The challenge of planning for the future is to manage the process of change. The Code of Virginia mandates that jurisdictions prepare and regularly update a Comprehensive Plan for the development of their communities.
Planning can be used to guide and coordinate changes in Highland county by providing for, but not limited to, the following:
• The responsible use of land and natural resources
• Promotion of a high quality of life
• Anticipated future public facility needs
• Development patterns consistent with local land use regulations
• Promotion of entrepreneurial activities as a part of sound economic development policy
• A sound fiscal base
• Ensure public input in decision-making processes
The planning process is ongoing, but the Comprehensive Plan itself is a point-in-time snapshot that answers three questions;
1) Where are we?
2) Where can we go? And
3) How do we get there?
The first question, “Where are we?” is largely documented by statistics and facts. These include an overview of the physical characteristics of both the natural and man-made environments of Highland County as well as the data supplied by the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission (CSPDC), which projects population trends, housing needs and availability and economic forecasts.
The second question “Where can we go?” accepts the fact that due to physical characteristics, which are either assets or liabilities, and current strengths and weaknesses of Highland County, there are limitations to what is feasible to accomplish. Many of these strengths and weaknesses were identified during the Citizen Input Workshop held in June 2005 (see Appendix A).
The final question “How do we get there?” is the heart of the planning process. While we embrace the potential for change, we also believe that change does not preclude the recognition of those factors that make Highland County unique; including our natural areas, retention of agriculture lands and preserving both the cultural and historic resources of the county.
1. Legal Requirement
The content of the Highland County Comprehensive Plan, and its technical preparation, is guided by the Code of Virginia 1950 (as amended). The Code establishes the legislative purpose, the general context and scope, and the review and adoption procedures for a community to follow. The complete text of the Code, as of July 2011, is included as Appendix B.
The County’s Comprehensive Plan is a plan for the physical development of the territory within the County’s jurisdiction. A single plan covers both the County and the Town of Monterey. The purpose of the Comprehensive Plan is to serve as a guide for the coordinated, harmonious development of the Town and County that will best promote the health, safety, morals, order, convenience, prosperity and general welfare of the inhabitants.
The Comprehensive Plan is general in nature and represents specific goals and objectives that are not meant to be legally binding on the Monterey Town Council or the Highland County Board of Supervisors, except as otherwise provided for in the Virginia Code. The Plan is intended to be flexible so as to accommodate changes in goals and objectives as future circumstances may require. More specifically, the governing bodies may exercise their discretion in how strictly they interpret and follow the goals, objectives and strategies in the Plan.
This Plan is a thorough revision of the Comprehensive Plan approved in April of 1999. One of the main features differentiating this Plan from previous efforts is the establishment of a prioritization of specific strategies that relate to the Goals and Objectives of the Plan. The setting of priorities is not intended to be a legal requirement, but to indicate sequential steps in the planning and implementation processes.
2. Planning History
The Code of Virginia states that the Comprehensive Plan should be updated every five years. A brief timeline of the planning history of Highland County follows:
1978 – “Highland County-Town of Monterey Comprehensive Plan”. Prepared by the Highland County Planning Commission and the Highland Citizens Advisory Committee with technical assistance from the CSPDC.
1984 - “Update” prepared by the Highland County Planning Commission with technical assistance from CSPDC adopted by the Highland County Board of Supervisors (May 1984) and the Monterey Town Council (June 1984).
1991 – First “All for Highland” Survey Completed (over 800 respondents)
1993 – “Comprehensive Plan” updated using the Highland County Citizens Advisory Committee.
1997 – Second “All for Highland” Survey Completed (810 respondents)
1999 – “Update” of the Comprehensive Plan prepared by the Highland County Planning Commission with technical assistance from the CSPDC.
2011 – “Update” of the Comprehensive Plan. Prepared by the Highland County Planning Commission; a Citizens Advisory Committee; the Highland County Board of Supervisors; and technical assistance from the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission.
The 1999 Update
contained Goals with accompanying Recommendations for change. This Plan goes
one step further in defining specific Objectives and Strategies.
C. TODAY’S VIEW & A VISION FOR THE FUTURE
A snapshot view of Highland County today was summarized during the Community Workshop in response to the question, “What makes Highland County unique?”
