By Katharine Sucher, Student Correspondent
Good land use planning needs strong community input, and the process of developing a plan for the Lands End subdivision, a historic piece of land in Gloucester, VA, has been no exception. At a March 30 meeting, Master’s of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) students from Virginia Commonwealth University presented their first land use plan for the subdivision.
The public meeting was the most recent installment of the Virginia Sea Grant-funded land use planning project. Its purpose: to get additional community feedback in order to revise the plan.
“People who live here know so much more than we do about the area,” says Josh Mallow, a MURP student. “My favorite part of the process is hearing suggestions from community members—it makes you feel so much more certain about the plan.”
According to values expressed by community members during three public meetings held in 2014, MURP students determined that the land use plan must meet the following criteria: enhance community quality of life, be environmentally sensitive, and be economically viable. Attractiveness, revenue generation, and ease of implementation were identified as secondary goals.
To meet these criteria, MURP students developed a passive scheme and an active scheme for the subdivision. Proposed elements of the passive scheme include boardwalk trails and observation platforms, oyster gardening, a canoe and kayak launch, an outdoor theater, a nature center, an eco garden, and a boat ramp. The active scheme incorporates all of these elements, but it adds a marine research center, bait and tackle shop, and canoe and kayak rental station.
Community members were receptive to both schemes, viewing the fact that the plans could be implemented incrementally as an advantage. However, attendees still offered ideas for improvements. Suggestions centered around two main themes: staying true to the values of the local community and maximizing usability of the land.
“The most important thing I gained from the meeting was understanding the community perspective. The purpose of the project is to maximize the practical use of the property in a way that will work for this community,” says Jim Smither, collateral professor of urban design and planning at VCU.
Community suggestions included changing the name of the “Eco Garden” and “Nature Center” to “Native Nursery” and “Coastal Maritime Nature Center,” respectively. Attendees agreed that these changes would be well received by Gloucester residents, who value the local coastal environment. One attendee also suggested incorporating educational signage on the boardwalk trails to educate visitors about local plant and wildlife.
Community members were also interested in maximizing public use of the land. In the two draft schemes, the middle portion of the subdivision was entirely unused. Attendees proposed adding horse trails or bird watching areas to take advantage of this land.
Logistical concerns included road access to the site and the distance between the kayak rental station and launch site. While the proposed name changes will be easy for MURP students to make, addressing land use concerns like these will require additional research and problem solving.
“When you really involve the community, stakeholders, and other experts, you get invaluable information, at the cost of several revisions. We still have much work to do,” Mallow says.
After revising the plans based on feedback from the meeting, MURP students will talk with Middle Peninsula Public Access Authority (MP-PAA) board members and survey Gloucester High School students.
“I’m really hoping for a lot of people to come to that meeting and be excited about the final plan,” Mallow says. “We’ve all worked together to make it.”