Bennett, Wendell Rip Apart Town Comprehensive Plan

Cape Charles Wave

April 13, 2015

After over two years and close to $8,000 in consultant fees, the Cape Charles Planning Commission produced an updated Comprehensive Plan and submitted it for review by Town Council. But at the April 7 joint Town Council/Planning Commission meeting, two Council members, Steve Bennett and Frank Wendell, proceeded to rip the Plan apart.

Providing a summary overview of the draft Plan, consultant Elaine Meil of the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission said there were 50 major changes to the document, including references to the new hospital, the 2010 census, and IRS zip code data, and VDOT review. The Planning Commission also included some facilities changes, as well as major new property acquisitions by the town including the new library and the seven lots purchased from Dickie Foster.

Missing from the document, however was the major property the town divested — namely, the old high school, which was at the time assessed at over $900,000, and which the town sold for $10 after performing a spot rezoning to R-3 in an R-1 (single family) zone.

In regard to the required VDOT review, Mayor George Proto voiced concern that Mason Avenue could need to be widened, which could affect the “very walkable” character of the town. “That is not in the offing,” responded Assistant Town Manager Bob Panek. Since Mason Avenue has a width of 22 feet from the center line to the parking areas, it falls well within the VDOT range, and will not require modifications, Panek said.

“This is some good work,” offered Proto. “I’m pleased — but I would like to have seen more detail.”

“Well, we attempted to use a broad brush,” replied Councilwoman Natali, who also serves on the Planning Commission. “We tried not to be specific.”

“We’re talking about the future,” noted Planning Commission member Andy Buchholz.

Then Councilman Steve Bennett began his attack, criticizing the overall quality, professionalism, and style of the document. “I just wish the writing was more . . . it’s just not progressive,” he said.

“I find it hard to read,” agreed Planning Commission member Dan Burke. “I don’t think anyone in town is going to read this thing, I’ll tell you that.”


“I took me a couple of times,” Bennett said. “I have at least 50 things I’ve found wrong in here — I just don’t know where to begin.” But begin he did, starting with page 70, where the document talks about the need to expand wastewater facilities. “You’re talking about something that occurred several years ago already?”

“You know,” injected Proto. “I would have liked also to see more of our accomplishments listed.”

Natali, responding to Bennett’s criticism, asked him, “What you are asking for is a separate document, not a Comprehensive Plan. Are you asking for a separate document?”

BENNETT: “And you — you put things in but you don’t define them, like COMPLETE STREET, which is in all caps, but you don’t say what that is.“

Bennett also wanted to know why references to beach safety and the breakwaters were phrased in the future. “We’re doing that now, right? Establish a community center? Aren’t we sitting in one now?” [The meeting took place in the old library, now called the Civic Center.]

COUNCIL MEMBER CHRIS BANNON: “The library . . . functions as the community center.”

BUCHHOLZ: “Well, community centers usually have games, and you can’t do that in the library.”

AUDIENCE MEMBER: “Like basketball?”

COUNCIL MEMBER FRANK WENDELL: “You mention needing more space for the library, but how did you come to that determination? What is the goal, the strategy? It seems like now, everyone has a virtual library on their phone or computer.”

PLANNING COMMISSIONER BURKE: “The roles of traditional libraries have been de-emphasized.”

BUCHHOLZ: “We’re talking about the future. If the town has 12-13,000 [population], and it will someday, we will need a bigger space.”

WENDELL: “So, we spend $250,000, and a year later, we’re out of space already? What is the strategy, the goal there?”

NATALI: “All we’re saying is to monitor the situation, to take a pulse.”

Ironically, when the citizens group offered to purchase the old high school with plans to use it for the new library, among other things, it was turned down by Friends of the Library, library staff, and their supporters on Town Council, who said that it would be too large, and there would be no way to monitor staff activity.

BENNETT: “Again, this just goes to [show] you have no defined goals or strategies here. There needs to be a short-, mid- and long-term strategy to this.”

WENDELL: “I see you have R-3 districts listed here. Where are they?” There was silence for several seconds, until Panek instructed Town Planner Larry DiRe to look up the zoning code on R-3.

MAYOR PROTO: “While they look that up, I’d like to address page 26, about keeping the town clean. This is very important to me. There are properties in town that I feel need more attention, but I’ve heard the town has no power to do anything about it.”

PANEK: “It’s all up to code. If it meets code, well — I mean, how do you define quality? It doesn’t mean everyone has to have granite counter tops.”

PROTO: “Is there any way to control it? I support this, but how do we do it?”

(Before Proto became mayor, the town failed to follow its own maintenance code and intentionally allowed the earlier mentioned high school to fall into disrepair. That eventually led to legal action against the Mayor and Town Council which cost over $90,000 to settle.)

WENDELL: “Is there even a strategy here [in the Comp Plan]? “It would seem you would match your strategy to your goals. Is this a strategy or personal wish list? The Rosenwald School — you want to purchase it . . . for the goal of obtaining more private property? What is the strategy that makes getting it strategic?”

NATALI: “Since it is on the way to Bay Creek. The thought was to make it a stop off, or park area.”

WENDELL: “That was before you dropped a big wastewater plant right beside it.”

PROTO: “I think that by purchasing property, we can control what happens to it — protect it against development that is not in the best interest of the town.”

Proto did not mention that a more common means of municipal control over development is through zoning and ordinances rather than public purchase of private property.

WENDELL: “Does anyone know where R-3 is? Is it a district, or is each property an R-3 zone?”

PLANNING COMMISSIONER MIKE STRAMM: “R-3 is multi-family residential.”

WENDELL: “I know what it is, but where is it?”

After some hushed consultation, the consensus was that the Bay Creek PUD (Planned Unit Development) was R-3, along with possibly the Fairways, and possibly the Rosenwald School.

BENNETT: “It says one of the goals is Light Rail. I can’t imagine — not in a million years, will we see light rail in Cape Charles. We’re supposed to be moving forward. Most of this is irrelevant.”

Given the amount of erroneous data and mistakes contained in the document, the consensus of Town Council was that members should compile a list of desired changes, to be reviewed at a later date.



2 Responses to “Bennett, Wendell Rip Apart Town Comprehensive Plan”

  1. Thomas D. Giese on April 14th, 2015 9:35 pm

    I have been trying to get investors for my subway system idea for Cape Charles for years. I received the same negative reaction as the light rail idea. When are we going to wake to the reality that we are a growing town with a limited road network? Our streets are already clogged with traffic. Just last week I saw four cars AT THE SAME TIME on Bay Avenue!

  2. Dana Lascu on April 15th, 2015 12:13 am

    Dr. Giese is right: we need a reliable subway system, at least from the pier to the Seabreeze Far Rockaway. And light rail to Bay Creek, with an intermediate stop at the Shanty, with weekend night service for the inebriated masses.