Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.
Patrick Mulhern has nerves of steel
Patrick Mulhern is a long-range planner for the county. He had a large role in the updates to the comprehensive plan. He’s also taking a few verbal lashings from residents and, recently, planning commissioners, for proposals that seem to fall from the sky, according to some planning commissioners.
A good example is last night’s Planning Commission meeting. First, Planning Department Director Wanda Parrish announced they were tabling discussion on a conservation subdivision ordinance. What’s that? Well, basically the proposal is to change subdivision layouts to preserve more open space. Spotsylvania County has options for cluster developments, but no one is really doing it here. Planning staff said the result with the current ordinance is a “checkerboard” layout.
“The same number of houses that could just as easily be accommodated onto a smaller portion of land is typically accommodated on a greater portion of land,” the staff report says.
Staff said a conservation subdivision ordinance could preserve land without affecting the number of units that could be built on the 9,000 development rights on 90,000 acre zoned rural residential and agricultural. The staff report goes into great detail, so read it if you want more information.
Now keep in mind, Parrish said staff wanted to table the work session because they’ve received a good number of comments from a community meeting they held last week. That didn’t stop planning commissioners from talking about it, though. Most of them don’t want it.
“Where does all this come from?” asked Commissioner Robert Taylor, who said he canceled a meeting so that he could attend the PC meeting to oppose this ordinance proposal. He mentioned concerns about going from 40 percent open space to 70 percent open space for subdivisions.
Mulhern explained that much of this support for conservation comes from the new comprehensive plan, which is the county’s guide for growth.
“Who came up with this idea?” asked Commissioner James Strother.
“This is definitely going to limit growth and I know, in a way, that it is a goal, but you will limit revenue,” said Commissioner John Gustafson. He said the small- to medium-sized companies will never be able to afford projects like this.
Where did the 70 percent open space come from, some commissioners wondered?
Mulhern said he went to an all-day workshop in Hanover and they touted an ordinance like this with four success stories. He painted a picture of large farms and historic areas largely preserved while the farmer was still able to reach his financial needs by selling off a smaller lot of land for higher density development.
“I respectfully disagree that the small builders are going to be left out,” Mulhern calmly said.
Nerves of steel.
Next, let me tell you what happened when he brought up tree preservation. Note: Mary Lee Carter likes the idea of Evergreens being one of every four trees in a development. They look nice in the winter. Note: Commissioner Cliff Vaughan likes the idea of tree preservation, and you could tell he felt uncomfortable saying it last night because he was by himself.
It’s not that the commissioners said they don’t like trees; it was just the plan presented is impracticable, they said.
I came to work today and my phone had a few messages from people who wanted to chat with me about this tree preservation thing the county is throwing out there. Stay tuned.
They also discussed Urban Development Areas, and that didn’t go over too well either. Strother asked for a list of every tax map parcel marked on the UDA map in salmon color so he can go to the courthouse and see who all of the owners are. I think that would take me two months at least in the courthouse. We’re talking thousands of acres. I’m just glad he’s doing the research for me!
John Gustafson, feel free to express your views here. I could tell you looked frustrated last night, even astonished? Were you astonished?