COMMENTARY: Gentrification Won’t Bring Growth

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following submission was originally published as a comment to a letter by Robert Toner (CLICK to read). We are republishing it as a Commentary for those who might have missed it.) 


December 29, 2014

Hats off to Mr. Toner for exposing the naked truth about the apparent motives of those digging their spurs into the bellies of the all-too-willing Board of Supervisors (save for Granville Hogg). While marching to the cadence of the “business friendly” chant, the majority of the members of the Board have turned their backs on the citizenry of this great county, targeting especially the middle class and those struggling to stay above the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.

As to Bobby Roberts’ theory that the “whole mess is starting to smell” like GENTRIFICATION, that has been my partial take on the situation since I sat down to read the entire draft zoning ordinance just hours before the March 11, 2014, Public Hearing at Northampton High School (shame on me for not being more involved in county issues before that 12th hour!). The elitists apparently working the strings of the Supervisors (‘cept’n Hogg, who refuses to have those knots tied) seem obsessed with transforming this county into a bustling upscale retirement destination, abandoning the assets which set us far above the cookie-cutter likeness of Virginia Beach and Ocean City.

As the recently-commissioned Competitive Assessment Study recommended, in order to REALLY become more business friendly, the Board should be encouraging and marketing our core industries, the engines driving our local economy. These include agriculture, aquaculture, forestry, small business, and tourism, many of which lead the state and nation in their ranking and growth. The report also directed the Board to cure the real ills stopping growth in the county, such as lack of high-speed Internet, reliable cell phone service, better quality schools, accessible and affordable health care, and the development of a trained and ready workforce.

Instead, the Board has set a course which can only be described as a campaign to gentrify the county, driving taxes higher and ensuring that those on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder will have even a more difficult time remaining on the lower Shore. A few of the examples that support Mr. Roberts’ gentrification theory are:


1) Proposed elimination of the Agricultural and Forestal Districts, a program which encourages landowners to keep their land in active farming by matching real estate assessments with the actual use of the land. The elimination of these districts will undoubtedly force those who rely on this state-sponsored program to consider selling their land, which will probably be snatched up by the real estate professionals riding high on the backs of the Board for pennies on the dollar.

2) Scheming to run unnecessary sewer lines from areas like Cheriton, while forcing mandatory hook-ups and billing to unwilling homeowners, many who could be on limited fixed-incomes (let’s drive out those poor people so the developers can accomplish their Ocean City dream!).

3) Pursuing developer-driven schemes that will only raise taxes for all of us in Northampton County, such as the pie-in-the-sky and simply ridiculous proposal to run that sewer line from the Food Lion Plaza area to Cape Charles, with plans to pass the cost of that project onto all of the taxpayers of Northampton County. Note that every time taxes are raised in this county, although perhaps causing our County Administrator to salivate, it makes it harder for those hanging on to the lower Shore with their economic fingernails to stay afloat. Accidental gentrification? I don’t think so.

4) Eliminating mobile home parks as a legal zoning district. This nearly insane and clearly transparent attempt to gentrify this county is not only a complete example of immorality and social irresponsibility (where is Mr. Bennett on this one?), it violates federal programs that are in place to ensure that such elitist attempts are thwarted, even at a judicial level.

The Board continues to cry poverty, and claims that we need more revenue in our coffers to keep this county solvent. But at the same time our County Administrator encourages this Board to spend money like crazed drunken sailors, and it is acting on this advice which drives us closer the edge of an economic crisis. But that is another letter to be written and considered by the Cape Charles Wave and others. Not enough room or energy for that now — but stay tuned. It is absolutely mind-boggling. In the meantime, thanks again to this publication and also to Mr. Toner who not only hit the nail squarely on the head with his “Virginia Beach” letter, but drove it firmly home. Happy Holidays to all — see you on the front lines — which will be VERY interesting in 2015!

Ken Dufty is an Exmore businessman and community activist. Submissions to COMMENTARY are welcome on any subject relevant to the Cape Charles area.



14 Responses to “COMMENTARY: Gentrification Won’t Bring Growth”

  1. Tony Sacco on December 29th, 2014 1:44 am

    If Ken Dufty is willing to have his taxes go up 300% so be it.

