County Supervisors Get Earful on Zoning Ordinance

Local Realtor David Kabler addresses Northampton Board of Supervisors May 13

Local Realtor David Kabler addresses Northampton Board of Supervisors May 13, calling the proposed zoning ordinance “a perversion” of the existing ordinance that so many worked so hard to enact. (Wave photo)

Cape Charles Wave

May 15, 2014

Close to 150 residents turned out May 13 for the Northampton County Board of Supervisors meeting, most of them concerned over a “business-friendly” rezoning plan that would remove existing environmental, density, and industrial restrictions. The audience had been advised to come at 7 p.m., but the meeting agenda was front-loaded with eight public hearings before the time for general comments, which did not begin until 9:30 p.m. Supervisors and staff had it even worse, having begun at 4 p.m. with a closed session, followed by various reports and a supper break. The meeting did not end until 10:45 p.m.

Chairman Larry LeMond opened the public comments section with a warning that he “would not tolerate any threats . . . we’ve heard enough of them” – an apparent reference to discussion on the Internet about possibly petitioning the Circuit Court to have the Supervisors removed from office if they fail to honor the vision statement in the County Comprehensive Plan. Only newly elected supervisor Granville Hogg (1st District – Cape Charles) has been exempt from removal threats, and only Hogg has indicated some sympathy with opponents of the draft zoning ordinance.

Fifteen residents came to the podium to speak their mind.

Robert Richardson of Seaview said experts agree that there is “no pollution on the seaside – so there’s no justification for the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act in the Capeville district.”

CBES board member John Ordeman of Nassawadox said that Northampton citizens have been speaking “loudly and clearly against the proposed zoning changes. They have presented scientific facts, the opinions of experts, the sound reasoning of landowners concerned about their right to protect the value of their property. You know these people – you know them to be intelligent and knowledgeable, honorable, and genuinely concerned for the well-being of this county. . . . Listen to the many who truly represent the will of the people.”


David Poyer said that after retiring he had a choice of living anywhere on the East Coast, and he chose Franktown. “I do understand the need to broaden the tax base,” he said. “However, it is a basic truth of economics that a rational actor maximizes his return on investment by capitalizing on his comparative advantage. . . . Northampton County’s comparative advantages are clean air, clean water, open space, and a Planning Commission that has laid out a way for us to grow without sacrificing what we most value.” He warned against “losing what makes us unique and valuable, without gaining much in terms of productive investment.”

UVA Professor Art Schwarzschild of Willis Wharf observed that earlier in the meeting the Supervisors granted two applications for single-wide trailers, which the draft zoning ordinance does not allow. “So you’ve just approved something which you’re now saying you want to eliminate. I don’t understand that.” Schwarzschild also said he would “argue vociferously” with the speaker who said there was no need for the Chesapeake Bay Act on the seaside. “The fact that there’s no pollution doesn’t mean we don’t need the Bay Act – it might mean that the Bay Act is actually working.”

Former Supervisor Andrew Barbour of Seaview said he was “puzzled why a very expensive economic development group chose zoning as the battle cry.” There is not a single study that can pinpoint zoning as the reason for Northampton County’s economic woes, he said. Peninsula-driven transportation problems, underperforming schools, poor worker skills, and lack of adequate ground water – those are real impediments to economic growth. You’ve thrown zoning up there, but there’s nothing behind your claims.” He also questioned why the county would “undermine the aquaculture industry in pursuit of higher density waterfront lots – we have thousands of empty lots in this county and yet you want more.”

Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper Jay Ford said his main concern was that “those who would pit our environment against our economy will have neither.” The best places to live in the United States “all have their natural resources protected in local code, and it’s a top selling point for why people choose to live there.” The county has done no research into the consequences of rezoning, “and we have no good reason to think that this plan will work.”

Lenore Hart Poyer of Franktown said what the Board should be addressing instead of getting rid of environmental protections is “protecting our medical care and protecting our schools.”

Former Supervisor Spencer Murray observed that the planning process is difficult and time-consuming because “the voices of the public must be heard.” The old saying “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water applies,” he concluded.

Katherine Horst of Kiptopeke wondered why the Board of Supervisors would support these amendments “when the input from citizens, experts, the Planning Commission, and the Comprehensive Plan call for a radically different direction. . . . Whose interests are your serving? . . . You will be forever defined by this.”

