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Envision Hanover plan enters next phase

Guest stand and watch an Amtrak train during Ashland Train Day
Diane Stoakley
The Downtown Ashland Association
Guests standing alongside the platform of the Hanover Visitors Center during Ashland Train Day 2023.

The county’s comprehensive plan update is on track to address housing, transportation and economic growth following feedback.

Hanover County is working with local citizens and community stakeholders to update its comprehensive plan. Envision Hanover is a long-range guide that addresses the next 20 years of housing, transportation and economic growth.

The advisory document is updated every five years, per Virginia state code, with the goal of identifying the best-use case of properties within a given locality.

Following the 2018 update, Hanover officials began the county’s public engagement process in 2022 with hopes to hold a public hearing and adopt the revised plan in September 2023, according to Principal Planner Andrew Pompei.

“Hopefully, if the plan is adopted by late summer of this year, we'll be right on that 5-year mark. We’re hoping to have the Board of Supervisors seal of approval within the year,” said Pompei.

The current draft was assembled by Pompei alongside members of Hanover County Planning, with modifications influenced by community stakeholders to reflect what residents want to see happen in Hanover.

During that first round of public engagement in 2022, the county received over 4,000 public engagement comments and held several community forums for residents.

“We've had a substantial amount of public touchpoints and engagement and quite honestly, that’s where all our work begins,” said County Administrator John Budesky. “The feedback that we received from those residents throughout Hanover, determine our long-term investments.”

With that input in mind, Hanover’s planners and an appointed committee of constituents — representing the seven magisterial districts — added two new chapters to this year's draft reflecting residents’ growing concerns on housing development and rural/agricultural growth.

Agricultural growth, environmental protections

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Hanover County makes up approximately 468 square miles of territory. Of that territory, 78% of the county’s land area is designated by the Planning Commission's land-use document as rural.

Pompei said the community has been overwhelmingly outspoken about protecting the county’s rural landscapes.

“I think the overarching theme that we've heard from many of our constituents throughout the engagement process is ‘How do we preserve the rural character that's found in most of Hanover County while maintaining our growth?’” Pompei said.

Defining Hanover’s rural area has been a key issue among residents who’ve attended or contributed to the comprehensive plan thus far like Mark Little, who attended one of the forums at the Montpelier Recreation Center in the South Anna District.

“I think our roads need a little work, but you can’t beat this view,” Little said. “I hope Hanover is able to keep its sense of itself, but invite new people to come take part in it too.”

To preserve the county’s rural flair, the comprehensive plan calls for a number of initiatives that protect the environment and Hanover’s agricultural resources. These include clustering residential development to preserve prime agricultural soils — as well as viewsheds from scenic roadways and historic properties — and minimizing access points to existing rural roadways.

The plan also calls for tax incentives for property owners that use their property for agriculture, horticulture, forestry, or open space, and protections for land owned by governmental entities and nonprofit organizations for conservation.

Housing and transportation

Pompei says residents have also overwhelmingly pointed to the county’s housing and transportation needs, looking to multimodal areas like Ashland as an example. During a seminar at the Atlee Library, resident David Humprey said the county needs to provide more access to parks and recreational spaces.

“If you’ve ever tried biking in or around Hanover, you know the roads here are really rough to travel on,” Humphrey said. “The distance alone is brutal, but I think there needs to be more protection in places for folks looking to bike up and down these roads.””

Hanover’s Board of Supervisors went over some of the county’s problem areas during its May 11 work session, as the Planning Commission reviewed areas of improvement to county roads and infrastructure.

However, according to the county administrator the more pressing issue is housing..

“Housing is always top of mind,” Budesky said. “It’s not just single-family housing but a variation of housing types we need to produce in order to face some of the housing challenges in Hanover.”

Around 82% of Hanover’s 42,400 housing units are single family homes, leaving limited to no options for folks looking to rent. And with rising property values and rents, Pompei says there are limited options for the county’s more vulnerable population.

“One thing that we’re seeing is not only is there an aging housing stock, but there’s also an aging population,” Pompei said. “So, can we ensure that housing stock meets the needs of an aging community and address different issues related to that?”

In order to protect residents, Pompei said the county is looking at encouraging private organizations to build alternative, affordable housing developments through tax incentives and zoning changes.

While these changes may take multiple years, Pompei concluded that having a blueprint in place will help residents. The Board of Supervisors is also looking at a range of tax relief incentives for its older adult population.

On May 24, the board will hold a public hearing to obtain citizen input on additional modifications to the county’s tax relief for the elderly and disabled program as a possible solution.

Lyndon German covers Henrico and Hanover counties for VPM News.
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