Prince William County Planning Director Rebecca Horner had crossed my path years ago, when we had both joined Fairfax County's staff within a month of one another. Given her management experience as the planning director in Sarpy County, Nebraska, I wasn't surprised to see her leave Fairfax in 2014 to become Prince William County's Current Planning Manager. After a nationwide search for a new planning director in 2016, Prince William had kept the hire local and promoted Rebecca to the position. It was shortly after her promotion when I had a chance to catch up for a long overdue lunch with my former colleague.
The picture that Rebecca painted to me of the Planning Office was a familiar one. A series of tough budget cycles, coupled with the long-time Zoning Administrator's retirement in 2015, had reduced the staff's ability to move a backlog of zoning text amendments through the process. The staff bandwidth was further taxed by simultaneous initiatives to update the Comprehensive Plan and create 10 small area plans that the Board of County Supervisors had championed for distinct areas in the county.
Rebecca wanted to hit the ground running. She used the Berkley Group's existing contract, set up for cooperative procurement, to augment her staff with support for text amendments and long-range planning. I've been on Prince William's staff since April 2017, and it's been an incredibly rewarding partnership.
Once I was in the office, I prioritized the Zoning Text Amendment Work Plan with Rebecca's input and assembled interdepartmental teams to tackle the highest priority items. This approach acknowledges the input from plan reviewers, permit technicians, enforcement inspectors, current planners, and long-range planners, and it ensured that zoning changes reflected best practices that fit Prince William's needs. I shepherded the first four amendments through Board adoption, while continuing to work on drafts of a new sign ordinance and an update to the County's telecommunications regulations.
Meanwhile, staff were scheduling public input meetings for two of the most important small area plans – North Woodbridge and Route 29. The North Woodbridge study area encompassed a Virginia Railway Express station, and Route 29 was anticipating more growth following on the success of the Virginia Gateway development in Gainesville. I wrote a small area plans template so that staff could depict the planning outcomes to the nearby residents of these two study areas during the charrettes. The template will be used by the long-range planning teams for each small area plan. I'm on the teams for North Woodbridge and Route 29, which have begun drafting the text.
The Berkley Group has also lent support to implementing the recommendations to grant-funded studies. Most recently, I toured Cockpit Point, the site of Confederate-controlled Civil War batteries which assisted in a blockade of Union supply lines to Washington, DC. Cockpit Point was recently acquired by Prince William County. I've developed a Comprehensive Plan amendment for the Cultural Resources chapter that focuses on implementing the recommendations of the 2014 Cockpit Point Battlefield Study Final Report.
The working relationship I've had with the Planning Office and its sister agencies has been positive and productive. It's been gratifying to assist an agency with good organization and great culture get these work items over the finish line. Look for this trend of great planning to continue in Prince William County in 2018!