Sarah Morgan of Oyster noted that the existing zoning ordinance was approved “after considerable involvement by the public.” In contrast, not only were there only limited opportunities for the public to comment on the current zoning proposal, but the Planning Commission was “largely bypassed.”  The Board “needs to withdraw the current proposal,” she said – “the views of most of Northampton’s citizens have been ignored.”

This reporter noted that at Supervisor Granville Hogg’s Town Hall Meeting last month, he promised to ask the Board to at least temporarily withdraw the draft zoning ordinance to allow more time for the Planning Commission to review it. But when Mr. Hogg subsequently moved to discuss withdrawal, no other Supervisor would second his motion, thus preventing any discussion. Why did the Board not even allow the issue to be discussed?

Realtor David Kabler said that he had worked in land use for 41 years, and the proposed ordinance “is going to take away the most powerful tool I have to bring millions of dollars of investment here – in new businesses, in new families, in new tax revenue.” He called the draft ordinance a “perversion” of the previous ordinance he worked very hard to have implemented. “You’re not revising it – you’re replacing it,” he said. “We’re losing our hospital, our schools are going down the drain, and our highway is the most dangerous in the state – and you think zoning’s the problem? . . . When people come in my office to spend half a million dollars on a house, the first thing I show them is the zoning map. And you’re getting ready to throw that out the door and replace it with ‘anything goes, anywhere.’”

Ken Dufty of Exmore said that of the hundreds of people he had talked to, only three supported the new zoning ordinance. He said he attends every Planning Commission meeting, “and these people are working very hard, but they can’t get this work done in 100 days. That’s denying everybody due process.”

Donna Bozza reiterated her commentary in the Wave (CLICK).

Former Supervisor Jeff Walker said that he, “like Spencer Murray, could get on the firing line for the current zoning ordinance, because I voted for it.” He noted that the villages of Willis Wharf and Oyster “met for many hours and many meetings, and what they worked so hard for, and what they got, is not what is proposed in the draft. That may be why there are some upset folks.”

Carl Nordstrom of Exmore asked what was the real intent of the new proposed rules. “With all the unrealized subdivisions we see every day as we drive through the county, where is the demonstrated need for additional residential development?

Hank Bowen wrote a letter stating that the zoning proposal “has the potential to put me out of business, in addition to any other shellfish growing that depends on the shallow waters near shorelines. . . . Whoever wrote the shoreline reduction into the proposal has demonstrated no understanding of the importance of aquaculture to those of us who rely on it for a living. There is not one person on your staff who has demonstrated any knowledge or understanding of this important Eastern Shore occupation. Only your most recent member to the Board has any first-hand aquaculture knowledge, and you all are refusing to listen to him as he requests time for more thought and community input. If you continue on your current path you will drive some of us out of business.”

Prior to public remarks, Chairman Larry LeMond read a statement from the Board regarding the proposed zoning ordinance in order “to clarify what is involved in this process.” He noted that the “action on the table at this time is not a revision to the Comprehensive Plan” but instead proposed revisions to the Zoning Ordinance. Creation of a “business-friendly zoning ordinance” is a primary goal of the Five-Year Strategic Plan adopted in 2012. The Board felt that the current zoning ordinance “did not promote a conducive environment for economic development in our county.” He said that all members of the Board feel that there will be some changes made to the proposed document. “Let me be clear on this: this Board has decided nothing concerning this issue, and no calendar has been developed as to final adoption of the document. He concluded by affirming that “the current 2006 Comprehensive Plan is the plan that needs to be considered when any zoning amendments are proposed.”



6 Responses to “County Supervisors Get Earful on Zoning Ordinance”

  1. Roger L. Munz on May 15th, 2014 6:07 am

    There is clear opposition to this zoning change — what i don’t get is why the flip-flop position. For years the county did everything to prevent business and further land development. Now they are so committed to the idea, they will scrap the underpinnings that have been enacted over the years. This should not be done, and is not necessary. There is another zoning tool that could easily be implemented — A BUSINESS OVERLAY DISTRICT — that could allow a more lenient control of proposed new business development in certain areas as designated by the overlay map. This would then allow the existing zoning to remain intact, and still promote additional development in the county.

