April 13, 2015
It has been a little over a year since over 400 people crammed into the auditorium of the Northampton County High School for a public hearing on the then-new proposed complete re-writing of our county’s zoning ordinance. The majority of those attending and testifying at the meeting were quite perplexed at why they had been shut out of the rezoning process during the preceding year, and expressed frustration with the many changes proposed by staff and our new economic development director.
In a thinly veiled attempt to involve residents at the midnight hour, several weeks ago county planning staff conducted “public information sessions” that were held in the north and south sectors of the county. These meetings were expertly covered in the Wave by Wayne Creed.
During those sessions and after being shown maps, charts and other confusing fact sheets, those attending were encouraged to submit their questions and comments in writing to staff and the Board. Within 10 days after the sessions ended, over 116 comments had been entered into the official record, and the planning and zoning staff subsequently prepared a briefing paper for the Board of Supervisors which not only summarized the comments received but also attempted to offer a response to each of the points raised.
Overwhelmingly, those submitting comments were most concerned about the term “waste related” which is proposed as an allowable use in agricultural and industrial zones in the proposed zoning ordinance. Concerned residents and former county officials alike expressed fear that such an open-ended land use term could allow hazardous, municipal, medical, and other waste import and incineration, as well as storage and processing. Note that the plainly ambiguous term is not included in our current zoning ordinance, nor can we find such a dangerous term in any zoning ordinance we researched.
In their March 30 presentation to the Board, planning staff orally briefed the Supervisors on many of the issues placed in the record that objected to the current draft ordinance, including the waste issue. Specifically, Zoning Administrator Melissa Kellam informed the Board that staff had adequately responded to the concerns about “waste related” and removed that wording from the draft zoning language. She informed the Board that, because the county currently manages waste at the landfill and their collection centers, “waste” has to be addressed in the proposed zoning ordinance, hinting that if it was not, the county could no longer continue these operations. [Read more…]
March 23, 2015
My wife and I attended the zoning informational meeting at Kiptopeke School this week. While discussing the zoning with one of the Supervisors present we were told that he believes the majority of people in the county actually support the proposed zoning but are simply not attending the meetings, and that the group of people who attend all the meetings (and overwhelmingly oppose the zoning) are actually the minority. The takeaway here would seem that if you are against the zoning changes, or at least skeptical of them, you had better get to the meetings and be heard or you are assumed to be supporting them.
While expressing our concerns to this same Supervisor about the zoning changes paving the way for uses such as medical waste disposal and manure processing/incineration (just to name a couple) we were told,”Uses like that would never happen.” But if our zoning is weak and leaves loopholes, then, whether we like it or not, uses like these can and will happen and could negatively affect every resident of Northampton County.
Any use, in any district, that has the potential to
— foul and pollute our air,
— pollute the water we drink or grow our clams and oysters in,
— pollute the ground our crops are grown on and our children play on, and
— negatively impact the values of our business and homes,
should NEVER be allowed “by right.” These types of uses should always have to go through a “special use” process so that community members have the ability to change or stop, when necessary, something that is harmful to the county as a whole.
Letters to the Editor are welcome, and a diversity of opinions is encouraged. Send submissions to [email protected].
March 16, 2015
If you’ve been hankering for spring and live classical music, our Orchestra of the Eastern Shore’s recent concert would have appealed to you. It was another stunner: they are on a roll. It was the second appearance of vibrant Dr. Paul S. Kim who succeeds the impressive five year tenure of Professor Lee Jordan-Anders.
The 15 member-strong volunteer orchestra was joined by a 10-member church chorus and two professional vocal soloists: the Shore’s own soprano, Anna Sterrett, and, in stark effective contrast, Michigan native bass-baritone Matthew Scollin, who handsomely paired with conductor Kim deftly playing violin in Bach’s Cantata “I will gladly carry the cross.” According to Dr. Kim, Bach could churn out such masterpieces weekly. This one aptly includes a raft of maritime images.
