Fayette County faces a rare and valuable opportunity to determine its own future and pass on a gift to the next generation, says the keynote speaker of the recent Plan Fayette Sustainability Conference.
“We want to get everybody on the same page in thinking about a vision for municipalities and the county that works together, so that the county has the very best chance to be the most prosperous, beautiful, healthy place it can be,” Joyce McConnell, dean of the WVU College of Law and vice president of the West Virginia Land Trust, told attendees.
Currently, the towns of Mount Hope and Fayetteville are each creating a comprehensive plan, which is a document that describes a community’s aspirational vision for future growth and provides the centerpiece of all its land use planning.
It is also required in order to legally enforce any zoning ordinances.
In 2004, West Virginia rewrote its planning and zoning legislation to mandate comprehensive plans and gave governments 10 years to fall into compliance.
The upcoming 2014 deadline has many agencies scrambling to build a plan.
Some conference speakers urged community members and elected officials to coordinate their planning efforts county-wide as they develop their vision.
“My hope is that we could build some consensus over time ... and develop a unified comp plan that ties into the county plan and presents the same standards for everybody,” says Carl Frischkorn, founder of Wild Rock West Virginia, a self-described sustainable housing development on the New River Gorge, and the conference’s sponsor.
“Our communities are so small and interconnected that if everybody cooperated, we could reduce costs, bureaucracy and create a more consistent approach towards planning and development,” he says.
Fayette County has been out in front of nearly all West Virginia counties in terms of its planning and zoning program, and is one of only three counties in the state with county-wide zoning code.
McConnell referred to a “vision of connectivity modeled on the rivers” of Fayette County, a “shared vision” in a county with distinct and in some cases isolated districts and communities spread out along winding roads.
“Is there a way to think about, rather than ‘I have to do this on the basis of my own community getting a piece of a limited pie,’ actually increasing the size of the pot so everyone in the end gains?” she asked.
The Hatfield and McCoy ATV trail, says McConnell is an example of how several individual towns along the trail used its connectivity as an opportunity to unite and bring economic growth to the area as a whole.
McConnell says she anticipates some “significant headlines” from the planning work done by communities in Fayette County.
The WVU College of Law’s Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic is assisting Fayetteville, and to a lesser extent Mount Hope, with planning efforts.
“It’s an exciting moment for us to partner with you, bring some resources to the community, and make this a model for what can happen in the state of West Virginia,” says McConnell.
One conference speaker made direct reference to “the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” which could only be the Boy Scouts of America’s new and massive Fayette County development, The Summit.
The New River Gorge Regional Development Authority is largely taking a “wait and see” approach to the economic impacts of the high adventure base, expected to attract tens of thousands of Scouts and their families to seasonal events.
But at least one conference speaker, Tag Galyean, says a study of the potential effects is in order, so that predictions and planning can move forward. Other towns with adjacent scouting centers could serve as the data source for such research, says the Lewisburg architect and president of the Lewisburg Foundation.
Based on his economic development efforts in Greenbrier County, he further advised his neighbors in Fayette to “be welcoming, friendly and charming” to their scouting visitors.
“You’re in the hospitality business, basically,” says Galyean.
He says noteworthy development projects take a lifetime of work — between 30 and 50 years — and even in Lewisburg, which is perceived to be thriving, success is fragile.
Other conference speakers included Chris Haddox, a green construction specialist at WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, who urged attendees to consider the environment, society, and the economy as one.
“The best model is an economic core with society around it and the environment around all of it, all inextricably linked,” he says.
Sustainable thinking, he says, can be the glue that binds the individual ideas of communities together.
Ron Dulaney, another professor at WVU’s Davis College, delivered a message that the built environment of a community affects the quality of life of its residents. For example, some “big box” store developments, he says, do a better job than others at creating a pleasant environment for the people who shop there. The key, he says, is smart, human-scale design.
Another speaker, design historian Kathryn Burton, flashed photographs of Oak Hill, the Whipple Company Store, Ansted and other Fayette County communities up on a screen, asking “What is the potential? What can we do with what we have and how can we contribute to that quality of living we’ve been talking about all day?”
Burton reinforced the notion that “architecturally interesting, well-kept historical buildings can add authentic charm appeal” to communities, driving tourism in the process.
Throughout the development-geared event, there was little focused discussion of Fayette County’s natural systems, as was pointed out by one attendee during the question and answer session.
Dulaney, however did ask his audience, “If you look at the tremendous natural and cultural assets in Fayette County, how can this development along the highway continue to expand when our natural environment is finite and our natural resources limited?”
“At the same time, we welcome the economic opportunity that comes with development, so how do we reconcile these seemingly different aspirations? How do we continue to have economic development that doesn’t jeopardize the unique characteristics of this place?”
Such questions seemed key to many attendees, as the county faces potentially rapid future growth related to The Summit, and as coal companies expand surface mining operations locally.
As Fayette countians begin to discuss and answer these questions for themselves, Frischkorn hopes to see them benefit from the WVU law clinic’s involvement, and also offers to coordinate future discussions.
To close the conference, Frischkorn stated, “This is an experiment. We want feedback. We can gather ideas. If the community wants to have future meetings, we can do that.”
For McConnell, planning is “a reflection of the values we hold dear,” but it’s also an economic driver.
“One of the things we know from research across the country is the communities that plan are communities that thrive.”
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The state of planning in Fayette County
-- Mount Hope residents are currently wrapping up community input meetings aimed at
creating a comprehensive plan. They chose to develop the
document as the Boy Scouts of America were poised to request annexation of their 10,600-acre property into the town.
For more info, visit www.facebook.com/MountHopePlanningCommission or www.mounthopewvplan.com.
-- Fayetteville has just begun its comprehensive planning process and has yet to schedule its first public scoping meeting. The next planning meeting, open to the public, is Sept. 17 at 6 p.m. at town hall. A survey will soon be available for all community members to provide input. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/visionfayetteville or www.fayettevilleplan.wordpress.com.
-- Oak Hill very recently approved a new comprehensive plan, copies of which are available at City Hall and cityofoakhill.homestead.com/Linkstoothersites.html.
-- Ansted adopted Fayette County’s comprehensive land use plan in 2007, modifying it once the next year to incorporate the county’s change about mass gatherings. Mayor Pete Hobbs says the town will monitor current modification efforts being undertaken by the county and make changes as approved by council related to that update.
-- Fayette County’s comprehensive plan, amended last year, as well as its Unified Development Code, are available at www.fayettecounty.com/zoning.php.