Summary of Introductory Work Session


Protection and Progress in the Dragon Run

coordinating land use policies and practices


January 25, 2005Saluda, Virginia




Fred Hutson (Essex); Rick Allen, Anne Ducey-Ortiz, Jay Scudder (Gloucester); Kempton Shields (King and Queen); Amy Easterbrook, John England (Middlesex); David Fuss (MPPDC); Vlad Gavrilovic (Paradigm Design)


Welcome & Introductions


David Fuss began introductions. He then described who had been invited (Supervisor reps to Dragon Run Steering Committee, Planning Commissioners, and staff from each county) and the purpose and background of the project. This is a Steering Committee project that is focused on drafting model comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance language designed to preserve the traditional land uses and natural resources of the Dragon Run. Vlad is the consultant for the project and will be facilitating the process. He will also be available to assist the counties in adapting the model language to their own comp plans and zoning ordinances, if needed.


Briefing on Project Scope & Schedule


Vlad provided an overview of Paradigm Design and his previous work and qualifications. He reviewed the project scope and schedule (Feb-Dec). He decided upon two main themes – preservation and progress. Both are needed in this region and would benefit from coordinating land use policies and practices.


Vlad provided background for the current project. He recalled that the four counties and MPPDC signed a Memorandum of Agreement in 2001 that outlined the goals and objectives for a Special Area Management Plan for the Dragon Run. Vlad reviewed his role and the process of developing the Dragon Run Land Use Policy Audit in 2003. He reviewed the process and status of the watershed management plan. And, for 2005, the idea is to begin implementing some recommendations by getting into specifics.


The objectives are to:

  1. Implement the goals and objectives of the Memorandum of Agreement
  2. Develop model planning policies and standards to achieve consistency throughout the watershed
  3. Work with each county to customize to the existing planning and zoning framework and encourage compatible economic development


There will be two phases to the project. Phase 1 will involve developing model districts for the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance and will include outreach and illustrations to communicate these ideas. Phase 2 will involve working with the counties to adapt the models. Vlad will prepare technical memoranda and work with county staff to relate the models to the existing county framework. He will be available for public informational meetings and support for adoption of the amendments.


Vlad briefly reviewed the roles of the following:

  • Citizens, landowners, stakeholders – input, evaluation, consensus
  • Dragon Run Steering Committee (core group) – develop key recommendations
  • County officials – review, evaluate, adopt
  • County staff – review, refine, customize
  • Planning District Commission staff – technical, organizational
  • Consultant – technical “staff”


A question about the status of the partnership of the counties was asked. Three of the four counties adopted the watershed management plan, but all have confirmed that the Steering Committee remains a viable partnership. It was noted that the Gloucester Planning Commission was interested in the Middlesex Zoning Ordinance. It was also noted that if support and direction does not come from the Board of Supervisors, then it is unlikely there will be support in the end.


Key Points from the Land Use Policy Audit


Vlad offered an overview of the findings of the Dragon Run Land Use Policy Audit as follows:

  • There is little specific policy guidance about the Dragon Run
  • Zoning ordinances allow some potentially incompatible uses
  • Special districts are “streamside”, not watershed-wide
  • Subdivision ordinances control density (ranges from 2-6 units for minor subdivision) – this may not stand up to a legal challenge if the subdivision, zoning, and comprehensive plan are not aligned
  • The future land use maps and zoning maps for the watershed are agriculturally oriented
  • There is “by-right” buildout potential for minor subdivisions that can fragment farm and forest land
  • Vlad illustrated a typical farm with a by-right minor subdivision


Vlad indicated that the Audit identified the following opportunities:

  • Adopt model planning districts
  • Adopt zoning overlay districts
  • Align subdivision and zoning ordinances
  • Develop an ‘owners manual’ for Dragon Run landowners


Trends & Issues


Why change things now?

  • Landowners have effectively conserved the Dragon Run
  • Current development pressures are low
  • BUT, development pressures are influenced by regional, national, and global trends
  • Will current policies protect the Dragon Run in the future?


  • “Knowledge-based” economy allows people to live anywhere
  • 70% of households don’t have school-age children
  • Long-term gradual dispersal into small towns, rural areas
  • Edges of Metro areas are starting to merge – commute up to 80 miles away
  • When an area is “discovered”, it is often beyond the power of a locality to prevent major land development
  • Pressure to develop before the land boom dies
  • Growth taxes infrastructure, increases taxes for residents
  • New populations often lead to different perspectives and priorities
  • New taxes on landowners puts pressure to convert rural land
  • Citizens want it both ways; they dislike:
    • Traffic & new roads
    • Sprawl & density
    • Expensive & cheap housing
  • Dilemmas
    • Traditional industries face global commodity value declines
    • Communities want new income but not changes in quality of life
    • Desire to protect resources but not impinge on property rights

