Lost In Translation

Forum Watch Editorial

By. Neil Williamson

Most of the localities in our region are in the process of state mandated updates to their comprehensive plans.  Comprehensive plans are designed to guide elected officials as they draft  ordinances to support the vision spelled out in the comprehensive plan.  Herein lies the difficulty.  All communication has two ends the sender and the receiver.  The challenge in drafting comprehensive plan language is to make the language clear enough to be understood but vague enough to allow for interpetation by the policy makers (who change regularly).

Free Enterprise Forum Fluvanna Field Officer William Des Rochers wrote about the Planning Commission comp plan approval in his recent post:

 …the discussion reflected Planning Director Darren Coffey’s efforts to place the more controversial land use issues outside of the Comprehensive Plan discussion.  Throughout the process he reminded commissioners and citizens that the proper forum for deciding most of the controversial issues was in the zoning and subdivision ordinance revisions.  Mr. Coffey’s strategy worked since the plan became more focused of the county vision and goals to achieve it. 

So the Coffey strategy keeps hot button issues (development rights, central wastewater treatment, rural clustering) off the table.  The problem with this approach is the multiplicity of interpretations available from the broad brush comprehensive plan language.   

Greene County’s Planning Commission is holding a workshop on Thursday to discuss their Comprehensive Plan Vision.  The Draft Comprehensive plan vision statement reads as follows:

Greene County will protect and enhance the quality of life enjoyed by its residents by preserving the County’s rural character and natural beauty and by appropriately managing the rate and location of new growth and development OR and by appropriately managing the pace and place of growth and development. Greene County will achieve this vision by protecting farmland, providing a multimodal transportation system, attracting clean industry, creating employment opportunities for its citizens, providing quality schools and recreational areas, and preserving the County’s cultural and historical heritage.

 One reciever of this communication may translate this way (Translation in bold italics):

Greene County will protect and enhance the quality of life enjoyed by its residents by preserving the County’s rural character and natural beauty The mountain vistas are really what this place is all about 

and by appropriately managing the rate not too much and location nowhere near me of new growth and development

Greene County will achieve this vision by protecting farmland farmland lost is lost forever,

providing a multimodal transportation system bike lanes, sidewalks, transit for everyone

attracting clean industry technology jobs pay well

creating employment opportunities for its citizens live near work — maybe even walk to work

providing quality schools and recreational areas both really need improvement

and preserving the County’s cultural and historical heritage I love everything about this place.

But as every receiver of information processes it differently.  Here is another translation of the Greene County Comprehensive Vision Statement (Again Translation in bold italics):

Greene County will protect and enhance the quality of life enjoyed by its residents government knows what you want

by preserving the County’s rural character and natural beauty and by appropriately managing the rate and location of new growth and development by trampling private property rights

Greene County will achieve this vision by protecting farmland taking development rights from the farmers who have been good stewards of the land for generations

providing a multimodal transportation system bike lanes, walking paths, light rail, how many pedestrians did you see in Greene County today?

attracting clean industry no one that actually makes anything,

creating employment opportunities for its citizens can’t government just get out of the way?

providing quality schools spending more money on schools and recreational areas and parks,

and preserving the County’s cultural and historical heritage change nothing never.

Vision statements tend to be high altitude comments that often are not followed up with specific strategies to support them.  In the construction of any comprehensive plan a vision statement that is too soaring tends to lead to strategies that fail either due do to creating an unworkable economic condition or failing to gain the political steam to push such proposals through.

Even though the Comprehensive Plan is only a guide, it does have specific legal standing.  The language of the plan matters. 

If the entire community fails to engage in the comprehensive plan process, or allows others to hijack the writing, the community goals may be lost in translation.

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