Highland County is known for its tree-covered mountains and open valleys, and its numerous streams which are the headwaters of major river systems that flow to the Chesapeake Bay. The diversity of wildlife, clean air and water and large amounts of open space all contribute to the attractiveness of this place. The large concentration of sugar maples and the corresponding maple syrup industry also make Highland County unique.
The mountainous terrain and wind resources have been significant factors in the proposed development of the first commercial wind farm in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Highland County is known for its strong community spirit. This is manifested most noticeably in the exceptionally high rate of volunteerism and the many local institutions supported through voluntary contributions. Other unique features of the population include above-average participation in public affairs, friendliness, and people who are hard-working and honest. All of these factors also contribute to a safe environment. The low population (cattle outnumber people by 5:1) is characterized by numerous family farms as well as a high percentage of retired and semi-retired newcomers to the county.
While the scenic beauty is an outstanding feature, the mountains also impact the roads, and job opportunities. These factors have had a negative impact on retaining young people in the county after high school graduation.
A Vision for the Future
We are challenged, as we look to the future, to protect the quality of our environment and its inherent quality of life while meeting the economic and social needs of our citizens. Our economy must expand beyond agriculture to include tourism, retail, commercial, and service-oriented businesses. We must seek innovative ways to diversify our economy and provide job opportunities.
The following principles are relevant to planning decisions in Highland county:
• Create a diverse, stable economy that provides a range of economic opportunities for all of our citizens.
• Provide good stewardship of our natural resources.
• Support agriculture and promote “working landscapes”.
• Preserve cultural and historic resources which are essential to maintaining our sense of place.
• Encourage planned growth to maintain the existing character of the county, with the objective of utilizing historic growth patterns as a blueprint for future growth.
• Maintain, enhance or expand the services necessary to enrich the lives of our citizens and to sustain a healthy community. These would include (but are not limited to) a high-quality education for all Highland County students, opportunities for recreation and cultural activities, an effective transportation system, a variety of housing options and a safe and healthy environment.
D. THE PLANNING PROCESS
The Highland County Planning Commission is responsible for the update of the Comprehensive Plan.
2. Citizen’s Advisory Committee
Comprehensive Plan Review Committee - There were actually two committees involved in the preparation of this Plan. The initial committee of 18 members began work in August 2004. This committee reviewed the data gathered by CSPDC and began work on updating the Plan. In September 2006, the committee was reorganized with 13 members under the direction of, and including the members of the Planning Commission.
Update and Expansion of Base Data
Relevant tables and figures from the 1999 Plan were updated with the most current data available. The CSPDC was largely responsible for this task. The complete compilation of this data is in Volume 2
of this plan.
First Draft of the Comprehensive Plan
The initial draft was completed and available for review on-line at www.highlandcova.org as well as in a hard copy before the Public Work Session and Review by the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors
Second Draft of the Comprehensive Plan
After the Public Work Session, some changes may have been made based on ideas and concerns presented by the public and the Board of Supervisors. A revised Draft Plan was then made available for public review both on-line and at various locations prior to the official Public Hearing.
Final Draft of the Comprehensive Plan
After the Public Hearing, the Final Draft was prepared for submittal to the Board of Supervisors for their review and approval.
3. Public Participation
Public input was utilized throughout the development of the Plan.
From the beginning, members of the community were actively engaged in the Committee meetings. The meetings were extensively covered by The Recorder and citizen inputs were provided to Committee members via mail and e-mail. The Recorder is the weekly community newspaper.
Additionally, the Highland County website maintained updates of completed sections at www.highlandcova.org.
On June 22, 2005 a community workshop was held under the direction of CSPDC. Over 100 citizens attended and participated in “brainstorming” sessions which developed extensive lists noting what is unique about Highland County, our strengths and weaknesses, and opportunities and threats. One of the last stages of the Workshop included developing a vision for the future of Highland County. This was done by small groups where each presented its scenario to the entire group of Workshop participants. Finally, the participants rated both long- and short-term priorities for the County (see Appendix A).
The Public Hearing provided for the official public review of the Draft of the Comprehensive Plan. This Hearing was held on July 19, 2011.
4. Approval/Plan Adoption
Review by the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors
In addition to having access to the on-line sections as they were completed, joint meetings by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors were held throughout the process to provide for formal review of the Draft Plan.
Approval by the Board of Supervisors and Monterey Town Council
(to be completed following approval)
It shall be the responsibility of the Planning Commission, during its annual review of the Comprehensive Plan, to determine which strategies have been addressed.