Planning Commission, Not Staff, Should Recommend

July 9, 2014

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following letter from “Citizens for Open Government” was read to the Northampton County Board of Supervisors at their meeting last night. The Supervisors subsequently agreed to hold a joint work session with the County Planning Commission to hear testimony and evidence on whether to retain protections of the Chesapeake Bay Act on the seaside.) 

Dear Chairman LeMond and Members of the Northampton County Board of Supervisors:

After the March 11, 2014, joint meeting of the Northampton County Board of Supervisors and the Northampton County Planning Commission, the BOS imposed a 100-day time limit for the Planning Commission to make recommendations on the 150-page complete revision of the Northampton County Zoning Ordinance. Citing Virginia Code 15.2-2285(b), County Administrator Katie Nunez at that time announced that failure of the Planning Commisision to finish their review of the complete revision of the zoning ordinance within the 100-day time limit would allow the BOS to adopt the proposed zoning ordinance as written, and would also allow the BOS to consider the lack of a recommendation as an endorsement for approval by the Planning Commission.

Unfortunately, but as predicted by many who were observing this process, the Planning Commission was unable to finish its review of the revised zoning ordinance by the May 31, 2014, deadline, and was only able to make recommendations on about one half of the 150-page document. Indeed, some of the most important and profound suggested changes to the current zoning ordinance were not addressed by the Planning Commission, and yet the BOS did not recommend remanding the unfinished portion of the proposed zoning ordinance to the Planning Commission to resume their review. This denial of allowing the Planning Commission to resume their review of these changes poses to profoundly affect the future of Northampton County. This failure by the BOS runs counter to the interest of the public and those hundreds of citizens who have voiced their opposition to the proposed zoning revisions.

At the July meeting to of the Planning Commission, the work on amending the current Comprehensive Plan resumed, as they were not asked to continue their review of the proposed zoning ordinance revisions. During deliberations last week, they addressed the language in the current 2009 Comprehensive Plan which calls for extending the protections of the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act to the waters of the seaside. At first, it was recommended that the Planning Commission recommend that this language be retained and brought forward into the draft amended Comprehensive Plan. However, discussion among the members turned to a debate as to whether or not there is enough scientific evidence to support either continuing the Cheasapeake Bay Act protections to the seaside or to let those protections lapse. After lengthy discussion, it was decided that the Planning Commission needed to call in experts in this field, and it was finally agreed that Art Schwarzchild, a well-respected marine scientist from Willis Wharf who has studied this issue in depth, should be invited to present evidence and input from his peers to help the Planning Commission in their deliberations.


During recent discussions by the BOS on this issue, it also seemed as if the BOS also desired input on the science and assumptions underlying the need to maintain the protections of the Chesapeake Bay Protection Act on the seaside. In short, it appears as if the BOS and the Planning Commission are traveling parallel, yet separate, tracks of review on this important issue.

Therefore, on behalf of the Citizens for Open Government, we are respectfully requesting that the BOS consider the following actions: First, we would ask you to consider holding joint work sessions with the Planning Commission to explore the issue of the continuance, or discontinuance, of the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act on the seaside. This combined and mutual effort, if pursued, could streamline the review process and also could result in a healthy and productive exchange between the members of the Planning Commission and the members of the Board of Supervisors. It would also allow a full record to be developed on this issue, as Virginia Code demands that any revisions to a zoning ordinance be based on economic and other studies (VA Code 15.2-2284).

We also respectfully request that the Board of Supervisors remand the unfinished portions of the complete revision of the current zoning ordinance to the Planning Commission so that they can finish their review of the remaining sections, enabling the BOS to move forward in their deliberations in a less arbitrary and capricious manner. This further review of the proposed zoning ordinance by the Planning Commission can be performed simultaneously with the ongoing 90-day review by the BOS of the partial recommendations made by the Planning Commission and submitted to the BOS on May 31, 2014.

Finally, we are aware that during the last worksession of the BOS, the Chairman of the BOS asked the staff to review and offer “input” on the sections of the proposed zoning ordinance that were not addressed by the Planning Commission because of time limitations. We feel that the recommendations to remand those outstanding sections of the proposed zoning ordinance back to the very county employees who wrote the draft zoning ordinance in the first place does not offer the citizens of Northampton County due process and is indeed arbitrary and capricious. Indeed, Virginia Code is very explicit on the proper procedure to amend or revise an existing zoning ordinance, and those sections of Virginia Code (15.2-2200-2285 et.al.) explicity call for full involvement and coordination with a local government’s Planning Commission.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this request.

Citizens for Open Government



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