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A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Valley awaits transportation initiative details; A1

Gov. Kaine’s plan is expected this week or early next

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

Local eyes are on Richmond this week as builders, legislators and local government officials all wait for the second shoe of Gov. Tim Kaine’s transportation plan to drop.

Expected later this week or early next, Kaine said his initiative would reflect the same themes he sounded throughout the 2005 gubernatorial campaign — including tying transportation and land-use issues together at the hip.

“We must give local governments the power to control their own destiny and balance the benefits of economic growth while protecting their quality of life,” Kaine told legislators Monday night.

“I will propose a bill clarifying existing law so that localities are able to reject rezoning requests if a proposed new development would overwhelm the transportation network,” he added.

Of course, it’s all about the details, according to one Frederick County official, but given the strong hints dropped by the administration that they’ll include new power for local government, supervisors are paying attention.

“Anything we can do right now to control some growth would be great,” Opequon Supervisor Bill Ewing said. “Definitely, transportation is a problem in our area.”

Current law leaves supervisors in a difficult position if a development is in line with the county’s comprehensive plan. County officials have often lamented that if they vote against such a rezoning, a judge will likely overturn their decision.

“I would take a very serious look at [Kaine’s plan],” Ewing said. “I don’t totally understand what it is at this point, but it definitely merits consideration.”

Other officials shared Ewing’s desire to see the plan.

“I’d prefer not to comment on something I hadn’t seen the details of,” said Front Royal Mayor James Eastham.

But transportation and growth are closely linked, and a new tool in the tool box would be welcome.

“Our goal locally is to mitigate the impact of new development and its impact on transportation, putting the burden of financing that on the developer and not on the people of Front Royal,” Eastham said. “Anything that helps us achieve that goal would be welcomed.”

While the Northern Shenandoah Valley isn’t growing at the same pace as Northern Virginia proper, residents here have reason to take notice of anything out of Richmond that might affect growth.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in new houses were permitted in Frederick, Clarke, Warren and Shenandoah counties in the first 11 months of 2005, according to the data — 2,357 new single-family homes.

Through November, the permit value for the new houses was more than $457 million, with more than half going up in Frederick County alone.

Giving local governments more power is a bad idea, according to J.P. Carr, president of the Top of Virginia Building Association.

The Northern Shenandoah Valley home construction group spent Monday in Richmond lobbying against changes.

“No one really has a firm grasp on what it is just yet,” Carr said, but Kaine’s outline “seemed to cover a lot of bases that are already being addressed by local communities.”

Locals “have control over transportation issues during the rezoning process,” Carr said. The real problem is money.

“What is not being done is the transportation system is not being properly funded. It’s been under-funded for years,” he said.

Linking land-use and transportation, “we think, from what we’ve heard, would be disastrous,” he said. “It would probably slow or stop growth within [Urban Development Area] zones, while people evaluate what they’ve got, meanwhile, developers will go into the rural areas to keep up with the pace of growth.”

That’s a recipe for sprawl and higher costs, Carr said.

“We’re trying to avoid this,” he said. “I think the entire building community is under the belief that the transportation plan needs to be fully funded.”

But Kaine isn’t the only evangelist of the land-use and transportation issues gospel in Richmond.

The House Republican caucus has its own transportation plan to roll out early next week, according to Del. Clay Athey, R-Front Royal.

“I think the House package will probably be a little bit better defined [than Kaine’s plan at this point],” he said. “We will have a House package that address the issue of transportation funding and land-use planning.”

It hasn’t made an appearance yet, though, out of deference to Kaine. Huge issues like that are usually “not addressed until the governor takes the lead on it,” Athey said. “But at the moment, it seems to me that the governor could be speaking off the House Republican policy plan.”

Not everyone in the GOP family is ready to sign off on the apparent details of Kaine’s land-use vision.

“In essence, what he’s doing … creating pressures on the housing market which is going to make it harder for hard-working
people to buy a home,” said Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock. “To tie the transportation needs of the commonwealth to land-use reform, I think, is misguided.”

Nonetheless, new authority for local government is very likely to happen, said Del. Joe May, R-Leesburg.

“I think most of us are in agreement that it’s long since time,” he said.