Meetings on fort study draw interest

Posted on Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 4:26 pm

About 30 people turned out in Milford last night for a meeting about the Fort A.P. Hill Joint Land Use Study.

Consultants leading the Joint Land Use Study involving Fort A.P. Hill and its neighboring localities have been holding a series of public meetings this week.

About 30 people showed up for last night’s meeting at the Caroline Community Services Center in Milford, and bout 60 attended a meeting on Fort A.P. Hill the night before. The third and final meeting is scheduled tonight in Spotsylvania.

At this stage the consultants are presenting some of the preliminary information they have gathered so far and taking questions and comments from the public. They also take a quick  survey at each meeting to get information on the people who attend and to assess their views on issues related to the Army installation.

Last night’s meeting generated only a few questions and concerns from citizens until John Lampmann of Port Royal began raising questions about the study.

John Lampmann of Port Royal makes a point during Joint Land Use Study meeting.

Lampmann, who lives in the Portobago community, noted that the study’s policy committee, made up of one person representing each locality, the fort commander, and an official from the state Department of Veterans affairs, will vote on the final recommendations. Caroline County, he suggested, has three votes – the representatives of Caroline and the towns of Bowling Green and Port Royal. Lampmann suggested the other localities – the counties of Spotsylvania, King George, and Essex – could vote in a block with the fort commander and the state official and essentially rule the committee over the interests of Caroline and its incorporated towns.

Caroline “would be defenseless to stop it,” argued Lampmann.

“That’s not true,” responded Richard Dorrier, a principal for AECOM, the company that is facilitating the study. The policy committee only will vote to make recommendations, he noted. If an individual locality chooses to act on the recommendations, it would be up to the governing body and the locality’s planning commission, said Dorrier. The recommendations would have to go through public processes in order to be implemented.

Lampmann later argued that Caroline is at a financial disadvantage compared to other counties in part because of conservation easements on land around Fort A.P. Hill; land covered by such easements is exempt from real estate taxes, he said. In addition, the county’s rural nature reduces the amount of state aid Caroline receives for schools, he suggested.

However, Ken Perrotte, chief of the Fort A.P. Hill office for plans, analysis, and integration, pointed out later to the news media that land covered by conservation easements is subject to taxation. In addition, the county’s rural nature is a factor in receiving more state aid for education, not less, he said. Perrotte also pointed to studies that demonstrate that working or natural lands generate more money in taxes than they require in tax-funded services compared to residential properties.

Caroline officials need to ensure that “what’s good for the Army is good for Caroline,” said Lampmann, who urged people to be in communication with Caroline’s representative on the policy committee, Supervisor Calvin Taylor, as the study proceeds.

Bowling Green Mayor David Storke, who serves on the policy committee, called the study “a good faith effort” to develop recommendations that will benefit all the participants.

“The most important thing is for the military and localities to sit down at the table and talk together,” said Dorrier. “That’s a real value this study brings.”

Eighty-nine percent of the people who attended the meeting, responding to an electronic survey in which the results were tabulated and displayed for the audience immediately, indicated they owned property or lived near Fort A.P. Hill. In response to other questions, 50 percent indicated that aircraft noise was an occasional issue of concern, and 60 percent said that noise from explosives or firing ranges was a regular or occasional concern. Fifty-nine percent indicated they support economic development near Fort A.P. Hill, and 85 percent support land conservation opportunities near the fort.

Andrea Sweigart, an associate principal for AECOM,  reviewed some of the preliminary information the consulting firm has gathered so far, much of it related to growth trends, existing land uses, operational activities on the fort, and future development.

Among other things, Sweigart noted that Spotsylvania’s population is expected to continue to increase dramatically, and a new Virginia Rail Express station and other development are expected to occur in the area just west of New Post. Other localities involved in the study are expected to experience modest growth except Essex’s population will grow an estimated 16 percent by 2040.

The study group will issue a report on the results of the meetings and consider the comments received as part of the process of developing recommendations.

The next steps will be an analysis of land use compatibility and growth patterns on and off the fort, researching best practices adopted by other military communities in Virginia and elsewhere, evaluating potential recommendations and an implementation strategy.

The study group consists of a policy committee and a working or technical committee. In addition to Taylor and Storke, other members of the policy committee include Port Royal Mayor Nancy Long, Fort A.P. Hill commander Lt. Col. Peter Dargle, and supervisors representing King George, Spotsylvania, and Essex, along with Mike Coleman of the state Department of Veterans Affairs.

The committees have held only a few meetings since the study began in September. Since then, the consultants have largely been in the process of gathering information and data from Army officials and the participating local governments.

A draft report is scheduled to be ready for review in June with a final report to be issued in July-August.

People who wish to comment on the concerns or issues about their community and Fort A.P. Hill may do so via e-mail to fortaphilljlus@aecom.com or regular mail to Stephen Manster, Town of Bowling Green, 117  Butler St., P.O. Box 468, Bowling Green, Va., 22427. Comments are due Feb. 22.

The study group also has a page with information on the Caroline County government website; the page is at www.visitcaroline.com/fortaphilljlus.html.

The study was funded by a $247,000 grant that was provided by the Department of Defense.

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