Forum on County Rezoning Draws Full House

Audience member Katherine Campbell spoke in favor of proposed zoning changes. (Wave photos)

Audience member Katherine Campbell spoke in favor of proposed zoning changes. (Wave photo)

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.


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.

Panelists Art Schwarzchild, Gene Hampton, and Roberta Kellam (Wave photo)

Panelists Art Schwarzchild, Gene Hampton, and Roberta Kellam (Wave photo)

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.




3 Responses to “Forum on County Rezoning Draws Full House”

  1. Pam Barefoot on November 10th, 2014 8:14 am

    I’d like to see the supervisors take our current zoning and fix the “bugs.” I’ve been waiting since June 2012 for them to fix the “accessory building bug.” Under our current zoning, if you build an accessory building, it cannot be used for a guest house, B&B, mother-in-law cottage or overnight sleeping of any kind (not even by the owner) unless you own 20 or more acres. This should be remedied ASAP as it stifles small business and private initiatives to increase tourism. With the time spent bickering over the proposed new zoning, all the small things in our current zoning that could be changed without much fuss are being lost in the smoke while economic improvement is stalled.

  2. J T Elliott on November 10th, 2014 12:03 pm

    Wondering why the Virginia Beach commercial real estate broker in your story (Katherine Campbell, Cushman & Wakefield | Thalhimer, Virginia Beach) is so interested in economic development in Northampton County.

  3. David Kabler on November 12th, 2014 9:54 am

    There will be a meeting of the Northampton County BOS tonight, Wednesday, Nov. 12 at 7:00 PM at the County Administration Building, 16404 Courthouse Road, Eastville. This is an important meeting for citizens of this County for a couple of reasons.

    First, there is a public hearing on a Special Use Permit for a motel in the hamlet of Kiptopeke. The citizens of the Hamlet are demonstrating their right to comment and have significant and valid concerns about the benefit of such a business to the County and what such a business in their hamlet would do to their property values. Why is this important to you if you don’t live there? Because, under the proposed Zoning Ordinance, their ability to have any input into such a business in their residential area would be removed. Observing this public hearing will give you an idea of the privilege you now have to have a voice regarding your surroundings, and what will be taken away if this ordinance gets approved.

    Second, the process by which this Zoning Ordinance was created is completely flawed and has bypassed the citizens of the County. This is a critically important time for you to show your concern for the process by which this Zoning Ordinance was developed. A huge number of “by uses” are allowed in residential neighborhoods in the proposed ordinance by right, which means without any public hearing. Many of these uses would have tremendously negative impacts on property values in those neighborhoods and on towns, hamlets and villages bordering such uses. Our water quality and quantity are at risk with this proposed ordinance, and no studies have been done to assure that this precious resource would be protected.

    This proposed Zoning does absolutely nothing to encourage any responsible economic development and has the very real potential to harm our currently successful industries, your property values and your quality of life.

    It is critically important to show up tonight. Even if you do not feel comfortable getting up and speaking, please be there to show the supervisors that you recommend withdrawal of this proposed Zoning Ordinance. A document as critical to the future of the County should be done with community input and utilizing data and analysis to support changes.

    Show them that you care about your community. Be there at 7:00 PM tonight.