County Approves Restaurants in Oyster and Kiptopeke
By WAYNE CREED
Cape Charles Wave
April 20, 2015
The Northampton Board of Supervisors approved the FY 2016 budget April 14, which included a $320,000 increase in school funding as well as a 2% cost of living increase for county workers. To accommodate these increases, staff and operations cuts have been put in motion, including the elimination of one county building inspector, and a code enforcement official reduced to part time status.
There will be a tax rate increase, but the Board kept it to less than 1 cent ($0.6805) per $100 of the assessed value for real estate. Personal property taxes (including aircraft) will be raised to $3.90 (up from $3.85) per $100 assessed value. The vote to approve the budget was 4-1, with Supervisor Oliver Bennett voting no as show of protest against cutting county jobs (just prior to an election cycle).
Although the budget approval was the most pressing part of the agenda, real estate and special use permits for several high profile projects took front and center. At the forefront were two projects by Eyre Baldwin. The first was for a Conference Center/Retreat at the barns of the historically restored Mimosa Farm. The retreat plans to have up to 10 guest rooms. The parcel is currently zoned Agricultural/Rural Business and sits on over 17 acres of land. Cela Burge of the law firm Turner and Turner, representing Baldwin, told the Board that “using the barn meets the goals of the Comp Plan, is a low-impact special use, and is a quality rural business.” She said that “we have gone as far as we can go on this project” without approval from the Health Department, but in a “chicken and egg” scenario, the Health Department would not do anything until there was an approved use for the parcel.
During public comments, Elizabeth Dodd of the Northampton Chamber of Commerce said, “This will bring vendors and business to the county . . . bringing in people from outside the county; this is an historic venue that will be perfect for hosting distinctive events.”
“There has been a crying need for a product of this nature,” added Joan Prescott of Eastville. “This is an adequate and lovely facility . . . travel and tourism will benefit from this lovely property . . . it will bring in high quality, low-impact groups.”
Carol Evans of the Chamber said, “This property has been impeccably, historically restored . . . it will add to our tax base, and is the kind of sustainable business we need in the county . . . that will respect our historic environment.”
Applicant Baldwin stated that he and his companies have been trying to bring opportunities to Northampton County, but were always being told by the county to hold off. “Over the years, we have spent $10 million to get things done here . . . and yet, we are always told to just wait, that the county is going to change the zoning. We are in such a time, we need to get things done with a ‘Yes.’ It hurts the little guy, the guy that wants to make a hustle parking cars or shucking oysters . . . it hurts local planners and photographers and musicians. How can we learn to say yes? Help me, help you save the economy.”
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John Crumb of Oyster admonished the Board, “Don’t you have faith we can solve any little problem? I can’t believe you are treating this project like it was the Empire State building. I’m begging you, approve this use.”
Supervisor Granville Hogg had some concerns that events held would be too loud, would go too long into the night, and the sound would travel down the creek, but Baldwin retorted, “We live right next to it. If it gets too loud, you know Dad will get up and pull the plug himself. Look, I’m resisting conditions. I’ve lived with these conditions all my life.” The Board approved the Special Use Permit, with Hogg abstaining.
Next came Baldwin’s request for a Special Use Permit for a 1,000 square foot raw bar at the Harvey Building in Oyster to be operated by Eddie Bell. The restaurant plans to offer waterside service to boaters, but does not have plans for drive-thru service. The property at 6499 Sunnyside Road is zoned Waterfront Village, Waterfront Commercial.
Speaking for the applicant, Cela Burge said, “This project is consistent with Waterfront Village. It is consistent with the Oyster vision . . . it will not compromise the Oyster community . . . it will allow for gradual growth. The Harvey Building can highlight so much about the community.” Again, she noted the project cannot move forward without approval from the Health Department, which will not do anything without an approved Special Use Permit.
Joan Prescott, during public comments stated, “Oysters in Oyster? That just makes too much sense. This will bring people . . . show our heritage, our history when oystering was a way of life. It is a wonderful product to be able to promote.”
Kerry Allison of the Eastern Shore Tourism Commission praised the project: “We are so lucky to have the chance have an investor who is willing to create a first class, smart, sustainable industry . . . it falls in with our eco-tourism strategy to protect and sustain what we have.” She also noted that the project falls into line with a larger initiative, the Virginia Oyster Trail, which is a state and local effort to brand, market, and export Virginia oysters. “There are some other places in the state that are so envious, from a branding standpoint, that we actually have a real place called Oyster,” she said.
Developer Bill Parr sent a letter praising the Baldwins for “quality work,” especially in regard to historical renovations. “Don’t delay progress on this project. Don’t micro-manage it . . . send a clear message that Northampton County is truly open for business,” Parr wrote.
John Crumb provided some historical perspective as a way of noting just how important and critical this project is to Oyster. “Oyster was a gold mine, with oysters, clams, fishing and hunting . . . several millionaires were made on that water. It was named Oyster because of the oyster. We had five shucking houses. Yet, we did not manage what we were . . . we need to get back . . . we’re farming and seafood people. We have to have faith in our people . . . bring Cape Charles back to its heyday. Let us have a chance.”