  2. Jim Welch on December 29th, 2014 7:58 am

    Thank you Mr. Dufty for your excellent report on just how the Northampton County Board of Supervisors has been working to implement their own agenda in total disregard of the mandate of the population that put them into office. The next step is to investigate just how these people came to power in the first place. What qualifications do they really possess to make decisions that throw the county into many millions of dollars of taxpayer debt with little result over the years? One has even been indicted for voter fraud, yet sits behind the bench criticizing the citizenry as he goes about the process of raping and pillaging the existing Comprehensive Plan, and voting himself raises while on the School Board.

    Who do they represent? Certainly not the mayors of Exmore and Cape Charles, or the citizens of Willis Wharf, the Shorekeepers, Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore, the concerned scientific community, farmers, watermen, and a great many other people that have expressed their outrage over these actions and the resulting turmoil these people are arrogantly generating behind their closed doors of public service.

    Sadly, this is another great example of specifically how the government, large or small, does not serve the public’s benefit, but instead serves the financial interests of a few in the background. It really is time for a change.

  3. Ken Dufty on December 30th, 2014 7:10 am

    In response to Mr. Sacco’s inference that our taxes may go up “300%” if we do not support the BOS’s plans to turn Northampton County into a theme park, with great respect to this fine man, I would like to respond. The current path this Board has charted with the proposed zoning ordinance most certainly will not lower our taxes, and every study by credible sources, such as the American Farmland Trust, has concluded that the public services (fire, police, EMS, schools, road maintenance, public utilities, etc.) to support increased density cost far more than the taxes collected on the developed parcels. Again, simply look at Virginia Beach’s tax assessments and compare them with more rural communities. In the past Northampton County has had its economic tap root firmly driven into our agriculture, forestry, tourism, and small business development. Indeed, just over 2 decades ago our schools were stellar, our health care services far better than what they are now, and our county was run in a conservatively-fiscal manner. It is only within the last 8 or so years that Northampton County has been managed by tax-and-spend fiscally-irresponsible leaders, and the proposed zoning ordinance represents just another nickel in that meter.

    The Competitive Assessment Study prepared by Investment Consulting Association in July and reviewed by the Board of Supervisors (and then promptly ignored) lays out a reasoned and tested plan for our economic and environmental future. In short, it concluded that sustainable growth for this county cannot be successful unless we have as a foundation: 1) reliable high speed internet (we don’t); 2) a trained workforce and workforce training programs (we don’t); 3) reliable and widespread cell phone service (wish we did!); 4) local critical health care facilities (leaving); and 5) high quality schools that will encourage more younger people to relocate their families to this county (hopefully under the guidance of the new Superintendent, they are coming). The report also concluded that this county’s assets need to be marketed (they are not), and advised that the Board needs to bolster our core industries and economic drivers such as agriculture, aquaculture, tourism and small business. Note this is not being done, yet we pay Charles McSwain well over $2,000/week to get this job done, rather than fostering an incestuous relationship with every big-money developer drooling at the “blank slate” they think Northampton County represents.

    As for Mr. Sacco’s statement that my opposition to the Board’s ill-conceived rezoning plans should be interpreted as wanting our taxes to go up 300%, my response is simply this. If that were so, I would be out fishing or hiking in the woods rather than sitting here writing this letter.

    In closing, again, thank you to THE WAVE for providing this forum — a great service to all, no matter what stand you take on these important issues.

  4. Donna Bozza on December 30th, 2014 10:47 am

    As Mr. Dufty so clearly pointed out, the county’s own study, as well as many others in the past, do not point to deficiencies in the county zoning as an impediment to growth. (With thousands of undeveloped lots already available — not counting Bay Creek’s big potential for increased residential — this is only logical.) Neither do these studies substantiate rapid, unplanned growth as a cure-all for the county’s economic woes. In fact, the opposite is true, as Mr. Dufty rightly stated. To see the NORTHAMPTON COUNTY COMPETITIVE ASSESSMENT study in its entirety, visit the Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore website:

  5. Tony Sacco on December 30th, 2014 10:55 am

    Mr. Dufty, when you’re out fishing or hiking say hello to the family whose house is without indoor plumbing, unemployed, with income less then $6,000 a year and wish them a Happy New Year.

  6. Jim Welch on December 30th, 2014 12:10 pm

    Once again, those were accurate and excellent observations expressed by Mr. Dufty. Thank you Cape Charles Wave.

