Sometimes watching county meetings is absurdly boring. I mean, eye-watering, yawn-inducing, God-please-end-it-all-now boring. Seriously, the next time you encounter these public officials who serve our county for peanuts, please thank them for enduring these meetings (I am not a huge fan of meetings, if you couldn't tell.) However, tonight's Planning Commission meeting was not one of those times. I heartily enjoyed this meeting even though it is likely the county's longest meeting ever recorded!
First of all, the community showed up in droves to let their voices be heard. There were so many people there that there wasn't room in the board chambers for everyone so the crowd was ushered into a second room to view the proceedings. Big shout-outs go to regular BTW followers Amy Hall at Stafford Growing Pains, Kristen Barnes and Jenny Lowe for speaking eloquently (and very succinctly in Amy's case) against the proposed 72 home development Cardinal Meadows. It was extremely uplifting to see so many people willing to sacrifice their personal time to make sure their opinions were registered with those in power.
There were almost 2 hours of county presentations regarding Cardinal Meadows, the developer's response and public comments. One major issue was that the developers submitted major changes to the proposed development only 2 days ago, although they have had 4 months to make these changes available to the public. Even the county's presentation didn't reflect these changes as staff didn't have time to incorporate them. One extremely interesting number I found enlightening was that within a 2 mile radius of the development, 1617 units are already on the books and coming to Stafford, even without this new potential development.
PC chair Crystal Vanuch brought the hammer down when it came time to vote, by first motioning that the PC not accept these changes and cause further delay in deliberation and then motioning that the proposed development be rejected. Rock Hill, represent! Both votes were unanimously approved by the PC, showing a united front against more development that the county isn't prepared to support.
Even though the second phase of the meeting started around 9pm, there was still a full house in the board chambers. Some in the house made the important point that it's difficult to repeal the ordinance when we don't know what is being proposed to replace it, a valid argument. However, the vast majority of people who stood up to speak against this repeal and there were plenty, also revealed themselves to be large land owners, builders or developers (easily identified by the blue lanyards they sported.) A few made the arguments that development is coming so we might as well just accept it. I don't really buy that argument, who in their right mind would? Let's just throw our hands up let the developers have their way? I don't think so.
Blue lanyard alert
There were quite a few who spoke out in favor of the repeal. Elaine Callender made the excellent point that one of the unintended consequences of our current cluster ordinance is that some homes in Hartwood are having problems with a lack of well water being supplied to these homes. Amy Hall also made the very cogent point that while the state only requires 40% of our county to be covered by the cluster ordinance, Stafford currently includes 100% of the county under the ordinance. If there is no other reason to repeal the ordinance, we should do so just to change this one thing. One gentleman, and I am so sorry I missed his name, sat in the board chambers until 1030pm before making his comments and they were spot on. He said this is clearly a case of developers versus residents and he was for repeal BUT he wanted to know what changes would make things better. He is a long time resident and wanted to retain something we have moved away from, the wonderful place to live where he raised his children. He implored the PC to do what is right for Stafford county and it's residents. Thank you sir, for your injection of common sense.
Nothing spoke louder to me though than the gentleman from Hartwood district who brought his filthy, clay riddled water filters to the board chambers because his well is running dry due to the extreme demands on the water table in his area due to overbuilding. Every resident should be able to be assured of clear, running water, right?
What has not been made clear, or is purposely being obscured, is that the repeal being proposed is temporary in nature. It has to be, the state requires a cluster ordinance. A repeal would give the Board an opportunity to keep the bad development from happening while they figure out a better way to implement the ordinance.
I do not begrudge the builders and developers and business owners who would be affected their opinions nor their ability to express them in a public venue. They have every right to defend their livelihoods. They don't want a change to the cluster ordinance for obvious reasons, it affects their bottom line. Many made the point that the cluster ordinance, when done right, can be a good thing and they are not wrong! But when it is executed poorly, like the also discussed Cardinal Meadows, it is so very bad for the county.
So, 1130 arrives, public comments end and the vote happens...motion passes 5-2 with Boswell and McPherson against repeal. It's a good day in Stafford County. This is just a recommendation from the PC to the BoS, hopefully they will listen. Thank you to the PC for their patience in running a 6 hour meeting. Round 2 comes when all this comes in front of the BoS. What are your thoughts, wheel-breakers?