Don’t let it float away from you

Warm weather is back, at least for some number of days, which has given me an excuse to stare blankly at the sky without too much notice. It’s what you do as part of embracing nature during the extraordinary days leading up to spring. You know, if you watch the wispy clouds that come and go on such glorious days, it’s hard to really see them move much. They just sort of languish, and to see them make any progress across the sky is like watching paint dry. But just turn away for a few minutes and when you look back you’ll see they’ve moved on.

No, I’ve not turned into a flower child and decided to make a pilgrimage to Machu Picchu, but I want to point out that metaphorically, watching the clouds move and watching the wheels of government turn are much the same.

Anytime you’re waiting for something to happen, time ticks by excruciatingly slow. Consider the high-speed rail that will add to the footprint of rail through southeastern Chesterfield. When archeologists blew through here as part of the Tier-II environmental study and then released their findings along with early plans, we could see the clouds move, and a burst of questions, concerned agreement and outrage ensued. It looked as if trains would be flashing through Chester at any minute. But, by the midterm elections, it looks as if the train has slowed and we can imagine the project proceeding for many years.

State projects seem to go a little quicker, but are tied much closer to the economy. Projects like road improvements can be funded and cut at the drop of a hat. Look at VDOT’s six-year transportation plan. It used to be loaded with projects, one coming to your road curve or dangerous intersection soon. But then came the money crunch, and as budgets tightened so went projects, until few were left that didn’t have the help of local dollars or federal funding. Case in point: The Meadowville interchange or the widening of Route 10 east of Interstate 95. Both are loaded with federal and local funding. But both will have an important impact on the area.

As we’ve seen, the sky changes slowly when it comes to federal or state projects and turning away from them for a minute probably won’t make much difference when it comes to letting your voice be heard. But locally, things can change in a drop of a vote by county supervisors and making a difference in the end product is so much simpler, sometimes just a phone call away.

We as citizens can get complacent and develop a mentality that there is nothing we can do. But locally our voice is loud and we have so much influence. While the clouds do move swiftly across the sky of a government schedule, if you pay attention, there is a better chance to change the outcome of any change on the horizon.

Take the recent conditional use application to operate a tattoo parlor at the Watertower Shopping Center on Iron Bridge Road. There was a small group of local residents who plugged in late, but due to the squeakiness of their wheels, they slowed the system, which forced the man out of business and he dropped the case. No more tats in Chester. Their action made a difference. The same group is now moving on the proposed Waffle House project being planned for the same general area. That project is a little different and will be really difficult to stop, but the residents may have a chance to alter the appearance of the building, signage and so forth. And just that move may convince the Waffle House folks that the changes requested by residents will be too expensive, forcing them to abandon the project.

I have seen many instances in which organizations, businesses, developers and residents have affected change. But it requires diligence on the part of anyone who wants to assure that the community changes in appropriate ways.

That brings us to the new countywide comprehensive plan. Have you attended a community meeting to find out what it’s all about? Have you looked online at the 210-page draft document?

There are plans for the future that will have long term consequences for our community. If you want to get involved, now is the time to act. Please participate. There are pieces of the plan to love, but there are also pieces of the plan that bear questioning. I believe that those who have put this plan together have our best interests in mind, but they don’t live in our neighborhoods, they don’t frequent our businesses, and, while they have put the best planning minds to work, many live 100 miles away.

The devil is in the local details. You need to see the details before the plan – something you have some power over – has drifted away like those wispy clouds on a beautiful afternoon. The Chester Community Association will hold a comprehensive plan information and comment session with county planners on March 8 at the Chester Methodist Church on School Street in Chester.

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