By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton is getting a new comprehensive plan with a refreshed outlook on the county’s future and a new name: “Your Northampton 2040.”
The title refers to the comprehensive plan’s purpose to describe “the community’s vision for where it wants to be in the next 20 years.”
The Northampton planning commission has been working on the plan under the guidance of the Berkley Group consulting firm and public input collected between September 2019 and January 2020.
Together, they have written a new vision statement: “Northampton County will create a thriving, resilient future that provides for social equity and opportunity for all residents; cultivates stewardship and protection of the natural environment; and builds on its regional heritage while leveraging a twenty-first century economy.”
That vision will be fulfilled by following the comprehensive plan that was informed by official Northampton County documents such as its zoning ordinance, groundwater plan, and coastal resiliency scorecard; the Eastern Shore’s transportation plan, pedestrian study, hazard mitigation plan, and dredging needs assessment; and Virginia’s working waterfront master plan.
Topics covered by the comprehensive plan include Northampton’s cultural heritage, environment, land use and community character, housing and neighborhoods, community facilities, mobility, and economy.
A new future land use map highlights nine pattern areas that fall under four categories: rural settlements (hamlets, villages, and waterfront settlements), towns, development (town edge, commercial, and industrial business), and conservation (conservation areas and rural areas).
The updated comprehensive plan aims to clearly define each area and explain its purpose.
For example, town edges are defined as unincorporated areas adjacent to incorporated towns and “natural future-expansion areas” for the towns, which could potentially be served by extended water and sewer infrastructure and community facilities.
The purpose of town edges is to provide space to develop “livable communities” that offer a variety of housing opportunities, transportation options, and amenities. They should be mixed-use communities that are compact and walkable, with plenty of open space, the plan states.
Town edges and other areas are categorized by housing density. For example, rural areas, used primarily for agriculture and forests, allow one unit per 20 acres, but hamlets allow two units per acre, and villages allow up to four units per acre.
Charts are used to explain simply Northampton’s planning objectives for each area, such as encouraging new development in towns, town edges, and commercial and industrial areas, but not hamlets, villages, or waterfront communities.
Other planning goals listed include directing housing opportunities to towns and town edges; improving pedestrian safety in towns, town edges, and commercial and industrial areas; and focusing climate change resiliency efforts on conservation and rural areas, waterfront communities, and towns.
Topics the comprehensive plan addresses include protecting natural resources, including farm lands and working waterfronts; promoting growth and development in and around towns while safeguarding water quality and combating sea-level rise; promoting tourism, including rental vacation properties, while providing affordable housing for working families; and attracting young workers while supporting an aging population.
“Northampton County stands at a crossroads in its nearly 400-year history,” the comprehensive plan states.
As the county plans for the future, it needs “increased and diversified economic activity and opportunity, expanded infrastructure to support businesses and affordable housing, improved schools, additional workforce training and jobs, new tax revenue sources, and more convenient amenities.”
“By understanding the challenges and opportunities facing our community, we can decide what works and what we can do better,” the authors wrote.
The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted progress on the comprehensive plan, and the Berkley Group recently amended its timeline for completion of the project.
An open house is planned in January 2021 for public review of the draft comprehensive plan, with final revisions to be made in February and March, followed by a public hearing and anticipated adoption of the plan later in March.