    Please don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. If the Board of Supervisors continues this reckless pursuit to destroy the current zoning ordnance in such a haphazard way, then I believe they have something else in mind they are not disclosing. This does not appear to be good government.

  2. Pamela Parris on May 15th, 2014 7:43 am

    The economic problems Northampton County is having should start by comparing state-wide comps based on population. I know for a fact, that the salaries paid are close to equal for employees in Virginia Beach. We are talking a population of 12,226 versus 447,021, or more importantly giving versus earning. There is no way Northampton County employees have the workload that Virginia Beach employees have. The salaries need to be scaled back to meet the population! As the population grows, so then should the salaries as the pay is earned.

    The BOS should be working towards finding investors to back the building of a hospital. No one is going to live in an area in which the closest hospital is almost an hour’s drive away. Retirees look for that incentive, as well as families. Emergency Care centers may be a more economical route until the population growth can support the building of a hospital.

    A strong school system is another major plus for appealing to families. When I was attending the county schools, we had great schools in the ’70’s & early ’80’s. What in world has happened to Northampton County?

    Taking away people’s businesses, restricting land and shoreline use, increasing taxes, ignoring the school system and any other “punishment” placed on the backs of the residents is NOT the way to grow or better a place to live. The first place to start is to decrease the county salaries!

    Obviously, the BOS cannot see the forest for the trees, or the $$$ in their pockets!

  3. David Kabler on May 15th, 2014 8:57 am

    It’s tough times like this that require bold action, and thank God we live in a country where we can combat those forces that threaten our freedoms and rights. Mr. Hogg said he would support demands for withdrawal of the ordinance, gave it a try, and now vacillates on his commitment. He is one supervisor who is listening to the people and needs more than ever our support to give him the strength and standing to firmly resist his colleagues stalwart, but misguided, defense of this outrageous zoning proposal. Underneath all is the land, and our land use codes are the only rules we have to protect and conserve it for future generations. Once you build it, the mark on the land is done and it’s left to our children to deal with, good or bad. It should not be a simple matter to pave and build and sprawl, it should be regulated and well planned to reduce its impact on the natural resources we depend on for life.

  4. Colin Cowling on May 15th, 2014 10:47 am

    It should be noted that of the BOS who voted in the current zoning only one remains, Larry Trala, and he was the lone vote against it. So where do you think the majority of the voters in Northampton stand on zoning?

  5. Ron Harlow on May 15th, 2014 7:42 pm

    I have a lot of tough questions for the folks and elected officials in our wonderful county.

    First, how do you fund all the needs we have? You can’t! Not enough tax base. Bringing and creating new businesses here should be the top priority! More businesses means more jobs, more taxes, and more money for the county.

    Second, job training through our schools, mentor programs, internships, and volunteering means more prosperity for our people. We must help our young people and anyone who wants to better themselves.

    Tourism should be high on the list, which will also bring in more jobs and more tax dollars. I have heard stories and rumors about people wanting to start a business and can’t because of building codes, zoning codes, fees, etc. Let’s stop wasting time and money in this county and get together and solve the problems.

    I propose weekly town hall meetings so people can voice their opinions, but more importantly, get together to solve and provide solutions. I want to protect the shore as much as anybody, but I also want to see prosperity for all of us here.

    I challenge each citizen of Northampton County to come up with solutions to problems that will be acceptable to all of us and our economic prosperity.

    I may not know all the good things going on in the county, but obviously, it’s only working in a small sector. How do we fix it?

  6. Craig Richardson on June 17th, 2014 3:22 am

    The Board of Supervisors needs to eliminate the Agricultural and Forestal Districts program immediately! For a county that is so much in debt, and struggling to find any type of way to get revenue, is it really good business to continue a program that costs the county tax dollars? The people that are putting their land in this program are doing it ONLY to get out of paying the taxes — period! I would argue that the majority of the land in the program already couldn’t even be used for anything. Plus, who would buy marshland anyway? You can’t build on it. And look at the two or three half-finished housing developments in the county now — what an eyesore! Eliminate the Agricultural and Forestal Districts, and remove the seaside from the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act!