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After taking up the post of Pittsylvania County Community Development Director just over six months ago, Emily Ragsdale is looking to make sweeping changes to planning and zoning that will benefit Pittsylvania County and its citizens.
“Creating more modern zoning regulations and processes will simplify things for our citizens and ensure that Pittsylvania County sticks to its strategic plan for the future,” Ragsdale said.
Community Development oversees zoning, strategic and comprehensive planning, and building inspections, among other things. Before Emily came on board in April, Pittsylvania County did not have a community development director, instead relying on one of the two assistant county administrators to oversee the department.
Two of the biggest changes that Ragsdale is looking to make are updating Pittsylvania County’s comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance—both of which are extremely outdated. The current comprehensive plan, which is in essence a roadmap of where Pittsylvania County wants to go in areas like economic development, public safety, parks and recreation, and many other sectors that impact the community, was adopted in 2010. A review was done in 2015 but no changes were made.
"The comprehensive plan is really a full overview of the county and provides a map of where we want to go,” Ragsdale said. “So having an up-to-date vision is essential for guiding all of our collective efforts to better Pittsylvania County moving forward."
After its adoption in 1991, the zoning ordinance, which governs what types of things can be done on certain properties, has received minor updates every five years since then but remains outdated and oftentimes inefficient. No comprehensive updates have been done on the zoning ordinance since it was adopted.
"What we're finding is there are a lot of holes in our ordinance,” Ragsdale said. "Zoning is a very black and white process. That's how zoning should be. There should not be any gray area."
A few recommendations Ragsdale put forth in the short term include making the regulations for solar projects more consistent and requiring all members of the Board of Zoning Appeals and Planning Commission – the two boards that work with citizens and businesses who need their properties rezoned or a special use permit – to get certified in order to receive better pay. Both of these recommendations were approved by the Legislative Committee last week and will go before the full Board of Supervisors for approval on Oct. 20.
Ragsdale has proposed that the county begin developing a new comprehensive plan in the next fiscal year, a process that would take an estimated 12 months. Once that roadmap is established, staff and consultants would begin a complete revision of the zoning ordinance, which would include many discussions and meetings with citizens and stakeholders and take about 18 months.
"it's going to be a long drawn-out process, it's not going to be an easy process, but it's something that we need to do,” Ragsdale said.
County Administrator David Smitherman is thrilled with the strategic improvements that Ragsdale is looking to make in community development, planning, and zoning.
“Emily is taking steps to improve the way that Pittsylvania County does business, thinks about and prepares for the future, and works with property owners to ensure great customer service and that all citizens enjoy equitable treatment," he said.