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Orange County's 'rural character' in peril? Comprehensive-plan changes are divisive
Orange County's comprehensive plan caught in a crossfire of criticism

Date published: 10/10/2005

By ROBIN KNEPPER

No one would ever claim that reviewing a locality's comprehensive plan is a walk in the park. But Orange County is stumbling on the path and showing its skinned knees.

Although the Board of Supervisors laid out a schedule last September for the mandatory process of updating the county's blueprint for growth and land use, a year later finds two very vocal and divergent groups intent on fighting the end product and the people who put it together.

The folks who are devoted to preserving the "rural character" of the county--to use the day's popular catchphrase--are led by staff and members of the Piedmont Environmental Council. Large landowners with conservation easements have been joined by those interested in historic preservation and tourism.

PEC Field Officer Dan Holmes says the Orange Planning Commission is pushing forward "an inferior document" with a vision statement and land-use map that "are not compatible."

The vision statement of the comp plan aims to "sustain and enhance the rural quality of life while meeting the needs and improving the well-being of Orange County citizens." It was authored by planning Commissioner Steve Satterfield, a PEC supporter, and agreed to by the commission.

But the plan, Satterfield now says, does not follow that vision.

"As we went along, I wanted to test our decisions about the content of the plan against the vision statement," he said, "but it wasn't important to my fellow planning commissioners. The plan looks foolish right now. I don't want to be associated with this piece of work."

Of an opposing viewpoint are residents who have gathered under the auspices of the Orange County Chamber of Commerce to support economic development in the county. White-collar and blue-color businesspeople have found common ground with contractors, small farmers, local developers and property-rights advocates who want to keep taxes low and business robust.

Local car dealer Kevin Reynolds gives the Planning Commission kudos for its efforts to preserve the county's rural character by supporting agriculture and tourism. But he's concerned that the comp plan doesn't adequately address Orange's economic needs.


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