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Planners Recommend Approval For Comp Plan

South Boston planners voted unanimously Wednesday to recommend approval of the controversial Comprehensive Plan 2030, but with amendments, including language designed to reinforce protection of Riverdale businesses located in the floodway along U.S. 501.

The planning commission also recommended approval of minor changes made to the plan by VDOT that were administrative in nature, according to South Boston Town Manager Ted Daniel.

Planners also recommended approval of a sentence added to the plan that reads, “It is intended that any future gateway improvements or median on Highway 501 South would be coordinated closely with area businesses and that appropriate engineering and design studies would be undertaken to minimize impact on any existing business operations.”

Daniel told planners that the wording is consistent with the process that the town must follow in amending its long-range 20-year transportation plan and urban system six-year transportation plan.

“There is no work even contemplated for 501 in the Riverdale area in either plan.  Any changes to them must be vetted through a comprehensive public hearing [process],” he said in an e-mail.

Riverdale merchant Bunny Propst had contacted Daniel following the public hearing on the comp plan, asking that the tree-lined median strip in Route 501 depicted in the long-range concept be deleted.

She and other merchants along the 501 corridor had originally asked at that public hearing that the long term concept for the 501 corridor - from the Watkins Bridge to the 501-58 intersection – be deleted.

That long-range concept calls for the town to buy out property owners as they decide to sell and also calls for the area to be transformed into a wetlands park, complete with walking trails and landscaping.

Riverdale merchants had expressed support for the short-term concept for Riverdale, which includes streetlights and landscaping improvements, among other things.
Propst appeared mollified by planners’ actions Wednesday but still expressed her frustrations with the process.

“I don’t know the rules for this and thought the public hearing was where the public had their say,” she said.

“I didn’t know we were supposed to call in the month following the public hearing and give our say again, which is the only reason I’m here tonight.

“I could have gotten 50 people here tonight, but I didn’t, and my whole intent tonight, since I have had no luck at all getting the long term charette taken off and the short term charette to replace it, is trying to tell you one of the main things that scares us as merchants and business owners in Riverdale is this divided highway.

“I’ll ask one more time if you have no intention of doing that, and if it’s just a concept, to appease a bunch of folks who evidently aren’t smart enough to do anything else, could you delete just that one picture.

“We would be thrilled to death and act like we’ve accomplished something in 10 months.”

Daniel responded by saying that he knew from a funding standpoint, the median strip would be low priority.

“Storm water and sidewalk improvements in Riverdale would have higher priority than a median strip,” the town manager explained.

He added the language added to the comprehensive plan regarding any changes to the 501 corridor in Riverdale meant the intent of what Propst was looking for and would “double obligate” the town to coordinate with the businesses before anything is done to 501 in Riverdale.

The Comprehensive Plan 2030 includes action concepts/plans for three focus areas in South Boston, including the Riverdale area, the North Main St. residential neighborhood south of John Hamilton Blvd., and the area surrounding the Higher Education Center.

While assuring Propst and Riverdale merchants that they would have an opportunity for input before any proposed changes were made to 501, planners said further that, in a broader sense, those same opportunities would be presented to citizens in other areas if changes were considered under the plan.

“It’s more broad than Riverdale, and anyone would have an opportunity to have input,” said planning commission member Roger Long.

As a result of Wednesday’s recommendation, South Boston Town Council is now charged with either approving the Comprehensive Plan as amended, or sending it back to the planning commission for further study.

At the end of Wednesday’s meeting, Chairman George Leonard and Vice-Chairman Brian Cheever were elected by acclamation for additional terms on the planning commission.