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The Planning Commission at Work

Citizen Planning Academies

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Virginia law requires each locality within the state to prepare and adopt a comprehensive or master plan. Despite the mandate to plan, the Virginia Code is silent as to what localities should do to help citizens understand planning and the planning process. Indeed, the Code is void of any reference, requirement, or suggestion that would help Virginians understand the complexities associated with comprehensive community planning. A check of your state planning enabling law will likely yield a similar result.

One of the major challenges facing most communities, and their planning boards, is how to explain planning and the planning process in terms citizens can understand.

Each October, Virginia Tech co-sponsors a three-day training institute for planning commissioners. During the 1995 program, we featured a session entitled “Does Virginia Need a Citizen’s Planning Academy?” Our goal was to describe a way of allowing citizens to learn about planning in a non-threatening environment (i.e., outside the context of a heated public hearing). Two county planning commissions took up the challenge and, in the fall of 1996, sponsored citizen planning academies (CPAs).

The balance of this article will highlight the approaches taken by King George County and Hanover County in developing their CPAs (which I was fortunate to have been able to assist with). I hope this will give you some “food for thought” about the use of CPAs as one approach to educating and involving members of the public in community planning. …

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