The Board approved the Special Use Permit unanimously, with conditions of acquiring Health permits, and VDOT approvals.
The next Special Use Permit application was by Kiptopeke Villas, LLC, for a restaurant, which previously had been tabled so that the applicants could review public concerns. Applicant Gregory Manuel painstakingly went through each and every bit of public input: “I understand the concerns, but we will open responsibly. We would not put an unattractive building there . . . it will look just like the other park buildings.”
Relative to the noise concerns, Manuel said, “This is a low impact, take-out restaurant, not a concert hall.“ Addressing concerns about the underground fuel tanks that have been voiced by several citizens, Manual said that he had borrowed a magnetometer from Supervisor Hogg, and inspected the area himself. “There are no tanks, and no evidence of petroleum. We would open responsibly, we are good stewards. If we do find something, we will deal with it appropriately,” he said.
As a note, Charles Bruckner, during public input, referenced a DEQ report on the Kiptopeake Inn property (just to the north of the entrance to the Park ) that does have a buried tank, with noticeable contamination. In that report the DEQ required a Phase 1 and Phase 2 environmental study. Bruckner urged the Supervisors to require the same report be done on any property where buried tanks may have been present.
The Board approved the permit unanimously, although Supervisor Hogg attempted to add a condition that the Special Use Permit last only so long as the applicant (Manuel) operated the business. County Attorney Bruce Jones corrected Hogg, noting that special use permits are attached to the parcel, not the applicant.
During public comments, Eileen Kirkwood attempted to alert the Board to a possible environmental issue occurring in Accomack County that could spill over into Northampton in Willis Wharf and other sensitive wetland areas. According to Kirkwood, there are plans to build a large poultry operation in Accomack housing some 350,000 chickens. She admonished the board to make a statement to their neighbor to the north, asking them not to allow this operation, as runoff would pollute seaside areas and pose a threat to existing communities in Northampton. There was no immediate reaction from the Board.
Several members of the Northampton National Defense Cadet Corps (NDCC) came before the Board to ask that they do what they can to continue to fund the Corps at Northampton High School. “The NDCC has helped many of us be better, made us better community servants . . . it has helped many of us achieve academically, and has taught us the basics of boot camp. It has opened our eyes to the benefits of a career in the military. It is a very special program, please don’t cut it,” said Cadet Clarks. To offer support, many members of the audience stood and loudly applauded the initiative, grace, and class exhibited by the cadets, as they presented their case before the Board.
Several local contractors, including Sean Ingram, Dave Mitchell, and Bill Dowdy, voiced concerns over plans to cut one of the county’s building inspector positions. “We rely on them to be timely, and time is money,” said Mitchel. “One person can’t do that job.” Bill Dowdy added, “the county needs that position. You won’t have quality homes if you lose that position.” Sean Ingram said, “Building is a revenue generator — losing that inspector will slow us down, and cause a drop in revenue . . . zoning has already made it that much more difficult . . . we can’t afford to be slowed down any more.”
Rev. Kelvin Jones of the First Baptist Church of Capeville attacked county plans to cut jobs in order to balance the budget. “I understand the need for budget cuts, but some of these people will lose their jobs, some after 25 years of service . . . with no severance pay. It sends a bad message when they work, and then they are not rewarded, or even cared about. Real leaders take cuts themselves, when they value the team. Do you value the team, or just yourselves?”
County Administrator Katie Nunez told the Board that the National Flood Insurance Program is requiring the county to make some changes to the recently adopted Flood Plain Ordinance. The VDOT Six-Year Road Improvement plan is also due for annual review.
The insurance policies for the county’s vacant buildings will have to be addressed, as replacement value for the former County Jail (current value $1,193,000) and the old Social Services building (valued at $856,000) will no longer be provided. Supervisors agreed to forgo replacement costs in lieu of demolition in the event of catastrophic damage to these buildings.
A proposal to have Supervisors meetings available over the Internet via streaming technology was also heard. Swagit Productions, which provides this capability to Accomack, could enable this service for $4,935, with a recurring fee of $250/per month. Due to budget constraints, the Board decided to study the proposal, while looking into adoption when they feel the budget would better support it.
Supervisors Bennett and Hogg visited the old middle school, and Bennett reported that the front of the building was in the worst condition and may need to be torn down, while other parts of the structure such as the kitchen and gymnasium were in good shape. “I would like to spend money on something we own, that will benefit the community,” said Bennett, referring to the need to renovate some of the school. Hogg and Bennett expressed concerns that money might not be available to maintain the school if funds instead go to satisfy the looming USDA debt the county owes from the failed STIP project in Cape Charles.
Board of Supervisors elections may not be until the fall, but newly announced candidate Spencer Murray used the opportunity to begin his campaign by calling out from the back of the room, “You guys still don’t understand anything about the USDA debt, do you? If you’d like, I can come down there anytime and explain it to you.” No one took Murray up on his offer.