County parks plan to be unveiled

Published 3:02 pm Wednesday, September 10, 2008

COURTLAND—Southampton citizens will get their first chance on Thursday to comment on the completed version of the county’s proposed new Parks and Recreation Plan.

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing at 7:30 p.m. in the Board Room at the county office center to hear citizens’ reaction to the plan, which calls on the residents ultimately to pay taxes or user fees to support new recreational opportunities.

The 25-page proposal, prepared for the county by the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission after months of surveys, public input sessions and staff meetings, lays out five recommendations for taking steps to expand Southampton’s limited recreational offerings.

Leading that list is a recommendation that the county establish a parks and recreation fund “based on a combination of user fees, grants and meals and other taxes, excluding real estate.” The money could be used to fund short-term programs, as well as to help finance the development of recreational infrastructure, the draft plan states.

In a related recommendation, the plan calls on Southampton to develop a capital improvements budget that lays the groundwork for new recreational facilities. Those facilities could include ball fields, picnic shelters and walking trails located near the county’s designated population growth areas, along with “a set of community parks that emphasize water access, open space preservation and protection of high-value conservation lands” in which residents could go boating, fishing, hiking and biking.

The county also should take advantage of existing parks and cultural amenities by connecting them with walking and bike trails.

Any recreation plan adopted by county leaders should focus on providing opportunities for youth sports and activities, with additional attention paid to adult team sports, the plan states.

Planners with the HRPDC learned in a telephone poll that 72 percent of respondents believe the county needs more youth activities. Three-quarters of those polled said they would support the establishment of a parks and recreation fund to help provide those activities.

User fees were the most popular way of raising money, with 68 percent of respondents supporting their establishment. But nearly half, 49 percent, said they would be in favor of using tax money to fund the program.

A final recommendation in the plan is that the county identify a parks and recreation director to oversee the new program.

The plan represents an amendment to Southampton’s comprehensive plan, one of whose goals is the provision of recreational opportunities.

Two more public hearings on Thursday will give planners the chance to gauge public sentiment on the somewhat more-arcane subjects of stormwater management and subdivision standards.

The Stormwater Management Ordinance is intended to create standards that help manage the rainfall runoff that results when growth and development change the ability of the land to absorb water, according to Assistant County Administrator Jay Randolph.

The proposed ordinance sets criteria for water quality around new developments and governs such issues as stream channel erosion and flooding that can occur as the impermeable surfaces of rooftops and parking lots replace woods and fields.

The subdivision ordinance would set standards associated with public and private utilities, transportation systems, easements, pedestrian facilities, the development review process and associated fees.