Small group but loud opinions when it comes to planning…

The Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (FAMPO) has been conducting a study on the future land use of the George Washington Region—the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania, Stafford and the city of Fredericksburg.  In order to gain public opinion on the planning matters, FAMPO has been holding meetings open to the public in each county and in downtown Fredericksburg.  I attended the meeting for Spotsylvania County on September 23, and even though there was a small showing (due to the wrong address printed on the invitations) there was no lack in feedback from the opinionated/concerned group of five.

Our group was an interesting mix—an older man who had grown up and still lives in the area and longed for the original transit option, pre-Fred, another older man who had moved down here from New Jersey to be close with his grandchildren and is concerned for their upbringing and how the area will shape their growth, a Fredericksburg GIS employee with the same concerns as the New Jersey man, Professor Smith, and myself.

FAMPO opened the meeting with a brief summary of their project, then opened up the floor to the group.  They had set up a game-like scenario with one large map of the study area.  It was our job to discuss how the area was going to be used.  Available to us were stickers representing different densities of residential growth, a few mixed-use options, commercial development and high industry and low industry.  Along with applying the stickers, it was also our job to use a black marker around an area we didn’t want to see any change/growth, a blue marker to enhance roads/interstates, a green marker to implement bike/pedestrian trails, or a red marker for rail transit.

It became clear that everyone was in support of a centralized growth option—no one was interested in sprawl.  However, although a certain member would have liked to do away with all low-density suburban housing, the reality of the “game” was that option has to be available.  Issues such as transportation and the development/enhancement of I-95 created a debate amongst the group.  One believed that the interstate should be tolled in order to deter people from using it while the rest believed the presence of HOT lanes was absolutely necessary in order to support the working class.  But we all agreed that growth should take place around already present commercial development, the rail system needs to be improved so that it is accessible to more areas, something needs to be done to 95, and for the most part we want to build up, not out.

This whole experience proves how important it is for the public to be active participants in planning.  FAMPO will consider all the suggestions that each group gives—although there is not a complete guarantee that all requests will be fulfilled, it is worth voicing your opinion.  I felt like making planning into a game made it not only fun, but also easy to understand.  It allowed for our opinions to be clearly stated in a way that FAMPO could easily comprehend.  The game made for quite the learning experience, and was much more enjoyable than making a list of things you would want to see improved.  Plus, it’s always interesting hearing other people’s opinions on certain issues.  I try to attend these kinds of meetings as much as possible, and I recommend the same for anyone interested/trying to learn more in planning to do so themselves.

FAMPO will be posting the maps created by each group on their website and the details of the project can be found there as well.

– Kathleen Morgan ’11

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