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Responsible Regionalism | PC Draft

Vision: In 2040, the region will plan, act, and promote itself cohesively, with consideration of each community’s political autonomy and social identity. Each community lends its unique assets and resources to developing the region’s economy and quality of life. The region will work together to provide exceptional educational opportunities and public services at the regional level. The region will see more success because it began to compete economically as a unified entity.


Regionalism is the idea that the city should work with its neighbors as a unit that thrives from collective strengths. Roanoke has worked with its neighboring localities on numerous fronts over the years.  From solid waste management to utilities to public safety, there are many ways Roanoke works with Roanoke County, Vinton, Salem and others to achieve the efficiency and cost savings of providing services at the regional level.

Independent Cities

The Commonwealth of Virginia makes cooperation challenging for its cities and counties. With each city being like a county within a county, Virginia’s unique system of independent cities puts its cities in direct competition with surrounding counties. The system enables suburban counties to reap the benefits of the infrastructure and economic activity of cities and avoid sharing in the responsibilities. Counties have little incentive to cooperate with independent cities within their boundaries. Moreover, since 1976, cities have not been able to capture the growth that counties create through annexation. The system has seriously stunted the economic growth potential of cities to the point that some are considering reversion to towns. Roanoke considered consolidation with Roanoke County in the 1980s. Despite strong support in the city, consolidation did not happen because the referendum failed in Roanoke County.

Action by the Virginia General Assembly would be required to modify the nature of the relationship between cities and counties to facilitate regionalism. While such action is unlikely, it is important for people to understand this structural obstacle to our prosperity.

The Impact of Virginia’s Annexation Moratorium

In 1950, Roanoke was the third largest city in Virginia behind Norfolk and Richmond. Roanoke’s population peaked in the mid-1970’s at about 106,000 with most growth resulting from annexation of urbanizing areas of Roanoke County. Population began declining in the 1970’s as household sizes got smaller. Modest growth trends returned in 2010.  Today, Roanoke is not significantly more populous than it was in 1950.

Meanwhile, similarly situated cities to our south have grown rapidly since 1950. Back then, Charlotte was the only North Carolina city larger than Roanoke.  Norfolk and Richmond were much larger than Charlotte. Since then, North Carolina allowed its cities to capture the economic activity they generate.  Meanwhile, Virginia is closing in on a half century moratorium on annexation.  Today, nine North Carolina cities are larger than Roanoke, five are larger than Richmond, and three are larger than Norfolk.  Charlotte is larger than Roanoke, Richmond, and Norfolk combined.

What is the region? 

During the planning process there was discussion about what constitutes our region. There was a consensus that the Roanoke region encompasses the area shown here. Other ways to define the region include:

Despite the structural barriers imposed by Virginia’s peculiar independent city system, there are many examples of collaboration among the Valley’s governments:

  • Tranportation planning through the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization
  • Fire/EMS mutual aid agreements (Roanoke, Roanoke County, Salem)
  • Libraries (Roanoke and Roanoke County)
  • Water and sanitary sewer services through the Western Virginia Water Authority (Roanoke, Roanoke County, Franklin County, Botetourt County)
  • Solid waste management through the Roanoke Valley Resource Authority (Roanoke, Roanoke County, and Vinton)
  • Air transportation through the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport Commission
  • Marketing through Virginia’s Blue Ridge
  • Economic Development through Roanoke Regional Partnership (Roanoke, Roanoke County, Vinton, Alleghany, Botetourt, Franklin, Covington, Salem)
  • Industrial site development through Western Regional Industrial Facilities Authority: Botetourt County, Franklin County, Roanoke County, Roanoke, Salem,Vinton)
  • Internet accessibility through Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority:  (Salem, Roanoke, Roanoke County and Botetourt County)

Priority One: Regional Collaboration

Existing organizations like the Roanoke Regional Partnership and Virginia’s Blue Ridge work to create a regional identity and branding for the Roanoke Valley. Generally, these efforts should be continued and expanded as appropriate.

Action Items:

  • Support regional marketing by Virginia’s Blue Ridge
  • Continue to support the Roanoke Regional Partnership’s outdoors branding work

Establish and maintain regular communication opportunities between regional governments so issues of regional importance and responsibility are considered.

Action Items:

  • The planning commissions of the region’s governments should convene annually to discuss issues of mutual concern and identify areas for collaboration
  • Establish regular staff-level meetings among departmental peers in Roanoke County, Salem, and Vinton to establish and maintain relationships, discuss common issues and identify ways to collaborate on improved services for citizens

As cited above, there are numerous examples of collaboration. There are many opportunities for new collaborations, particularly in these areas:

  • Locally-managed programs that are state-mandated and are uniform in each locality. Examples include administration of building and development codes, stormwater management, codes and erosion control codes.
  • Services that are distributed geographically, such as public safety services, development inspection services, solid waste collection, stormwater utilities, parks and recreation
  • Some internal services of respective municipal organizations could be enhanced or made more efficient through consolidation or pooling resources (e.g., purchasing, human resources, fleet services, building maintenance)

Action Items:

  • Request the Roanoke Valley Alleghany Regional Commission to initiate a study to review the public services and civic amenities of the region and publish a report documenting existing regional approaches and recommending potential new partnerships or consolidations
  • Seek modification of the independent city relationship and other state policies that inhibit regional cooperation

Priority Two: Plan and Think Regionally

While the City of Roanoke’s planning jurisdiction stops at the city limits, planning challenges are regional. Coordination of some public services and amenities may be helpful to all residents. Issues like affordable housing, climate change, and job availability extends beyond any jurisdiction line. Collaborative efforts to address these issues will be vital to the resiliency of the region.

Action Items:

  • Participate in regional transportation planning through the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization
  • Develop plans at the regional level
  • Where plans are locally-focused, they should have a regional element that consider the greater context, with special attention given to regional land use patterns. Plans should identify growth areas, work to prevent sprawl, and balance the supply of commercially-zoned land.

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