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Fort study nears draft recommendations

Posted on Friday, June 14, 2013 at 11:15 am

MILFORD – The Joint Land Use Study involving Fort A.P. Hill and neighboring localities is nearing the point when it will issue draft recommendations for consideration.

Some proposed recommendations are generating concern both for the fort and its neighbors, as evidenced by a recent meeting of the two standing committees that are moving the study forward.

Led by AECOM, a consulting firm, the study is being conducted by the fort, the towns of Bowling Green and Port Royal, and the counties of Caroline, Essex, King George, and Spotsylvania. The study is being funded a Department of Defense grant used to pay AECOM for its services. It began several months ago and ostensibly would results in recommendations for increased cooperation between the fort and its neighbors.

The two panels, a policy committee and technical committee, met June 5 to consider tentative recommendations and tweak them further based on input from the participants.

Some call for nothing more than increasing or improving communications related to training activities on the Army installation and its process for handling complaints.

Others, however, although they are still in stages of being reviewed and revised into final draft form, are likely to generate controversy.

For example, a pending recommendation calls for pursuing a change in state law in order to allow localities to establish “noise overlay zones,” a planning tool that would enable local governments to enforce building regulations designed to offset loud noise from military installations.

“This is remarkably directive,” Jim Heimbach, a member of the Port Royal Town Council, said when the panels met this week. “Do we want to commit that we are going to try to get an amendment?”

Mike Finchum, director of planning and community development for Caroline County, noted that the establishment of noise overlay zones “applies a proscriptive approach outside the base.”

The zones and enforcement of related building regulations would “impose a cost on people outside the base to mitigate noise,” added Finchum. Any such recommendation would have to identify “who can pay for it,” he suggested.

In addition, noise overlay zones and building regulations could impact people who are trying to sell property, Finchum observed. That could affect sellers as well as tax assessments, he noted, “which we need to be cognizant of from the county’s perspective.”

“The devil’s still in the details,” he said.

Caroline Supervisor Calvin Taylor hesitated to endorse the recommendation. “I don’t know how” the full Board of Supervisors would view such a recommendation, he said, adding, “It’s kind of difficult to take a stand.”

A noise overlay zone is “not going to increase” property values, suggested Heimbach.

“I’ve got concerns,” added Heimbach.

Richard Dorrier, a vice president and principal for AECOM, the consulting firm that has a contract to help facilitate and perform the study, noted that individual localities do not have to pursue enabling legislation to allow establishment of noise overlay zones.

Two other recommendations sparked considerable debate and discussion. One would establish a committee to include local elected officials and the fort commander “to discuss community, fort and other compatibility issues” on a regular basis. Another calls for the development of a memorandum of understanding to define regional coordination with the fort and consultation procedures.

Fort commander Lt. Col. Peter Dargle said he liked the idea of the committee although he acknowledged that developing an MOU that all the participating localities could agree to may “present challenges.”

However, Bowling Green Town Manager Stephen Manster suggested the study group’s two committees should move forward with trying to craft an MOU – not simply recommend the formation of a committee that would be tasked with doing the job later. It would not be “the best track we can take” if the study essentially results only in a recommendation to form a committee, he said. An MOU should focus on establishing a process for future joint cooperation, he suggested.

Heimbach and Gary Skinner, a member of the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors, agreed.

“It’s not exactly a sign of progress,” said Heimbach, if a committee is the only result of the study. An MOU would provide a framework for cooperation, he said.

The MOU “doesn’t have to deal with the nitty-gritty” right now, said Skinner. “Keep it simple.”

The committee would provide an opportunity for representatives of the localities to meet regularly with fort officials and exchange information, said Manster. “That opportunity is important to us.”

Nevertheless, Manster suggested the committees should work on drafting the MOU, which could lead to the establishment of some kind of regional cooperative body – not vice-versa.

The pending recommendations are grouped in eight categories: coordination, communication, Fort A.P. Hill operations, economic development, utilities and services, legislation, community development and planning, and conservation.

The draft report was expected to be sent to the panels later this month, and feedback would be due to the consultants by mid-July. The working committee is scheduled to reconcile the feedback and draft recommendations July 18, and the draft report would be released to the public in early August.

That will spur a series of public meetings both to distribute information about the report and receive public comments before the final plan issued Sept. 30. The final report would be presented to the governing bodies of the participating localities beginning in October.