By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton citizen Ken Dufty has advocated for a group of his peers who believe their concerns were ignored in the drafting of the county’s updated comprehensive plan, and he has made a last-ditch effort to make their voices heard as supervisors prepare to take final action on the document in June.
The new comprehensive plan is “in no way, shape, or form reflective of what the citizens envisioned for this county’s future over the next 20 years” but instead a “wish list for private interests including the Northampton County Economic Development Authority,” Dufty stated in a May 19 letter addressed to supervisors.
His assertion was based on surveys answered by Northampton residents and filed in the county planning office, which indicated their vision for the county over the next two decades. The new comprehensive plan contradicted citizen comments in several instances, Dufty noted.
The Northampton planning commission already has recommended changes to the comprehensive plan, which would address, at least in part, some of the concerns elaborated in Dufty’s letter.
For example, the new comprehensive plan does not mention mobile or manufactured homes as a form of affordable housing, unlike page 114 of the current comprehensive plan published in 2009, which states, “New construction in favor of high income development such as resort or retirement communities does not address the needs of Northampton County residents. Mobile homes and other types of manufactured housing must be recognized as a means of meeting low and middle income housing needs.”
A list of recommended changes to the comprehensive plan, dated May 24 and submitted by the planning commission, includes, “Add strategy to support the continuance but not expansion of existing mobile home parks.”
Dufty also was concerned about vague wording in the new comprehensive plan that could support increased housing density. For example, the new comprehensive plan states one “unit” can be built on every 20 acres of farm land instead of one “dwelling unit” or home, implying that the “unit” built could be an apartment building, condominium, or “any other structure that holds multiple dwelling units,” Dufty wrote.
The planning commission’s list of changes recommended replacing all instances of “units” in the new comprehensive plan to “dwelling units.”
But much of the new comprehensive plan’s language that Dufty found troublesome remains, such as the emphasis on “livable communities” in which a variety of housing, including apartments, condos, townhouses, and individual homes, is within walking or biking distance of amenities like shops, restaurants, and educational and medical facilities.
Dufty noted that of the 300 surveys he examined, 169 respondents or 56% said they did not want condominiums, and 131 respondents or 44% wanted condominiums as an option for affordable housing.
His letter stated, “The New Comp Plan appears as more of an attempt to ‘gentrify’ Northampton County and perhaps marginalize lower income residents while creating the illusion that ‘affordable housing’ is a prime goal of the drafters …”
Dufty said he did not expect county supervisors to act on his final comments on the comprehensive plan but took the opportunity to say, “This New Comp Plan is NOT our plan.”
However, others had different reactions to the new comprehensive plan, such as Cape Charles resident and Supervisor John Coker, who said during the May 25 supervisors meeting that the plan is a “first-class piece of work” that “captures the county that I know and love.”
During the meeting, Chairman Dixon Leatherbury instructed supervisors to have their last recommendations for changes – mostly small issues, such as correcting grammatical errors – ready by May 31 so they can be incorporated into the final draft of comprehensive plan.
Northampton County Planner Kelley Lewis Parks will incorporate the changes into the draft so supervisors may vote to accept or reject the plan at their next regular meeting June 8.