Deb Fitzgerald

debfitzgeraldThe coalition visitor to the May 17th meeting of the CAAV steering committee was Deb Fitzgerald, chair of the Harrisonburg Planning Commission.

She told us that “Harrisonburg’s Comprehensive plan is due for an update.  This document lays out the strategic goals localities aim to achieve over the short and long run, and describe a set of prioritized targets and strategies used to achieve them.   Environmental/sustainability  goals and strategies have featured prominently in the plan. According to Section 15.2-2230 of the Code of Virginia, every five years the city’s Comprehensive Plan shall be reviewed by the Planning Commission to determine whether it is advisable to amend the plan. The Comprehensive Plan was last officially updated and amended between 2009 and 2011. City Council adopted the current Comprehensive Plan on May 10, 2011.

During the regular June Harrisonburg Planning Commission meeting, members will begin discussion of the process for this next required update of the city’s Comprehensive Plan.  The meeting is on Wednesday, June 8th at 7PM in Harrisonburg City Council Chambers.

Interested folks can visit:

https://www.harrisonburgva.gov/sites/default/files/CommunityDevelopment/files/Planning-Zoning/Planning-Commission/packets/2016/06%20June%202016%20Packet.pdf

and read pages 82-84 for a bit of history about the process used during the last 2 comp plan updates.  Note that the comp plan discussion is item 7 of 7 items of new business for the June meeting, somewhat later on the agenda.”

The meetings are open and those concerned about the sustainability future of the area are urged to attend. Both transportation and environmental issues will become a part of this update.   Planning commission meetings are somewhat more interactive than City Council meetings, but as this item appears late in the agenda, be prepared for that.

Thanks, Deb!


Deb Fitzgerald, current chair of the Harrisonburg Planning Commission, was our May coalition speaker.  City council appoints members of the commission.  While appointment (as opposed to election) preserves independence, there is a cost. Another member of the commission will be appointed shortly.

The required periodic Comprehensive Plan update was begun in March of this year.   Three council members think the Comprehensive Plan should be stripped down to the bare minimum required.  Two of those will remain on council after the November election but the two replacements elected will have strong influence.  Many of the goals of the Plan are aspirational, and some citizens have pushed hard on environmental impacts, building code updates etc. and some council members are reacting to that.  Aspirational goals may be endangered by the direction of city council.  Unless concerned citizens remain aware and on top of the process, it is likely that nothing will change.

The part of the Comprehensive Plan that is specifically in question is Objective 8.3:  To create a set of environmental performance standards for public and private development and redevelopment projects.

Barriers to implementation:  The city must build three schools.  The population is exploding, primarily through immigration.  The city manager’s office may not be equipped to run a city growing this fast (and over 50,000 now).  The city school population is now majority Hispanic.  Also, other “model” locations in Virginia (C’ville, Fairfax, Roanoke, Blacksburg) apply environmental performance standards to public facilities and programs only.  Private participation is voluntary except for compliance with existing state/federal applicable regulations and codes.  Some localities do provide incentives for private development to meet voluntary performance standards.

An advisory committee may be created, similar to the one that functioned to develop and implement new stormwater management regulations and programs.  They would compile an inventory of existing standards followed by the City and institute a public input process including Council-desired and citizen-desired additional standards, followed by a report to Council.  CAAV should at least keep tabs on progress of creation of the advisory committee and who is on it.

– Anne Nielsen, CAAV Coalition Building Committee

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