks after the release of this extensive document. The town council plans to hold its own public hearing on September 8, potentially adopting the plan that same night. Our read on this very important plan is that it outlines a new trajectory for the Town of Warrenton, aspects of which are far too significant to be decided on over such a short period.
Many parts of the draft are great, including a robust plan for improving walkability and cyclist access throughout the town. However, other parts of the draft leave important questions unanswered and/or certain details unclear enough to be worrisome. Of additional concern, the planning commission seems in a rush to move the draft forward. When two commissioners on June 23 suggested taking more time for review, town staff appeared critical of delay, stating they “have a lot of people who are waiting on this document . . . There will be zoning ordinance amendments that have to happen on the heels of this, depending on what’s decided.” For this reason alone, the plan deserves ample time for review and scrutiny by community members who will be forever affected by its details.
The comprehensive plan draft is clear in its intention to increase residential housing in Warrenton, shifting nearly all areas currently zoned for industrial and commercial use to “by-right” mixed-use zoning, which would allow any combination of residential, commercial and/or industrial development. Mixed-use zoning can be a good thing; however, the draft plan fails to provide any information about the town’s intended mix — how much of any given area is going to be residential, how much will be commercial and so on. And “by-right” means that once the mixed-use ordinances for these areas are adopted, Warrenton residents will no longer have the right to weigh in on development proposals within those zones. Therefore, it is paramount that residents know the intended mix and fully understand the vision for these “by-right” mixed-use areas before the plan and associated ordinances are adopted.
Language in the 437-page draft is ambiguous, and at times contradictory, about the town’s intention for types of new residential housing. The plan includes language about the need to increase affordable housing, and yet, it emphasizes that 60 percent of the new residential areas are slated for “market-rate” housing and lacks any specifics on retaining or setting aside affordable units.
The plan acknowledges that annual population growth rate in Warrenton is projected to be 0.39 percent. The state’s annual growth rate is 1.14 percent. And yet, this plan proposes water and wastewater expansions, along with their associated costs, to accommodate a 2.3 percent annual growth rate. The mismatch suggests an intention to recruit new populations from surrounding jurisdictions, such as Loudoun and Prince William, to achieve a growth rate well above state growth projections and over five times higher than what is projected for the town.
Furthermore, rather than do the difficult work of recycling failed strip mall development along Route 29, the plan proposes a bypass, through conserved land, around the western side of Warrenton by building out the Timber Fence Parkway and acquiring land for a new “Southern Parkway” from Route 211 down to Route 29. The town’s economic development leaders seem to want residential growth without regard to the consequences in terms of costs of services, knowing they can shift the cost of education onto Fauquier County. And, if its ambitious growth goals are not realized, after investing in water and wastewater expansions and a new bypass, existing taxpayers will be burdened with those costs.
These are some of the bigger issues in the plan that deserve thoughtful and transparent discussion.
The Piedmont Environmental Council calls on the town to slow this process and consider the environment in which this major planning decision is being made. Before the first public hearing Tuesday, July 21, the public will have had little more than a month to review the 437-page comprehensive plan draft. There appears to have been little outreach or attempt to publicize the release of the draft or its contents. Local news media have understandably been focused on COVID-19 and other prominent local and national issues. And community members have been reasonably distracted by the issues of childcare, financial hardship, employment changes and other challenges brought on by the pandemic.
Times like these require the town to actively pursue public input and encourage public participation by providing sufficient time and means to capture the community’s concerns or thoughts on such an important document. Doing so will not only ensure community buy-in now and into the future, but will also ensure the plan truly reflects the community's desires for the town and sets forth a course of action that will achieve those goals. The plan will be improved through the process, and Warrenton will be better for it.
The writer is the Fauquier County field representative for the Piedmont Environmental Council, headquartered in Warrenton.
LaceyWillis · July 27, 2020 at 1:48 am
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BikerFriendlyGal · July 19, 2020 at 2:47 pm
The Parkway has always been in the Town Comp Plan and the fact that it's currently being reviewed gives everyone another opportunity to tell the Town it's not needed.
FalconDad · July 18, 2020 at 11:14 pm
Well as for the 17/211 Timber Fence Parkway project back on the plan, the Silver Cup residents seem to have seen the writing on the wall. There’s a lot of fences being built and there are many homes directly affected by the bypass have either recently sold or are for sale.
martinkus · July 15, 2020 at 6:48 pm
Is this the beginning of the end of "small town" Warrenton?
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