WINFIELD -- The Putnam County Commission unanimously approved its comprehensive plan on Tuesday, but not without questions on some of the document’s assertions.
The more than 100-page plan sets goals for the county’s unincorporated portions plus the towns of Bancroft, Buffalo and Poca, which use the county’s planning commission as their own. Putnam hasn’t created such a plan since 1991.
The vote comes after about four years of work and 27 public meetings. John Butterworth, a county planner, told commissioners Tuesday that about 50 residents total attended the various workshops, some of which only five or six people attended. The most-attended workshop, at Mountain View Elementary School, had around 20 people. There were also “stakeholder meetings” with individuals and organizations like the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce.
Butterworth said the plan focuses on the county’s development priorities and said it could guide the county in how to incentivize developers to, for instance, build sidewalks to better connect neighborhoods to one another. The plan’s adoption does not put into effect any new zoning ordinances, and Butterworth said it doesn’t mandate developers to do anything beyond current regulations.
“Our ordinances are not full of sticks,” he said. “We don’t try to bludgeon the private sector at all.”
The plan states in part that the county must address a lack of affordable and multi-family housing, including assisted living centers. Ninety percent of housing units in the county are occupied, according to the plan, and traditional homes can be too expensive for young, old and disabled individuals and families with a single income raising children. Butterworth said planning staff heard about the lack of housing options most loudly in Buffalo but also in the Mountain View Elementary School meeting.
“This demand and subsequent scarcity has caused prices to increase and made independent living more difficult for some residents,” the plan states. It adds that a substantial portion of single-family housing growth in the past 15 years has been in upper price ranges. Many new housing units are catering to new residents who tend to be richer, and their larger and more luxurious homes are driving up costs.
“The county does not want to face a future where moderate wage-earners are ‘priced out’ of the housing market,” the plan states. Residents have expressed a “deep need” for cheaper options, and while the document notes median gross rent in Putnam is $668 compared to $871 nationwide, 40 percent of renters spend more than 30 percent of their household income on it. The plan also notes that “cul-de-sac style development” has led to much housing requiring a vehicle for transportation.
Even though Putnam’s median household income is $53,640, about 12 percent of families with children under 18 are poor. The plan suggests creating incentives for new housing units to connect to existing development, increasing options for non-vehicular transportation and expanding utilities to foster lower-cost homes,
Commissioner Steve Andes, who won the May 13 Republican primary for re-election and faces no Democratic opponent in the general election, challenged the notion that there’s a lack of affordable and assisted living housing.
“What price points are they talking about?” Andes said, adding that there are a lot of duplexes throughout the county. In response to a line about affordability clearly being a struggle for some residents, he said, “That may be, but they make that decision. I mean, it’s their choice to spend more than 30 percent [of household income on housing].”
Andes asked if the plan took into account the ongoing Devonshire development in Teays Valley, which was advertised in February as including “a state-of-the-art assisted living and memory care community” of 64 assisted-living and 24 memory-care units on about 4 acres. Cathcart Group, Devonshire’s Virginia-based developer, stated it strongly believed the center “will fill a huge void of senior housing options currently within the area.”
Butterworth responded that the plan did take the development into account and called it a “shining example of this goal.” Andes received a $1,000 primary campaign donation from Rip Cathcart, chairman of Cathcart Group. When asked by the Gazette whether that clouded his judgment about whether there is a lack of assisted living, he said no.
Andes said that, despite having questions, he thinks the plan is good overall. He said he does not support more zoning changes or the county building assisted living, adding that the private sector should handle any lack of housing.
“If there’s a market for more homes,” he said, “they’re going to build them.”
Reach Ryan Quinn at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1254.