Short Rundown on County Re-Zoning Proposals

Cape Charles Wave

February 9, 2015

During the summer of 2012, the Northampton Board of Supervisors set forth an objective of “Review and revise the zoning ordinance to promote business development by June 30, 2013.” The release of the initial draft set off a firestorm that is still reverberating across the county.

Beginning last summer, the BOS began a review of the public hearing draft, and began making modifications. The latest draft (133 pages), labeled “2/15 Draft,” as well as a “Citizen Information Paper,” which highlights changes to the March 11, 2014, Public Hearing Draft of the Zoning Code, is available on the county website

For many, the first draft was an affront to the rural character of Northampton County, and what many perceived as an attack on the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act itself. At stake was the removal of the Chesapeake/Atlantic Preservation overlay from the seaside. In the latest version, the Board of Supervisors determined that the CAP should remain on the seaside, and has directed the Planning Commission to study the effectiveness and impact of implementation of the Bay Act on the seaside with whatever scientific or quantitative support that may be available. However, the inclusion of the CBPA on the Seaside is already part of the current Northampton Comprehensive Plan. Whether the quantitative data mentioned will be derived from scientific data, local community organizations, aquaculture representatives, watermen, and how that will affect the eventually zoning was not mentioned.

According to the latest draft, Seaside zoning will remain at a 250’; however, 60’ shoreline width is allowed for Working Waterfront and Village Waterfront Business (still, there is some waterfront land zoned Hamlet and Village, and this is proposed to be 205’). Seaside continues to have a conservation district which includes a 100’ shoreline building setback (again, the CBPA overlay was reinstated on the Atlantic side).


Along the same lines, the desire by many residents that a Working Waterfront district be created has been incorporated in the latest draft. On the table is the listing of Willis Warf and Oyster as WW districts. The BOS is noting that there are other areas on the seaside and bayside with active working waterfronts, and they may also be listed as WW.

Increased density has been another touch point for opposition to the proposed zoning. One issue is that the proposed zoning ordinance still allows, by right, an additional house in any zoning district (given that a principal dwelling unit is permitted). However, under the current zoning, it is required that the land be subdivided in order to build a second principal dwelling. This would require notifications, public hearings, and a Special Use Permit. The proposed zoning, by allowing the second dwelling by right (only has to conform to the density requirements), not only artificially downplays increased density figures, it also limits an adjacent landowner’s voice and rights in regard to any opposition to construction that may affect them.

Town Edge districts are also being axed in this draft. The reasoning offered is that the Town Edge made it difficult to use the district to promote the development around existing towns due to the amount of approvals required. The notion is to create an environment for “low impact” development, without requiring a rezoning hearing.

One issue with removing the Town Edge designation is that the areas with that designation would return to the original way they were zoned. In most cases, this will be agricultural, which, under the proposed zoning, would be vulnerable to the new allowable uses in an agricultural zone. The “new” allowable uses such as municipal use (definition), medical waste incinerators, municipal (hazardous) waste processing plants, municipal waste storage facilities may not seem “low impact” enough for many living in those parts of the county. It should be noted these uses are not included in the current Comp Plan. Since the proposed zoning would “create an environment” that would not require re-zoning, it appears that would open up another can of worms.

The attachment many have for Northampton’s agricultural roots, and the desire to see much of the land remain that way, has been a major driver in the opposition to the new zoning proposal. The current draft continues to include acceptable uses defined in AG areas as “waste related.” Even as developers that wish to engage in those activities will be required to have a special use permit, there is still the worry that this may not be much of a safeguard relative to protecting agricultural lands from being converted into more environmentally invasive uses.

Given the current issues of limited affordable housing options, a major bone of contention with the previous draft was the elimination of single-wide mobile homes. The 2/15 draft allows, by right, single wide mobile homes in conservation, agriculture, R-5, hamlet and village districts. Single wide mobile homes are permitted with special use permit in R, R-1, and R-3 districts. However, Mobile Home Parks are not listed as an allowable district in the proposed zoning ordinance, and instead have to apply to be rezoned as a Planned Unit Development. For parks that are already in operation, they can continue, but as a “non-conforming use,” which would prohibit them from adding new lots.

The current draft is still a large document, and analysis and interpretation by zoning opponents, especially regarding PUD definitions, the Bay Act, acceptable use, density, large scale development, and laying impervious materials, especially along the aquifer, may still create some pushback on the County.

Northampton County urges all citizens to read the latest draft, and is sponsoring two Public Information Meetings about the proposed revised zoning ordinance. Information sessions will be held from 7-10 p.m. Thursday, February 19, in the Kiptopeke Elementary School cafeteria, and Wednesday, February 25, in the Occohannock Elementary School cafeteria.



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