County Planning Commission Hears Discouraging Data

Cape Charles Wave

March 30, 2015

The Northampton County Planning Commission met March 25 to continue amending the zoning and land use map. Commissioners Mike Ward provided statistical handouts  including the following:

· Population decreased 7.39% in the years 2000-2014;

· Jobs declined 20.7% in the period 1999-2014;

· Property values declined 20.26% between 2009-14;

· Median Household income declined 7.44% between 2010-2014;

· Poverty rate increased to 24.3% in 2013, up 6.3% from 2007; and

· Economic Development plummeted in recent years.

· Northampton commercial establishments that closed in recent years include Roses, LeCato, A&N Clothing, Bank of America in Cape Charles, Sun Trust Bank in Nassawadox, KFC, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, and Burger King and Fresh Pride in Exmore. Rural Health moved from Nasswadox to Onancock, and Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital is doing the same.

Ward also noted that Shore Memorial Hospital’s impending move will create health, safety, and public welfare challenges. Similar challenges also face economic development endeavors, and poor school performance and low teacher salaries serve as a disincentive to attract “quality personnel.”

Residents may want to prepare for an increase in taxes, he said, as there will be fiscal pressures due to the need in part to “replace aging equipment and maintain existing facilities, together with salaries”.

When the Planning Commission meets April 7, on the agenda are three Special Use Permits, a single wide mobile home request, a Conference Retreat Center for Mimosa Farms, and a proposal to open a raw bar/bistro in the 1,000 square-foot Harvey building on the waterfront in Oyster.


Although there are certainly substantial negative economic and social indicators, Commissioner Ward’s report may have ignored some positive ones, such as the economic boost tourism is providing the county (much of it through Cape Charles). Recent data indicate Eastern Shore agricultural exports are still perennially among the highest in the state, the aquaculture industry and its exports are gaining traction all up and down the eastern seaboard, and as seen during the January Board of Supervisors meetings, the School Superintendent is passionate, engaged, and ready to fight for county students, as well as a group of teachers, who even with substandard salaries, are among the most talented and dedicated anywhere in the state.

In terms of key indicators, another positive asset that may have been overlooked is the quality and diversity of the people. When one points to the success of a sector, such as tourism, that success is the result of hard work by people like Donna Bozza, who did so much to advocate, promote, and lay the groundwork for Eastern Shore tourism — as well as the continued efforts of the Eastern Shore Tourism Commission.

Moving forward, the incorporation of all the data in the analysis, visualization, and dissemination, both good and bad, may be a useful best practice to be adopted by county decision makers.

Land use management and land planning requires a unique understanding of the current state of the county’s landscape. In-depth knowledge of how current land is being utilized, combined with historical data to show change over time, is fundamental to future land management planning. Peter Stith and the Northampton County Geographic Information System Department measure current conditions and how they are changing through land cover mapping, which attempts to map resources into thematic categories, such as property parcels, building footprints, landmarks and addresses; transportation networks; incorporated boundaries; elevation contours; hydrography; vegetation; SURGO soils and FEMA flood zones, among others.

County Long Range Planner Peter Stith leverages remotely sensed imagery (aerial photography in this instance) as a means to derive land resource information (such as identifying unincorporated areas of the county). The Comprehensive Plan, Land Use Code, and other policies should leverage this data to document, protect, and preserve the varying historic resources as well as promoting sustainability and stewardship of the land.

From a granular context, the county remapping process includes the review of aerial photographs of parcels throughout the county, and after review, possibly changing the designation of certain parcels. After reviewing the data, the role of the Planning Commission is to attempt to determine what the land use will be in the future, 10, 15 or 20 years out.

Given the critical, sensitive environmental nature of Northampton County, it may be time to look at other ways to gather relevant, real-time GIS content to use in land use analysis. In most cases remote sensing data collection is captured via small aircraft, sometimes purchased from satellite vendors. Where this can be a fairly expensive process, it also may not produce the latest most localized content. Another option is to use drones (UAV), which can be flown almost every day, and at a tiny portion of the cost.

According to Jack Dangermond, president of the world’s largest GIS software company, ESRI, “Use of UAVs to capture, process, and deliver GIS content in near real time is a real game-changer.”

From the data processing side, there are organizations like Skycatch, which offers a service called Workmode. From Northampton, we can upload UAV collected data, either RGB, multispectral, and thermal data, and Workmode will create maps, take 2-D measurements of distance, length, and area and 3-D volume measurements. Importantly, it will also track changes over time using change-detection heat maps.

Other drone companies like DJI and 3D Robotics are integrating georeferencing and photogrammetry tools into their flight planners. From a visualization and modeling perspective, using rich, real-time data collection, and in turn providing a superior product (data) would give county Commissioners more tools to use in the decision making process.

CORRECTIONS: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the provider of the “discouraging data” as County Long Range Planner Peter Stith. In fact the data was provided by Planning Commission member Mike Ward. Also, the 1,000 square-foot building in Oyster was incorrectly reported as being 2,500 square feet.



One Response to “County Planning Commission Hears Discouraging Data”

  1. Keith Underhill on April 1st, 2015 8:39 am

    Northampton is in this mess because the leaders listen to idiots that charge them tens of thousands of dollars for surveys, reports, suggestions, impact statements.
    These reports come from places that have no idea how the Eastern Shore works.
    So, instead of doing their job to guide this county with the citizens, they operate off of these reports so that when it fails it’s not their fault. All of these problems have been addressed and ignored by the County administration. My family has been on the Eastern Shore since the late 1600s. I am the last to leave and I will return when my ashes are in an urn. The administration needs to be changed like diapers for the same reason. Good luck Shore Folks, your leaders have dug a deep hole. I suggest you put them there, kick dirt over it and move on like a Big Dog.