Two groups on opposite sides of a contentious issue made their opinions known at last week’s Chesterfield Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting. The issue was whether or not the county should adopt “Bikeways & Trails” a new chapter of “Moving Forward…The Comprehensive Plan for Chesterfield County.” The BOS voted 3-2 in favor of adopting the chapter.
Comments made by citizens during the meeting equaled 61 with 45 asking for approval and 16 asking that the planning chapter not be approved.
The discussion leading up to the public meeting, which would determine if the bikeways & trails chapter would be added to the comprehensive plan, played out in workshops, community and review meetings beginning in January 2014. After a number of revisions, the bike/trail plan, was a approved by the Planning Commission on October 20 on a 4-1 vote.
The BOS got the draft plan in September and voted to require additional community meetings. Six meetings were held through November 12.
Six days after the last community meeting the Board was ready to hear from citizens during their November 18 public meeting. The case came at the end of the night when those wishing to make a comment about the plan lined the walls on each side of the meeting room.
At least two different groups gathered signatures on petitions and presented them to the BOS prior to the meeting: Sports Backers, over 1,100 in favor of the plan and the Patriots, 614 signatures from citizens who are not in favor. Both asked that citizens attend the BOS meeting to express their opinion. In addition to these surveys the Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce endorsed the plan chapter.
Heather Barrar, Chesterfield principal planner, who headed the compilation of information for the Bikeways & Trails chapter of the Comprehensive Plan noted during her presentation to the BOS that trails have been included in the comprehensive plan since 1989. One statistic she shared was the “number of bicycle and pedestrian crashes over the last 13 years; we had 1,000 crashes.
Thirty-seven have died while walking in Chesterfield County and three have died bicycling.” She said more have occurred in urban and suburban areas such as along Jefferson Davis Highway and Hull Street.
Three children of the Alejo family, third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students voiced their family’s supportive opinion. The older of the three said, “I ride my bike from my school drop off place at Central Library because there is a decent amount of sidewalk between my home and county government trails at the government complex. When I ride home I can’t go a day without seeing a biker or jogger and just like me they are in danger of being hit by a car because there are not enough bikeways and trails to accommodate their needs.”
At least one Matoaca resident was against the plan. “What a number of people and you find Supervisors do is to pass an empty plan and fill the cost and details in later,” said Fred DeMay. “Because there is so little information available on the cost and funding of this project, I put together this cost scenario with information from the Chesterfield Observer and the Richmond Times-Dispatch: if this plan is implemented over a period of 20 years at a cost of over $360 million, it would have an average cost of $18 million a year according to the county.” He continued that the cost should be borne by the private sector and those who use the facilities.
Just before Dorothy Jaeckle, Bermuda District Supervisor, made the motion to approve, she spoke to clarify some misconceptions brought forward by some speakers. “There were couple of speakers that mentioned the sidewalks we have voted on today. Just like every project it had to go through the board, to be on the list [of projects], then it has to go through the board in a public hearings as part of the design. Then it went out to the community for input, if it affected property owners it had to go to the board for a vote and then it still went on a list of projects, and when it was finally funded, it had to go through a public hearing, and a board vote. Every project on this plan will have to go through what every project goes through. We cannot do all this work without a lot more public input.”
In support of the plan a Matoaca resident spoke. “I came here to work for one of the largest businesses in the county. It is extremely difficult for us to draw high level people to this area because the amenities aren’t there. We don’t have the amenities; we don’t have a vision and we can look at our safety record and see we have issues,” Jason Swarek said. “We need to have these things [bikes/trails] to have a successful county.”
Julie Branson addressed the Board to offer her lack of support for the plan chapter, “This plan as a vision is foolish.”
Dale District Supervisor, Jim Holland, agreed with Jaeckle that we have to have a plan. “The failure to plan is way too costly.”