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HILLSVILLE — Citizens have until the end of August to sift through Carroll County's 243-page draft comprehensive plan and share their reactions.
Ronald Newman, the Carroll planning official, hoped during a rollout of the draft plan last Thursday that people would take this opportunity to get involved in making the document that looks 20 years into the future.
"Please take this plan seriously," he said to an audience of seven at the rollout meeting in Carroll High School's auditorium. "It's the plan that's going to guide the decisions of your elected and appointed officials — it's going to shape the future of our county."
He stressed this idea again and again.
"Let us know your thoughts," he also said, after discussing some highlights of the planning process and the resulting document for a little more than an hour. "Because this is the Carroll County comprehensive plan, it needs to come from the citizens."
The now-available plan summary also highlighted the importance of public involvement.
"This plan update is a statement of the community's vision for its own future and a guide to achieve that vision," says the document's introduction. "The future expressed in the plan is shaped by local values, ideas and aspirations about the best management and use of the Carroll County's resources."
Citizens have already given some initial input by submitting 347 surveys about what they want to see happen in Carroll County for the next 20 years.
The number one response from citizens involved boosting job creation, Newman said. Other issues raised involved protecting agriculture in the county, preserving the scenic beauty, encouraging development where the needed infrastructure (water and sewer services, power, broadband and more) is accessible.
The final plan should provide a vision for land use in Carroll and guide growth and change to achieve economic benefits, while still protecting environmental quality and cultural values, the summary says.
Carroll will grow over the next 20 years to about 35,000 people, planners believe, based on measurable trends, Newman said.
A theme that arose during planning is the importance of agriculture. Agriculture has shaped the county and its heritage and provided an economic foundation. Newman noted farms still have an economic impact of $34 million in sales and employ 1,194 people.
"In Carroll County, protecting agriculture = smart growth," the words flashed on the screen in the presentation.
"One of the biggest threats to agricultural operations is the subdivision and development of land in rural areas," the summary says. "Development can fragment agricultural lands, reducing the long-term viability of agriculture."
To help avoid such land use conflicts, the planners considered a land evaluation and suitability analysis model and delineated areas for agriculture uses instead of intensive development.
Future growth should go in areas where needed services are available. Newman said that means in the U.S. 58 corridor in the Woodlawn area, Hillsville, east of Galax and around the four Interstate 77 interchanges.
"Those are the places where the public utilities either exist or are being put in the ground as we speak," he said.
To best plan for the future, officials divided up the county into development, planned growth and agricultural protection tiers.
"The planned growth area defines the outer boundary of undeveloped lands that should accommodate most of the county's future growth..." the summary states. "This boundary promotes coordination between service providers and citizens in determining where urban services should and can be extended and creates an incentive to infill existing developed areas."
Planning will help the county better spend its limited resources for improvements like water and sewer, which allows better use of county funds, Newman said. "If we're following the guide then we're encouraging development in the areas where it's economically feasible to be able to do so and also protect the agricultural property."
The plan should also support economic expansion.
"Lack of economic and employment opportunities in the county is a key concern for county residents," the summary says. "There is a need for Carroll County to expand its industrial base and take actions to support key industries, including agriculture and tourism."
All the gathered information leads up to goals and policies stated in the plan, Newman said, He gave several examples of the wide range represented in this draft.
A goal for future growth, for example, would be managed through the aforementioned development tiers, he said. These are meant to guide development location, timing and phasing.
A policy under that goal would be to direct development to the tier where infrastructure and service levels are adequate to minimize the development of cost, Newman said.
Language in the draft plan would also seek to protect the natural resources in Carroll County.
"Natural resources, rural character and historic resources are protected and preserved," he said. "We heard that... over and over from young and old alike — protect what we have here."
A goal listed under economic development involves Carroll having a sustainable local economy that provides employment opportunities while supporting a high quality of life.
Policies under that goal include supporting incentives to create jobs and encouraging development that provides public benefits and amenities.
One policy idea in the draft plan is already being pursued in the community — encouraging wind turbines as a source of renewable energy, Newman noted. That's thanks to the initiative shown by a private party, Tom Largen of Red Hill General Store putting up a windmill in Fancy Gap.
Agriculture contributes to the local economy and the character of the county, due to the preservation of land. Newman said policies will look at preserving farmland, forests and open space for their benefits, scenic beauty and county heritage.
More topics listed include planning for county operations in facilities and services, recreation, education, public safety and water and sewer, Newman said. There are 84 different strategies on various topics listed in the plan.
They include diverse ideas, such as developing a plan for a countywide recreation and community center and continuing to encourage entrepreneurial business creation by working with the incubator at the Crossroads Institute and regional economic development authority.
"This plan covers a wide variety of items, hence, it's comprehensive in nature in the things that it covers, comprehensive in that it covers a 20-year period," he said.
Citizens will have another opportunity to provide comments on the plan at a countywide meeting Aug. 3 in the high school cafeteria, Newman said. More community meetings will be held after that to receive input from the public.
Attendee Phillip McCraw wondered about how much attention the plan is getting from other county officials, noting that none of the Carroll Board of Supervisors members showed up to the rollout meeting.
He also wondered how one would go about changing a development tier after it was put in place. What would happen if an industry wanted to buy his farm and locate there?
This is not an ordinance, Newman answered. It's a plan to guide growth and spending public funds on growth. Nor is it zoning.
As people want to see jobs created and want to work toward that, Newman believes that an industry wanting to locate here would be received differently than a residential subdivision going in.
McCraw expected the plan would lead to more ordinances, and he recalled the time a county official stopped and told one of his neighbors to move a pile of glass or the county would move it for him.
That glass was well on McCraw's neighbor's property and nowhere near the right of way, McCraw said.
That would fall under the litter control ordinance that's already on the books, adopted by the supervisors in 2001, Newman said.
"I don't know what all they adopted, but it seems like it took us towards China and Russia," McCraw said. "I read about them in school and they control and tell [people what to do]... we used to have a little freedom."
Attendee Janet Tate said she expected this plan would protect the quality of life here and encourage new companies to come here and create jobs.
"It's important for our children to have jobs and have a community that they can also enjoy and that people would want to come and move into, quality of life is important," she said.
But what brings industry in? McCraw asked. "Mexico got Proctor-Silex, and the quality of life there, I understand, ain't too swift," he said. "Cheap labor. They stole our industry."
Copies of the draft plan and introduction are available for download at carrollcountyva.org and plancarrollcounty.org. Paper copies or an electronic copy of the plan on a CD will be available for a fee from the county staff. Comments may be sent to at email@example.com or mailed to 605-1 Pine Street, Hillsville, VA 24343. Comments will be accepted through Aug. 31. Comments will be incorporated into a second draft of the plan.