Forum on County Rezoning Draws Full House
By DORIE SOUTHERN
Cape Charles Wave
November 10, 2014
Speakers at a community forum on the Northampton County Zoning Ordinance last Thursday called for the Board of Supervisors to withdraw the proposed ordinance changes being considered.
Some 140 residents braved the rainy evening to attend the forum in the Eastville Fire Station Bingo Hall sponsored by Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper and Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore. County Supervisors Granville Hogg and Rick Hubbard were among them. When asked when the supervisors might vote on the proposed changes Hogg answered, “I don’t know.”
Audience sentiment clearly supported withdrawing the proposed zoning changes. But one attendee, Katherine Campbell, bravely asked to speak in favor of the changes and was given three minutes. She said her concern was that the county needed economic development and that the zoning changes would lead to a more prosperous county. In response, panelist Roberta Kellam noted that everyone is interested in a more prosperous county. Kellam questioned how the zoning ordinance’s proposed ban on single-wide mobile homes could benefit low-income residents. “Will developers build affordable homes or waterfront homes?” Kellam asked.
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The proposed ordinance changes could harm ground water and seaside water and encourage strip shopping centers along Route 13. “No study has been done on the impact to traffic safety if commercial development is encouraged on the highway,” Kellam said.
Panelist Mary Miller was a member of the Planning Commission when the current Comprehensive Plan was enacted in 2009. She said that it was developed with wide community input and many hours by consultants who organized meetings and surveys. Miller was also a member of the community housing committee until it was disbanded. Speaking on special use permits, Miller said that current zoning allows for commercial small business uses in residential neighborhoods. The special use process protects neighborhoods and communities, but it does not keep people from creating home businesses, she pointed out. The process has worked so well that 25 percent of county workforce is now self-employed business owners, Miller said.
Making commercial uses in residential neighborhoods “by-right” leaves the Planning Commission and neighbors out of the process and open to whatever “by-right” use may be allowed, Miller said, adding that neighbors may not know what is planned until the bulldozers show up.
Former Planning Commissioner Martina Coker, who resigned in protest over the way the proposed zoning ordinance changes have been presented, called for the Supervisors to withdraw the proposals. “Current and prior comprehensive plans were created with extensive public input,” Coker said. “The current zoning changes were started behind closed doors and were presented to the community later.”
Coker noted that the major economic engines of Northampton County — tourism, aquaculture and agriculture — could all be adversely impacted by the proposed changes that do not reflect the current Comprehensive Plan. The town edge zone that allows towns to provide input into what is done on county property approaching towns would be lost in the new zoning ordinance.
“The zoning ordinance does need to be changed occasionally,” Coker said, “but changes should be as a result of citizen input.” She called the current proposals “a flawed process.”
Professor Art Schwarzchild, who manages the University of Virginia Research Center in Oyster and chairs the Willis Wharf Village Committee, said the UVA center has been monitoring water quality in coastal bays for many years, and that Northampton County has some of the best water quality on the East Coast. Schwarzchild said that unlike the Chesapeake Bay watershed, Northampton County controls all the land that puts things into seaside creeks and guts. The people of Northampton County can control the water quality of the seaside by protecting it from human-created pollution, he said.
VIMS, the Nature Conservancy, and other organizations have been working to reestablish seaside grasses that contribute to cleaning the water and promoting the growth of bay scallops, which Schwarzchild hopes can be re-established on the seaside. Oysters are already making a strong comeback.
Schwarzchild refuted the belief that tidal action provides a “flushing” that keeps seaside waters clean. “Not true,” he said. Tides push water back and forth, but it takes much longer to actually change out the water.
Schwarzchild said that his offer to assemble a panel of independent water quality scientists to meet with the County Supervisors has never been accepted. “The Board of Supervisors has not consulted with watermen, scientists, and aquaculture businesses to request input about the proposed zoning ordinance changes,” he said.
Realtor and former planning commissioner David Kabler, also a panelist, said he uses the current zoning ordinance as “roadmap” every day. “Our zoning ordinance is working,” he said. He called for a grassroots effort to get the Supervisors to withdraw the current proposal. “We aren’t going to settle for anything less,” he emphasized.
Kabler suggested that citizens take action now, asking the audience to write to their Supervisor, speak to him, sign petitions, and talk to their neighbors. “We can do like the residents of Kiptokepe who stopped the proposed motel in their neighborhood,” he stressed.
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