GUEST EDITORIAL: County Doing Poor Job on Zoning

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following editorial is reprinted by permission from the Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore newsletter, ShoreLine.

March 10, 2014

Those who read ShoreLine regularly know that we’ve taken a strong interest in Northampton County’s revision of its zoning ordinance. The editorial board is unanimously agreed that the ordinance needs revision — and we’re unanimously agreed that the County’s conduct of that revision has been so poor that it has raised the spectre of embarrassing legal action.

What’s been wrong with the process? First, the public has been effectively shut out. There has been no informed public involvement in developing the revision. The so-called public information meetings on the draft revision held in December were virtually meaningless because no presentations actually informed the public about the draft ordinance. Maps were displayed and staffers, available to answer the public’s questions, were more than willing to expound upon minor details. This process tended to obfuscate the real changes. In fact, without substantive information, it was hard to know what questions to ask.


As ShoreLine goes to press at the end of February, two more public information meetings are scheduled. It remains to be seen if they will be any more informative than the December meetings.

Second, the Board of Supervisors bypassed the Planning Commission and tried to give the comprehensive planning process to a hand-picked ad hoc committee chaired by Bill Parr, a local Realtor. When it was pointed out that the Comprehensive Plan must be completed by the Planning Commission, the ad hoc charter from the Board of Supervisors was limited to the economic development part of the Comprehensive Plan. This final committee report was largely ignored and got little public attention. Nevertheless it appears to have had a lot of back-channel influence on the draft revision of the zoning ordinance.

The county has invested a lot of money and effort to develop a professional Planning Commission. It is irresponsible not to use that expertise for a complicated and technical zoning revision.

Third, Development Director Charles McSwain’s claim of consistency with the Comprehensive Plan notwithstanding, the draft revision is not consistent with the existing Comprehensive Plan approved several years ago — and the Planning Commission has neither completed the state Code-required five-year revision of the Plan nor presented recommendations to the Board of Supervisors.

The requirement for the development of a Comprehensive Plan before adopting new zoning ordinances is just plain common sense. It is, indeed, the responsibility of the County “to lay out a road map for the future” (a Comprehensive Plan) before setting the operating rules that will determine that future (the zoning ordinance).

Finally, many provisions of the draft revision are simply bad land use management. They are too numerous to enumerate here, but others have made an effort at doing so. We have enclosed an insert in this issue, “New Zoning Affects Homeowners, Residents, Businesses,” which came in “over-the-transom,” as they say. This is an effort by concerned citizens to understand the revision and its impact on the community and its future. It has been circulating in the community for several weeks and appears to add detail to the generic letter sent to property owners by the County and published in the Eastern Shore News. We have confirmed that the amendments and page numbers noted in the insert are in accord with the “Proposed Northampton County Zoning Code” published on the County website. We offer this insert [CLICK HERE] as a guide for our readers to some of the details included in the proposed revision.



One Response to “GUEST EDITORIAL: County Doing Poor Job on Zoning”

  1. Antonio Sacco on March 10th, 2014 4:55 pm

    This plan by the Supervisors is another example of dictating to Northampton County taxpayers. They don’t trust our input into the future of our County. This action is grounds to recall all the Supervisors and replace them with people who understand the needs of all the people and not just a few. You must remember that we have on this Board of Supervisors a prior Board member [from the time of] the failed Industrial Park. So let’s recall all of them by writing a petition — I will be the first to sign it.