One hundred people came out to Legacy Hall on Wednesday to learn about James City County’s strategic planning process and offer their input on which goals should be the top priorities.
County staff, representatives from Clarion Associates and members of the Strategic Planning Advisory Group and the Technical Advisory Group were on hand to answer questions during two public open house events, one at 2 p.m. and another at 6 p.m.
The 2 p.m. session had the highest turnout with 55 citizens, while the 6 p.m. turnout was slightly lower with 45, JCC Citizen Outreach Coordinator Latara Branch said.
During both sessions, Leigh Anne King, a principal and planner with Clarion, gave an overview of the planning process and facilitated an anonymous survey of participants. Attendees used clickers to answer questions about their connection to the county, why they attended the meeting and which priorities they thought were the most and least important.
Participants were then encouraged to walk the hall and read panels about the process so far, complete activities and ask questions.
Judy Fuss, a James City County resident of 22 years, said getting involved in the strategic planning process is an extension of the advocacy she has done with the League of Women Voters, the PTA and the now-defunct James City County Citizens Coalition, or J4C.
“There did not seem to be a connection between the comprehensive plan and the Capital Improvement Program and the budget,” Fuss said. “[The strategic plan] seemed like a good way to link all those things together in an effective way.”
Fuss had attended a community stakeholder meeting early in the planning process and had been concerned that education and the protection and conservation of natural resources were not specifically noted in the vision statement. Since then, however, she said she feels they have been addressed.
“I do feel the consultants have been responsive to comments along the way,” Fuss said.
While attendees were mostly ages 50 and over, some younger residents participated in the sessions.
Elizabeth Miller has lived in James City County for two years and works as the associate director of community engagement at William & Mary. She said she came out to the 2 p.m. session to put into practice the community involvement she advocates for her students.
“I want to know what’s going on but also have my own voice in the process,” Miller said.
She participated in an exercise similar to the one completed by the JCC Board of Supervisors in February— given a list of 40 goals for the county, participants were asked to choose the five they consider to be the most important.
Miller said her priorities included a sustainable, long-term water supply; affordable housing; and public safety. She provided a sixth priority – parks and recreation – on a sticky note for staff.
Establishing a sustainable, long-term water supply was selected as the top priority by 24 percent of attendees during the 2 p.m. session, followed by expanding and diversifying the local economy and achieving a fiscally efficient government with 18 percent of the vote each.
Miller said she would encourage residents to give their feedback because the process will affect them.
“This process is happening all around them, whether they’re engaged with it or not,” Miller said. “It’s a question of whether you’re doing it intentionally.”
Former Jamestown Supervisor Jim Icenhour said feedback from residents who are not intentionally engaged, or individuals who do not “self-select,” is lacking in the strategic planning process.
“If you want to look at where the whole population is, do a statistically valid survey,” Icenhour said.
He said is concerned the strategic plan could be shelved and ignored when the county is making budget decisions, but was hopeful this would not be the case.
“This is a good step,” Icenhour said of the strategic plan. “Connecting the comprehensive plan to budget decisions, that’s what we should be doing.”
County Administrator Bryan Hill said the county is looking at ways to reach out to residents they are not “hitting.” In response to Icenhour’s concern about reaching residents who do not self-select, Hill said the county is giving people plenty of options to get involved.
“If you live in a premier community, you should want to be engaged,” Hill said.
Fuss agrees, recalling skepticism from neighbors who asked her why they should bother getting involved.
“If we don’t speak up, there’s no chance our voices are going to be included,” Fuss said.
King said the feedback, including individual comments as articulated, will be posted to the jccstrategy2035.org website. Clarion Associates will analyze the responses for themes and revise the Phase 2 report with community feedback in mind.
Residents can offer comment throughout the five-phase process online at jccstrategy2035.org.
The Phase 2 report will be presented to SPAG and TAG on April 25 and to the Board of Supervisors on May 24.