vanessa-newVanessa Remmers covers Stafford County government and schools for and The Free Lance-Star.

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Board says to planners: Good work, but write out details on new UDAs

Changing Stafford’s plan for growth could be as simple as a “copy and paste,” or it could be a repeat of a lengthy process that some would call excruciating.

The county’s Planning Commissioners are being tasked once again with figuring out how and where Stafford should focus development in the near and long-term. This time though, they won’t be limited by state laws for the Urban Development Areas, high-density places with a mix of commercial and residential buildings and a pedestrian-friendly layout.

Some county supervisors hope the work falls somewhere in the middle, far from the five-year process of revising the Comprehensive Plan, which was adopted at the end of 2010. The seven UDAs were finalized the next year.

“This whole Comp Plan thing that we’ve been working on for several years was extremely painful,” Supervisor Paul Milde said.

Added Cord Sterling: “And we’re about to do it again.”

“We do not want to start over again with this,” Milde continued. “Let’s keep the basic construct… rename it, make some tweaks to it. Just because the General Assembly backed down under pressure doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good idea to funnel our growth where it can be serviced by transportation and other infrastructure.

The state had required fast-growing localities, including Stafford, to have a specific plan for where growth would be targeted. The UDAs were written into the Comprehensive Plan, a guideline for the next 20 years.

“It was a different framework for the time, and it was a different growth pattern than we’d ever experienced in the county,” Planning Director Jeff Harvey said at last week’s board meeting.

But then that mandate was overturned last year, meaning the UDAs were optional. The Board of Supervisors asked the Planning Commission to what to do next, and when their recommendations weren’t specific enough, asked them to detail that plan. That request will be presented to the commission this Wednesday, with an unspecified timeline.

The board agreed that there should be some type of plan, but were vague about what that should include. “We still need some sort of targeted growth construct to guide how we do planning in the county,” Supervisor Ty Schieber said.

The commission had recommended cutting the UDA term, because of the negative connotations leftover from years of debate, and replacing it with a new designation, such as Target Growth Area. It also ranked the seven existing UDA plans as what is best for the near-term, what has future potential and what may not be the best place for growth. The Courthouse Area UDA and the Southern Gateway UDA (along U.S. 17) topped the list for what should come first.

Sterling expressed concerns with those two UDAs because those were the two that VDOT had the most trouble with. U.S. 1 and 17 are already heavily traveled, so more growth could cause problems, he said.