Out of the mouths of planners
“In 25 years, Virginia is going to look a lot like Florida.”
“We’re like Pokemon Go but with redeeming social value.”
“5G is critical, 4G will collapse under data demands put on it.”

These are just a few of the insights heard at the Virginia chapter of the American Planning Association annual conference in July. And people say conferences are boring. I beg to differ. My head was spinning at the end with information overload but it was good info and great speakers, not to mention an amazing opportunity to meet planners and others involved in planning all over the state.

Virginia residents, below are just a few of the things you should know that are happening or in the works. Even if you’re not a Virginian, some of these issues, such as online residential rentals, definitely cross state borders.

  • Short-term rentals (e.g., AirBNB) may be the front for future zoning battles. Emily Gibson, VP of Legislative and Policy Affairs for the chapter, called it “the lodging version of food trucks” during a legislative recap. Good metaphor as it raises similar issues of competition with brick and mortar businesses (hotels) that face much more regulation. Safety concerns are also being raised – the lack of a fixed location such as a hotel or apartment building hampers enforcement of codes such as unblocked fire exits, working smoke detectors, etc…

The Virginia legislature passed a bill that prohibits local governments from outlawing short-term rentals or subjecting them to the same zoning and licensing laws as hotels, but it did give them some authority, including the ability to require minimum liability insurance and registration. A workgroup will be submitting a report Dec. 1 that could shape future laws.

  • It may be time to start investing in retirement homes – Virginia’s senior population is going to keep growing. In 2010, 13% of the state was over 65; that number will grow to 20% by 2040. The trend I really liked in the presentation from Vlad Gavrilovic is that middle-age seems to be the prime time to become an entrepreneur – half of new startups in 2011 (in the U.S.) were from 45 to 64-year-olds. It’s never too late! And regardless of age, people are demanding walkability and a sense of place so strip malls can start to go the way of New Coke.
  • Northern Virginians are spoiled when it comes to wireless service (my observation) – over 40% of Virginia localities have significant underserved areas and in 23 counties, less than half the households have access to decent speeds (10 Mbps or better). (CityScape, Broadband Activity Report) Surprisingly, some of these slow zones are not very far from well-covered areas like Richmond or Fairfax.

And, the current system for those who enjoy good service is getting fried. Wireless subscribers in the U.S. used almost 10 trillion megabytes of data last year, more than double what they consumed in 2014 (Fortune, May 2016). So we should all stop checking e-mail from our phone every 5 minutes. Or sharing cat videos. But given reality…a workgoup comprised of lawmakers, industry and local government representatives is reviewing the process for siting new technology to facilitate higher speed transmission. From the looks of the amendments to this bill that was later withdrawn, it’s complicated.

  • A new proffer law is already affecting what local governments are accepting from developers to address community concerns about a new development (think traffic calming, tree buffers for noise). As a writer and former bill drafter, the wording for this law almost had me reaching for the aspirin. It says a local government can’t request or accept an unreasonable proffer. I get a ban on requesting something unreasonable, but accepting? And then the definition of unreasonable is another quagmire. The upshot is that bennies like affordable housing trust funds could disappear, even if the developer was willing to do it. We haven’t heard the last of this issue.
  • Last but not least, a really cool app called Traipse from planner Darren Smith enables you to tour a city and provides a puzzle that can only be answered at a local business. As a small biz supporter, I just love that.

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