Prior to Mr. Scollin’s powerful performance the large audience had been nearly swept off their feet with Ms. Sterrett’s solo throughout Mozart’s Exultate, jubilate, drafted at midpoint in his life in his teens. The Ave verum corpus, among his last pieces just 18 years later in 1791, impressively engaged our chorus and orchestra as melody and voice, with wonderful acoustics, projected in Hungars Episcopal Church’s tranquil refuge.
With such splendor shared one dreams of an encore. We’re incredibly fortunate for conductor and director Dr. Kim’s presence, that of his teammates and guests, and the church’s cordiality. Shore residents should seize the opportunity to hear them live in the future — again at Bridgetown or in Onancock — for free or in support.
Letters to the Editor are welcome, and a diversity of opinions is encouraged. Send submissions to [email protected].
March 9, 2015
EDITOR’S NOTE: Exmore community activist Ken Dufty continues to hold Northampton County officials’ feet to the fire, as evidenced in his latest letter to the Planning Commission. Of particular and novel interest is the issue of whether an owner of a commercial “barn,” apparently built to hold events, fundraisers, and other public gatherings, could do so “by right” if the owner offered hay rides to party and wedding guests. Dufty does not mention any owner by name, leaving the Wave to speculate that developer Bill Parr’s barn is the object of attention.
CHAIRMAN DIXON LEATHERBURY AND NORTHAMPTON COUNTY PLANNING COMMISSIONERS:
It is becoming crystal clear that both the ongoing revisions to the current Northampton County Zoning Ordinance and the 2009 Comprehensive Plan are being conducted in an arbitrary and capricious manner and are devoid of the required studies and other empirical data that must be relied upon to make the decisions that are now being proposed.
Last week at a meeting of the Board of Supervisors, [County Planner] Peter Stith was asked by Supervisor [Granville] Hogg why the revisions to the Comprehensive Plan did not involve the citizenry at the beginning of the process, rather than the current plan to present a final product to residents and business owners once the Plan had been revised.
Mr. Stith answered that they did involve the citizenry in surveys and workshops about three years ago. I have attached a copy of the responses to those surveys which 188 people filled out. Overwhelmingly, the respondants to those surveys conducted by the county said that it was “very important” that the Comprehensive Plan protect groundwater recharge areas and concerns; protect floodplains; preserve Priority Conservation Areas; protect Historic Sites, ensure Septic Suitability; and also directed the drafters of the Comprehensive Plan update to factor in rate of growth (majority wanted 1-2% rate of growth), and said that it was very important to create a balance between jobs and housing.
We are curious if the Planning Commission ever received the reponses to the surveys and the notes from the community meetings. If you did not, it is incumbent upon you to access that information, factor it into your deliberations, and then offer credible and defendable evidentiary basis to support your version of the plan, which turns its back on the will of the people as captured in the survey responses. As many of you know, in order for any decision of a county government to withstand a judicial challenge, it has to rise to a level to be fairly debatable. Simply ignoring and not responding to a key piece of evidence, such as a community survey and input from public workshops, tips the scales of this review firmly into the arena of arbitrary and capricious behavior, recommendation, and final decision. [Read more…]
March 4, 2015
EDITOR’S NOTE: To our great surprise, yesterday we received the letter below from Clelia Sheppard, whose name is synonymous with the arts scene in Cape Charles and, by extension, the entire lower Eastern Shore. Ms. Sheppard is resigning as director of Arts Enter, but promises that she will remain a board member “ad infinitum.” Here is her eloquent and breathtaking letter:
DEAR COMMUNITY MEMBERS,
As I step down from my role as Executive Director and Artistic Director of Arts Enter Cape Charles, I have a question. I want to know—what inspires you? An Eastern Shore sunset? A work of art that grabs you and won’t let go? Perhaps it’s seeing your child perform on stage for the first time, or hearing the right chord just when you need it most.
