During the month of September, commission attorney Bob Martin attended a Mountain State Land Use Academy, an extension of West Virginia University’s Land Use and Sustainable Development Law clinic. While there, Martin learned of the benefits the implementation of a county-wide comprehensive plan could have.
At its meeting Tuesday, the Pocahontas County Commission heard a more in-depth presentation from West Virginia University Law Professor and Mountain State Land Use Academy instructor Jesse Richardson.
“A comprehensive plan is not zoning,” Richardson emphasized. “Zoning is one tool that you can use to implement a comprehensive plan, but we understand that that’s not on the radar for Pocahontas County, and that’s fine. Zoning is not really a part of this.”
Instead, a comprehensive plan is a vision of the county’s future, and it is put together by the county’s citizens.
“You can look at a comprehensive plan in a lot of different ways,” Richardson said. “I kind of break it down into three parts: where are we now; where do we want to go and be in ten years; and what do we do to get there?”
Richardson’s method to comprehensive planning begins by looking at the county’s demographics, the current land use and the situation on the ground. The next step is to look 10 years into the county’s future and create a vision statement detailing the community’s hope for the future. The final step focuses on a number of issues – such as quality of life and economic development.
“The comprehensive plan is going to look at how we can go and get economic development, what types of development we want, and where we want it,” Richardson explained. “We also want to prepare for any natural disasters. Flood plains are a big issue, and I would imagine that there’s some karst in Pocahontas County. When you’ve got karst, that raises other issues, and that’s another thing you would want to look at.
“It’s just a matter of, instead of waiting for things to happen and reacting to them, a comprehensive plan is a way to say, ‘What do we think is down the road, and what do we want to do to address that?’”
One of the questions Richardson posed to the commission was why they should even consider forming a comprehensive plan, especially if zoning is not something the county was interested in?
“It’s a good idea to go ahead and look at the future,” he answered, “look at where you are now and decide where you want to go. It can be a guidance document or a kind of reality check on some ideas that people have. Most importantly, if you want to get grant money, a lot of agencies that give grant money require that you have a comprehensive plan. Even if they don’t require it, our experience has been that if a community comes in without a comprehensive plan and another community comes in with a plan, the agency is going to give the community with a plan some weight. A comprehensive plan is an advantage.”
Richardson stressed the importance of having public input and participation, as well.
“Most importantly, you have to have public participation,” he said. “You have to have a public input procedure adopted at the very beginning, and we encourage lots of public input. We do public meetings, open houses, surveys, and we go into the communities and talk to the local high school students and churches.
“We go wherever the people are because that’s the most important thing with the comprehensive plan – what do the people want? It’s not the county commission’s plan, it’s not my plan, it’s not any individual’s plan. It’s the community’s plan.”
“I appreciate you coming,” Commission President Bill Beard said, “and I can see down the line that a plan like this could possibly get us grants that would do some good for the county. Without it, it would be a lot tougher.”
Despite the comprehensive plan’s advantages, commissioner David McLaughlin expressed concern over how the public might react.
“It would be a big help to the county,” he said, “but the first thing people are going to say is that that’s the first step to zoning. I’ve heard that, and that’s what people are going to think. I think it’s going to take a lot of public trust and input to get the thing started. We need a lot of public input before we even start thinking about doing this.”
Commissioner Jamie Walker asked Richardson to give the commission a timeframe on how long implementing a comprehensive plan would take.
“Generally, the rule of thumb is that it takes about a year,” Richardson explained. “It takes a lot of public input, and then at the end, there are some required public hearings and notices. About a year. It can take a little less or a little more. If you were to do this, you would appoint a planning commission of five to fifteen members, and it would really depend on them. The planning commission has to do a little bit of work – take pictures of what’s good and bad about the county, surveys and questionnaires for key participants in the community, things like that. We can usually get it done in a year.”
A few more questions were raised concerning the best time to hold a public input meeting, and due to travel implications during the winter and vacations during the summer, it was determined that spring would be best.
“As far as I’m concerned, I would like to see a public meeting and get the public educated on what you could bring to us,” Beard said. “It’s a golden opportunity.”
No action was taken regarding a comprehensive plan, but there are tentative plans in mid- to late April for a meeting.
In other news:
- Sam Gibson, of Snowshoe, voiced concern over the Department of Highway’s handling of their most recent construction project. The project has reduced the two-lane bridge between Elk River Inn and Beckwith Lumber Company down to one lane signs have been installed to alternate the traffic crossing the bridge. Gibson’s concern is for what the alternating traffic patterns will look like once the winter months arrive and the traffic to Snowshoe increases.The commission agreed with some of Gibson’s concerns and expressed an interest in seeing temporary stop lights in the place of the stop signs. It was suggested that a letter be written to the Department of Highway discussing Gibson’s concerns and possible solutions.
- The commission voted to transfer the Green Bank Industrial Park property back to the Board of Education and authorized Commission President William Beard to affix his signature to the deed.
- Representatives of the Bartow-Frank-Durbin, Cass and Frost fire departments presented updates to the commission concerning the possible revision of department boundary lines by the West Virginia Fire Marshal.
- The commission approved Travis Cook as a full-time 911 Dispatcher/911 Mapping and Addressing Assistant/Office of Emergency Management Deputy Director, effective December 2, 2015.
- The commission appointed Jennifer Barlow to the Emergency Medical Services Authority for a three year term, expiring June 30, 2018.
The next regular County Commission meeting is scheduled for December 15 at 5:30 p.m.