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Hanover planning commission reviews comprehensive plan

Two people walk into the Hanover County Administration Building
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Members of the Hanover School Board arrive on Tuesday, August 8, 2023 at Hanover County Administration Building in Hanover County, Virginia.

After more than two years, the Envision Hanover draft is near the finish line.

For the last two years Hanover County staff, alongside its resident advisory committee, have assembled what they view as a roadmap to the county’s long-term growth and sustainability.

That comprehensive plan, also known as Envision Hanover, is nearing its final draft stage: A version of the multilayered document was presented to the planning commission last Thursday.

Per state code, localities in Virginia are required to redraft and adopt a comprehensive plan every five years. These documents are meant to serve as a guide for the county’s eventual growth and are not required to be codified.

Andrew Pompei, Hanover’s deputy director of planning, told VPM News the plan builds on more than 4,000 comments staff received from the community. But it may still require some revisions before it’s brought to the board of supervisors.

“I think there are a few concepts that might warrant additional comments from the planning commission,” Pompei said. ”Residential densities, thoroughfare buffers or landscape buffers have been brought up, but overall, the plan really reflects everyone’s interests.”

Over the course of more than 20 meetings, planning staff gathered an outline of ideas and issues from residents, which were incorporated into the comprehensive plan. The draft plan includes the addition of housing and transportation sections as well as:

  • Economic Development and Vitality
  • Rural and Agricultural Land
  • History and Culture
  • Active Living
  • Environmental Preservation
  • Community Facilities
  • Implementation 

“Our residents and supervisors provided a high level of guidance throughout the engagement process,” Pompei said. “The community was really interested and vocal about what their priorities are.”
During Thursday’s public hearing, residents still had concerns about the specific details and how it would be implemented on a project-to-project basis. Some, like Jesse Lennon of the Chickahominy District, questioned whether the strategies outlined by planning staff would incentivize economic development.

The planning department claims the county has experienced significant employment growth in recent decades and has around 57,000 workers, according to the Virginia Employment Commision.

The current plan anticipates an annual 1% growth rate for the county — which has an estimated 112,938 residents — over the next 20 years, yet around 78% of the county land is designated for rural or agriculture use.

“We do want to encourage commercial growth,” Lennon said. “I think the concern that I have is we're still kind of mixing up the advisory or aspirational components of the comp plan.”

Balancing the county’s rural character and potential for industrial growth was a crucial discussion when assembling the plan, according to Pompei. He says residents made it very clear to planning staff that protecting the county’s rural land was a priority.

That’s why Hanover redirected its high density and affordable housing to its Suburban Service Area — a zone designated for residential density and growth that is roughly located along most of the Henrico County border and around the town of Ashland and makes up around 20% of the county’s total area. The draft plan now includes transitional areas between the SSA and the county’s rural or economic development zones, allowing developers to produce a variety of housing options.

Elizabeth Rafferty, a member of Hanover’s Economic Development Authority, told the planning commission that zoning outlined by staff needs further development if the county wishes to provide any affordable workforce housing.

“We're concerned that we won't be able to deliver the housing that we've heard some of your residents comment on in the public engagement process,” Rafferty said.

Some residents also raised concerns over the implementation of the comp plan and whether the guidelines on building material and designs had the potential to halt or discourage development.

“Not everyone might agree with ideas or concepts in the draft plan but there's been a lot of great discussion over the past two years,” Pompei said.

Following the first public hearing last Thursday, the planning commission is slated to hold another public meeting on Wednesday and, upon its recommendation, the draft could be presented to the board of supervisors as early as next week.

Lyndon German covers Henrico and Hanover counties for VPM News.