When I first stepped inside the Historic Palace Theatre, with her worn seats and dark, quiet stage, I found my calling. To bring this gem back to life. To shine a spotlight on the people of Cape Charles and the lower Eastern Shore. To share my love of the arts. And to test my own limits and abilities: it was a personal challenge. [Read more…]
February 16, 2015
I read Wayne Creed’s article (“Animal Abuse, Theft Highlight Longtime Problems”) with great interest, being aware of the minimal care frequently afforded companion animals by their owners on the Eastern Shore. Friends who moved to Accomack three years ago were so distressed by the harsh treatment of dogs and other animals they observed in many yards that they started providing straw bedding, food and education, even doing repairs in some instances.
Their experience was that while some of the pet owners they helped were happy to receive the purchases and labor, it did not appear they would follow up on their own. Last time we talked, my friends said they had to step back from the toll the situation was taking on their own mental health and resources.
But it isn’t only dogs and cats who suffer from abuse and neglect on the Eastern Shore (and in other parts of Virginia). Chickens and many other animals suffer through every phase of their existence as a result of their status as agricultural animals.
Many of those who abuse and neglect their companion animals work in animal agribusiness where a total lack of compassion for animals, even pleasure in watching them suffer, prevails. People who spend their days being violent toward chickens and other farmed animals as part of their job often bring the violent culture of their employment home with them.
How many residents know that a Virginia statute titled “Care of Agricultural Animals by Owner” (Section 3.2-6503.1) allows the owners of agricultural animals to deprive their animals of food and water up to the point of starvation and dehydration and exempts the owners from providing bedding or shelter, regardless of the weather, for their animals? [Read more…]
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following letter from Ken Dufty was received just before press time and after two other stories had been scheduled for publication on the county re-zoning issue. Letters from readers with differing views are welcome.
January 9, 2015
It is apparent that the Northampton County Board of Supervisors, as directed and orchestrated by Parliamentarian and Administrator Katie Nunez, has the administrative pedal pressed firmly to the floor and is speeding towards a checkered flag in a race to completely rezone our county into something it was never meant to be. They claim that in order to keep on schedule, the Board will have to vote on the 200-page zoning revision by March 4, 2015. And on February 18 and 25, at the Kiptopeke Elementary School and Occohannock Elementary School respectively, “public information sessions” will be held to “inform” the public on the consensus of the Board on these major changes.
Claiming that the citizens are misinformed, and are indeed misinforming others, regarding the hundreds of changes to the current zoning that are being proposed, the county website directs the citizenry to access the “Citizen Information Paper” recently penned by economic development director Charles McSwain, which was widely distributed to town, village, and other officials throughout the county. This paper is available on the website, and indeed Mr. McSwain spends many pages refuting claims made by interested parties engaged in this debate.
One of the primary issues discussed by Mr. McSwain in his widely distributed public relations piece is the citizens’ claim that a wide variety of invasive uses would be allowed in agricultural lands that are not allowed in the current ordinance. So on page 16 McSwain presents a list of uses in agricultural lands that will be allowed by-right (no notice to abutting landowners, no public hearing), and those that will require a Special Use Permit. So the average person reading this list would believe that what is listed will be the extent of what we could expect if, and I say a big “if,” the proposed zoning ordinance is adopted and survives challenge (which is highly unlikely, I am happy to say). [Read more…]
February 2, 2015
A few years ago we discovered the gem that is Cape Charles and purchased a house on the north side of Peach Street. One of the selling features for me was the proximity to the park and basketball court. Although my basketball-playing days are drawing to a close I enjoyed ambling over to the court in the early evening to observe the games, offering tips to the younger players and engaging in playful banter with those closer to my age.
I was quite surprised when I learned the rims and backboard had been removed without notice and there was no replacement location identified for the court. Where will the community youth be able to play basketball? I wondered. After a few moments of reflection, I realized that the importance of the basketball court was expanded beyond simply a recreational location. The basketball court is a place where participants can learn life-skills. [Read more…]