David Tickner (left) sits beside Dr. Diane Zahm during the Town of Fincastle’s Planning Commission meeting Monday night.
Photo by Aila Boyd

In preparation for the Town of Fincastle’s Comprehensive Plan, which it plans to complete later this year, the town has enlisted the assistance of Dr. Diane Zahm, an associate professor in the urban affairs and planning program at Virginia Tech, and her students.

Zahm will be helping the town draft and administer a community survey, which will ultimately guide the town’s Comprehensive Plan.

Zahm met with members of the town’s Planning Commission on Monday night in order to establish a plan for how the town should proceed.

The Commission seemed to settle on the idea that the survey should be given to town residents in April. The month of June will be used to compile and study the survey results. The Comprehensive Plan is slated to come out sometime in November.

One of the complicating factors for the community survey, and ultimately the Comprehensive Plan, is that the town underwent a boundary adjustment last year for the first time since the town’s founding in 1772.

Because of the decision to expand the town’s boundaries, the town decided to halt work on revising the Comprehensive Plan and simply re-adopted the previous one in order to be in compliance of state code, which stipulates that municipalities have to review their comprehensive plans every five years.

Despite the fact that the Comprehensive Plan was re-adopted without revision, the town sent out a community survey in early 2017.

During the meeting on Monday, Zahm and members of the Commission reviewed the results of the 2017 survey, which was made available to citizens via paper copies and online.

One of the things the survey focused heavily on was demographics, something that David Tickner, town manager, noted would not have to be focused on as much in the upcoming survey.

One of the striking data points in the 2017 survey was that 64.7 percent of the respondents did not live within town limits. A map was provided to respondents of the survey in order to allow them to determine whether or not they were in fact residents of the town. One of the possible reasons for the high number of out of town respondents that was mentioned was that people who have Fincastle postal addresses, but don’t technically reside within town limits, might have responded.

Another reason discussed for the 64.7 percent figure was that people who weren’t technically residents then, but who are now following the boundary adjustment might have responded.

Zahm also shared sample survey questions that her students drafted. She noted that open-ended questions are “great,” but stipulated that “because a lot of people don’t know what to say, the framing of questions helps.”

Ideas generated by the students included questions about population demographics, history and historic character of the town, growth and development, quality of life and comprehensive plan engagement.

Zahm explained that ideally the survey will consist of 10 to 12 questions. She said that if there are more than 10 questions posed in the survey, there’s a higher likelihood that people will only respond to the first few questions or none at all.

Several options for how the survey will be administered were discussed. Considering that students from Virginia Tech will be involved, they could go door to door in order to gather feedback. In the end, the general consensus seemed to be that the delivery method used for the 2017 survey should be replicated.

Following the review of the results of the survey sometime in June, the Planning Commission will hold visioning sessions. The sessions will allow the Planning Commission to get a better understanding of what direction citizens would like for the town to go in.

Members of the Planning Commission agreed to start thinking about what types of questions they would like included on the survey. The goal they set for themselves was to come up with 10 different types of questions they would like to see included, which will allow them to start thinking about specific wording at the next meeting.

The next Planning Commission meeting is scheduled for Feb. 4 at 6 p.m. at the town office.