By Stefanie Jackson – With Northampton’s new comprehensive plan nearing completion, the Berkley Group consulting firm has presented a draft of the plan’s final three chapters to the county planning commission.
Chapter 8, Mobility, includes plans to improve Northampton’s roads, waterways, public transportation, and walking and biking trails.
According to public input, Northampton’s mobility needs include expansion and improvement of sidewalks and bike paths in towns, a reduced speed limit in the Hare Valley and Bayside Road area, and a pedestrian bridge across Route 13 in Cape Charles.
The public also requested congestion relief on Route 13, in and around Cape Charles and Exmore, and near the Eastville Community Health Center.
Objectives and strategies for filling these needs include continued cooperation and collaboration with the Virginia Department of Transportation, STAR Transit, and the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission.
Chapter 9, Community Facilities and & Services, describes objectives and strategies for improving public education, infrastructure, emergency services and healthcare, parks and recreation, and developing a facilities planning program.
Objectives and strategies for improving public education include renovating Northampton High School and continuing to lobby state government for COCA (Cost of Competing Adjustment) to boost teacher salaries.
Measures to improve infrastructure include developing a plan for centralized sewer, supporting the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority to make affordable internet access available to all Northampton homes, and supporting the construction of telecommunications structures to improve cellular service.
For better healthcare, the county will work with the Virginia Department of Health to implement the Eastern Shore of Virginia Community Health Assessment Synthesis of 2017.
Chapter 10, Implementation, examines the tools for fulfilling the comprehensive plan, such as Northampton’s annual budget, capital improvement plan, and land use regulations.
The chapter also includes data or “performance indicators” that will help readers gauge the success of the comprehensive plan.
A Nov. 5 memo explains the indicators are “not intended to track specific goals” but to “provide insight on progress over time, understanding that many factors influencing these indicators are beyond (Northampton) County’s direct control.”
Upward trends are desired in data categories such as population, which is recorded in the U.S. Census. Northampton’s population was just under 12,000 as of 2018, out of 8.4 million people who live in Virginia.
The average annual income for a high school graduate in Northampton is $30,000, less than the statewide average of more than $31,000.
About 82% of Northampton residents age 25 and older have a high school diploma, compared to nearly 90% of all Virginians. Almost 22% of Northampton residents in that age group have a college degree, compared to more than 39% of all Virginians.
Less than 56% of Northampton residents have access to broadband internet, compared to nearly 75% of Virginia residents.
Continued growth of Northampton’s tourism and aquaculture industries is anticipated. The county gets $28 million of about $112 million earned annually from Virginia’s aquaculture commodity sales, and the county gets $77.5 million of the state’s annual tourism revenue, which tops $23 billion.
Downward trends are desired in other data categories, such as unemployment.
Northampton’s unemployment rate was 4.4% in 2019, higher than the statewide unemployment rate of 2.8% during the same period.
Northampton’s percentages of cost-burdened homeowners and renters (those who pay more than 30% of their income on housing) were on par with the rest of the state, but county officials still would like those numbers to drop. About 27% of homeowners with mortgages were cost-burdened, as were 45% of renters.
Nearly 33% of Northampton households have no internet, compared to 17.5% of Virginia households.
The Berkley Group has tentative plans to submit a revised draft of the comprehensive plan for final review by the planning commission later this month, with a public open house to follow in January.