    For the record, as a “come-here,” I come here as someone who is retired from an active business life. I’ve chosen to dedicate my time to environmental and what I refer to as Community Based Economic projects — programs which I’ve had little success in discussing successfully on the Shore. I’ve had meetings with some of the Northampton Supervisors, along with other business people; I joined the Melfa Chamber of Commerce for two years, was introduced to Mr. McSwain shortly after he “came here” by a Supervisor who didn’t get himself re-elected for some reason or another.

    I come here from an entrepreneur background. It involved general contracting — HUD-related building development projects, industrial manufacturing, and property acquisition. I’ve met and worked with some top names in the national business sphere as well as seen the results of corrupt political systems in action up close. I’ve observed a lot, done a lot, made mistakes that I learned from, and so when I started to look more closely at what was transpiring in Northampton County, some core issues became obvious.

    Firstly, the people of this county have expressed their trust in and have elected these people that hold the position of management of their tax dollars in this county. So in a sense, if the people of this county elected these people as their representatives, well then, they need to reap what’s been sown, as any farmer understands. How else does one learn?

    Secondly, from firsthand observations, the main issue that drives the demand for, and apparent need of, higher and more taxation money, has a single source: mismanagement on all levels of decision-making by the Board of Supervisors. This includes the Board’s hired management/development crew. In the short time I’ve attended Board meetings, I’ve seen the squandering of hundreds of thousands of dollars without any remorse whatsoever. Extend this a bit and you’re talking about millions of dollars. This waste of, or need for, tax dollars has little to do with providing services to farmers, aquaculture, and tourism industry, as Mr. Dufty repeatedly points out. It has everything to do with making money for a few people in the Board’s background. The background people obviously believe that they’ll benefit in the short term, regardless of the economic realities of our national and local economy, or the success or failure of what they’re proposing. Denying the fact that this county has a glut of undeveloped lots (for a reason, by the way), or foreclosed houses and failed business projects and other signs of national/local economic decay does nothing to address real issues that could bring a greater balanced prosperity to the Shore if one were a bit more efficient and creative.

    These times demand elimination of “closed door” government. There is a call for greater government transparency, less squandering of tax money or selling the pristine Shore to developers so the idea of bringing in more tax dollars by Disneyland creations can fill the “inefficiency management gap” and continue onward towards the land of “full public non-accountability.”

    Instead of demanding accountability and prudent decision-making from the Board by the citizenry, the Board’s glaring mismanagement is glossed over. Their demand for unbridled development is being allowed to occur according to the Board’s well-thought-out backroom hidden agreements. If anyone believes that this will be resolved in court after the fact, once started, it’ll be very costly and difficult to reverse. But if that’s what the citizens want, that’s what the citizens will get.

    Dufty’s comment hits the nail on the head: “Northampton County has been managed by tax-and-spend fiscally-irresponsible leaders, and the proposed zoning ordinance represents just another nickel in that meter.”

    After viewing firsthand how the Board slapped the faces of all the concerned mayors, scientists, past county officials, business, professional and organizational leaders and concerned citizens in the collective face on December 11, I’ll personally never attend another BOS meeting in Northampton Country — and certainly never invest money or time there in the future.

  7. Craig Richardson on January 4th, 2015 10:57 am

    Don’t forget, we are not even connected to the power grid!

  8. Tony Sacco on January 4th, 2015 6:27 pm

    Only two comments in favor of Mr. Dufty’s article here — that’s not convincing the smart people of Northampton or the Supervisors to shelve the rezoning. People are fed up here with being the poorest county in Virginia while the rest of the state is moving forward. Yet CBES wants us to stick our boots in the mud and dig ourselves into the oblivion of no hope. 25 years ago a builder was building a community where I live in now and was bringing over $2 million in property and real estate taxes and 600 new homeowners that had over $20 million in annual spending in our county. Guess what folks, CBES with the help of a County Supervisor called back the plan. The County attorney said doing that was “walking on thin ice,” and the CBES group celebrated with champagne. Those that bought into the new Arlington community lost on the average $20,000 each. Look at the ugliness here — over 100 homes without indoor plumbing, people working for a salary of $17,000 (Virginia average $52,000), no benefits at all, and soon no hospital. CBES attitude is “who cares”?

