Our population is expected to grow by about 50%, reaching some 40,000+ residents in a few short years. How will we manage that growth in a way that maintains and leverages the unique qualities that make Fredericksburg so special? Answering that question will involve some controversy, broad public participation and, in the end, difficult decision making.
Our City is a treasure. It is historic. It is youthful. It is a small town with big city amenities, like the University of Mary Washington, Mary Washington Hospital, and our new baseball team and stadium. It is a place where generations of families stay – and newcomers are welcomed. Many intangible aspects combine to create the essence of Fredericksburg that makes it an ideal place to live, play, work, and visit. Our City shines brightly over any other place in Virginia.
I am not anti-development. On the contrary, I believe the right path is intentional and conscientious growth.
Historically, real estate development was handled by the City mostly on a case-by-case basis under “use-based” zoning laws that we know now are inadequate in guiding development’s long-term effect on what makes our City a unique place in Virginia.
Today, the City has launched a form-based code with Small Area Plan overlays. These strategies place more emphasis on the “look and feel” and “human-scale livability” of an area, particularly when properties are redeveloped, achieving positive results that traditional zoning classifications alone cannot.
From 2018 until 2021, I served on the working group that rewrote the Preservation Chapter of the City’s Comprehensive Plan. Stakeholders on the working group included developers, historians, educators, and preservation professionals. I am proud of the good work my colleagues in putting this rewrite together. The new chapter recognizes and leverages the fact that historic preservation, economic development, equitable housing, and tourism are interrelated. Independent analysts have called the new chapter “exceptional”, and I look forward to continuing our efforts at preservation as a means of economic development as our City grows.
We need sensible growth that respects the character of our City and its diverse neighborhoods. It’s about land-use opportunities that appreciate our sense of place by creating clear expectations for developers.
With intense development pressure coming down I-95, we’ll only get one chance to get this right. If we lose what makes our City so special, Fredericksburg will never recover. We’d just be another exurb of Northern Virginia.
I will always advocate for intentional and conscientious growth that respects our unique sense of place. Leadership, vision and careful management of developer expectations are needed. It’s time.