Excerpts from Ed McMahon talk

  • Can we leave our community greater, more beautiful, and more prosperous?
  • Failing to plan IS planning to fail
  • Build local plans around natural and cultural assets
  • Use education and incentives, not just regulation
  • Need a “quality of life” lobby, such as the Dragon Run Steering Committee


Discussion & Comments


  1. In King & Queen County, the zoning/subdivision was changed a few years ago, as a result of a buildout analysis, to require paved roads in all but family and split lot subdivisions – King & Queen already has limited development in the Dragon Run area


  1. Roads built to VDOT standards tend to be about $400,000 per mile, as a minimum – this usually makes road costs the limiting factor in doing major subdivisions


  1. There are some upcoming VDOT policy changes pending on new subdivisions roads that could affect these road costs


  1. The road-related factors effectively discourage minor subdivisions


  1. It would be very difficult to reduce the density (downzoning) in any of the 4 counties in the Dragon Run– may not be able to have common densities across the four counties in the area


  1. It is important to look at incentives to preserve farming/forestry uses in the area (for example Transfer of Development Rights, conservation easements, etc.)


  1. The “worst case” on the build-out analysis may not be ideal but it can still preserve rural character


  1. An overlay zoning district would likely prevent changes to the underlying densities currently allowed and would effectively “hold the line” on encroaching development


  1. Key zoning and regulatory issues to consider are :


    • frontage requirements along roads
    • buffer distance to stream (Chesapeake Bay Preservation Requirements)


  1. The type of development standards appropriate for property depend on “how you want the area to look” for example, is it preferable to allow building out the road frontage as long as you protect the farmland behind the development?


  1. Essex County has been consistent in sticking to the rural development policies of its Comprehensive Plan – it has recently turned down 2 rezonings in rural areas


  1. It is important to ensure that County Comprehensive Plans don't turn these rural areas into residential areas over the long term


  1. A key question is what are you protecting – rural character or natural habitat?


  1. There aren't many existing roads in the Dragon Run Watershed – this serves to limit development for now


  1. A major problem is ordinances that allow using existing County roads as subdivision roads – i.e. allowing development of lots along the highway frontages - it destroys the character of views from road


  1. We're stuck with the density we have – it is not feasible to change the existing densities, therefore, we should go beyond density and look at incentives for protecting the area


  1. The Comprehensive Plans and zoning overlays need to "hold the line" against rezonings to residential & higher density uses in the area


  1. The Glenns area in Gloucester County is a high risk area for higher intensity uses – we need to add standards to ensure compatible development in the area


  1. Density should be concentrated in clearly-defined areas, rather than sprawl over the landscape


  1. There is a need for monitoring the progress of development over time – checking how incremental development affects the Dragon Run


  1. Any form of overlay zone is still a rezoning – should we consider doing rezonings like this in the 4 counties?


  1. Adding this type of overlay makes the policies more purposeful and separates the Dragon Run area out from other areas in the Counties


  1. If the overlay is a Zoning Map amendment, it will require notifying every affected property owner


  1. What is a watershed and how is it defined?: - a Watershed is defined as the boundary where water drainages divide to go into different rivers or water bodies


  1. We need to know and understand the watershed and other boundaries (by next meeting)


  1. Do we want our boundary to be a watershed – even if it is 3-5 miles from the actual stream?  (discuss at next meeting)


  1. The major issue for the Middlesex landowners group is the concept of a watershed


  1. We need to look at flood zones, Chesapeake Bay areas, etc. for each County at the next meeting


  1. The key point about watershed boundaries is that they are “defined by nature”




Organizational Issues



  1. Steering Committee represents a broad range of stakeholders – but how do we get word out to others who are not able to attend the Steering Committee meetings?


  1. The two-phase project approach works well [drafting model recommendations in the Steering Committee in Phase 1, and working with citizens and counties to “customize” the recommendations for each County in phase 2.]– there has been and will be plenty of time for citizen input in the process


  1. Could we advertise meetings of this group in the newspaper?


  1. Should this task force [that is working on this project] attend the Steering Committee Meetings? – the Steering Committee is represented on the task force and will be apprised of all the work on this project


  1. The Steering Committee would like to expand membership to include Planning Commissioners and is currently working to amend its bylaws to permit that


  1. This task force will meet fourth Tuesday of each month @ 7:30 p.m. in the PDC offices in Saluda


  1. The timing of any proposed recommendations at the County level is important – especially with elections next year – the one-year project time frame may need to be lengthened


  1. Look at the minutes from the Watershed Management Plan hearings in each County – see if there are other issues we should address


  1. Can we share information with the landowners group as we go through the process? –yes, they are represented on the Steering Committee and this will get them the most up-to-date information on the project


  1. We should put minutes of these meetings and power point presentations on the Dragon Run SAMP website