  9. J T Elliott on January 5th, 2015 12:12 pm

    For the record– Let’s get the facts straight. Mr Sacco is talking about a Long Island developer who came here, built five houses, ran into drinking water problems, went bankrupt up north, lost the development here and left owing the county $88,000 in back taxes.

  10. Donna Bozza on January 5th, 2015 2:24 pm

    Tony, I respect your right to state your opinions. We can agree to disagree, but please let’s be mutually respectful and stand on fact. CBES’ mission is to support sustainable growth and advocate for a quality of life that all Shore citizens deserve. Our 26-year-old record speaks for itself. The subdivision you speak of and its failure had nothing to do with this organization nor the governing body. Decanto went bankrupt under its own power. Clearly the subdivision design was an ill-fit with the real estate market at the time and perhaps even now as this small county has over 2,000 residential lots still empty not including Bay Creek’s inventory. The 2014 Assessment Study paid for with our tax dollars points to the problems Northampton County faces in economic development. These are the facts — please take the time to read it (CLICK). Nowhere does it state that zoning is holding back economic progress. As for the those who find the proposed zoning reckless due to no public input and arbitrary decisions made with little to no factual data, the numbers are many. The March 2014 public hearing saw a huge outcry of citizen discontent, as did the 500-signature petition presented that night, along with hundreds of signatures presented since then in support of withdrawing the proposed zoning and starting over with a logical, democratic process, and a packed courthouse in December pleading for Supervisors to not sell their citizens short. The type of zoning proposed to increase residential numbers with the faulty mindset that revenue will increase as taxes decrease has not worked anywhere else. The same folks you are concerned about — as is CBES — are the same people who will no doubt be taxed out when the services demanded by unsustainable growth far exceeds the county’s capacity to deliver.

  11. Tony Sacco on January 6th, 2015 1:14 am

    I will withhold my rebuttal to Ms. Bozza and Mr. Elliott, as the scandal could tear Northampton County apart.

  12. Craig Richardson on January 23rd, 2015 8:03 am

    How much money in tax revenue does the county lose through the AFD program? The majority of the land in this program can’t be built on anyway! The program does not benefit the county whatsoever. If you want more businesses to come here, the shore needs to be connected to the power grid. Starting with the offshore wind generators with a substation near the southern end of the shore, then connecting to the power grid from Virginia Beach via the CBBT, and then again to the north into Maryland.
    And on another matter, why the people of Cape Charles are not contacting the Inspector General’s office, or their state delegates about the questionable acts of the town council amazes me! And why are you guys paying for water while the old school developer gets his free? A lot of shady stuff, but no real action is being taken. START MAKING CALLS TO YOUR STATE REPRESENTATIVES!

  13. Jim Welch on January 23rd, 2015 9:21 am

    Craig – You’re right on the Money! And money is the issue.

    This is my first point of observation: blatant WASTE of tax revenue on a continuing basis without any accountability by the BOS and their county manager, who by the way has a questionable past that no one seems to want to look into. The BOS in all respects are the managers and bankers for the common good of the county-at-large. They should be fired for their past, current, and I’m sure to be soon future misdeeds. If the people in this county, with all the attention being put on this subject, don’t awaken to how they’re losing their tax money each and every day, then not demand and get a full accountability and transparency along with a fast halt to this charade, well, as the Bible says, “we reap what we sow.”

    Also, why turn this natural area into Disneyland, if that’s even possible? Look around, the whole world wants more jobs — they’ve moved them offshore to China. The BOS needs to respect the land and respond to its needs. Jobs can always be created but if the BOS and associated management function at 15% efficiency, and the people accept this, then just what is in the process of happening will happen — a very few will buy cheap land and sell or develop it with a single goal: maximize profit.

    And yes — “why the people of Cape Charles are not contacting the Inspector General’s office, or their state delegates about the questionable acts of the town council amazes me!”

  14. Tony Sacco on January 23rd, 2015 12:25 pm

    Our state representatives with a weak punch in both houses in Richmond cannot be recognized for anything worthwhile to our poorest county. We need to elect representatives for all the people — not those that only work hard to get re-elected over and over with no real accomplishments for our county. If you like what you elected, then pull the covers over your head and sleep with the fishes.