Rezoning ‘Information Session’ Turns into Showdown

Supervisor Larry Trala faces up to two of Northampton County's most determined rezoning opponents: Bob Meyers (from back) and Ken Dufty (right). (Wave photo)

Supervisor Larry Trala faces up to two of Northampton County’s most determined rezoning opponents: Bob Meyers (from back) and Ken Dufty (right). (Wave photo)

Cape Charles Wave

March 23, 2015

After several delays, the winter weather finally relented and allowed Northampton County to conduct two Public Information Sessions for the county’s proposed zoning ordinance. Although the event was sparsely populated, those in attendance were eager to hear or see just what was in store, and if it differed in any way from what had already been gleaned from Economic Developer Charles McSwain’s Information Paper.

The first session, at Kiptopeke Elementary, kicked off with an overview of what the county considered the most significant and impactful changes, such as shore widths, allowable uses, the continued incorporation of the Bay Act throughout the county, and the inclusion of mobile homes in the plan. County Long Range Planner Peter Stith emphasized that this effort was meant to be a way to streamline the process, make definitions more clear, and simplify the overall zoning, such as by reducing the number of districts from 21 to 15.

The room had stations set up on the perimeters, with county staff available to answer questions. Mr. Stith and the Geographic Information System Department also provided several large wall maps showing just what the physical changes are going to look like in a very holistic manner. Each station was loaded with a fairly robust level of information, and county staff was pleasant and eager to answer questions. Among those attending were Cape Charles Town Council members Chris Bannon and Joan Natali.

While the mood of the general public was initially buoyant, news that public comments would be limited to “written only” comments sucked a good bit of the air out of the event. As the public milled about, and somewhat hushed conversations echoed off the cinder block walls of the auditorium, the room began to take on the sad feel of a job fair intended for recently released inmates from the county jail rather than an exciting question and answer session.

Night two at Occohonock Elementary, however, had an entirely different feel. The format was the same, but after Planner Stith finished his introduction and was on his way to one of the tables, he was bushwhacked by Dr. Art Schwarzschild of Willis Wharf. “Peter, I have a question. There is such a big difference between the first proposal and the current one, and the difference is not well highlighted. We at Willis Wharf and Oyster, we spent a lot of time, two years, picking all the things we wanted in our villages — why did we change this for something new that was developed behind closed doors?” he asked.


Then Bob Meyers addressed Stith: “I’m looking for some documentation to justify the changes you have made. What are the reasons? If you explain it to us, if you were a little more forthcoming, maybe we would understand it better. It seems like what you are doing is completely arbitrary.”

“Why would you have an ordinance that opens the door to waste incinerators?” asked Ken Dufty. “Why would that go in — in a county that is absolutely one of the most pristine ecological treasures. Those are the questions we have.”

“I do understand there are some issues,” responded Stith.

Looking to further redress their grievances, citizens moved to Supervisor Larry Trala, who was standing at the back of the room. Elvin Hess asked, “What is the problem the ordinance is trying to solve, and how are we trying to solve it — let’s relate the problem to the solution.”

“They say it’s about economic development,” replied Dufty. “But when you bring in mass development, you don’t bring in more revenue, you create more expenditures for services.”

Addressing Trala, Meyers asked, “Why are we creating these problems — waste incinerators are incompatible with residences.”

“I have not heard of any waste incinerators proposed,” responded Trala.

“I doesn’t make a difference Larry,” said Meyers. “They can be there.”

“I’m not trying to get into an argument,” said Trala. “but look at the current ordinance and how long ago it has been passed. And what’s been happening? Growth has been deteriorating every year. School enrollments have been deteriorating every year. Businesses are going to Accomack. Just look at what’s happened to Northampton County.”

“Don’t tell me you think it’s a zoning problem,” responded Meyers.

Trala continued, “The new zoning is simpler, easier to understand for the people — we are not trying to hide anything from the public; we’re trying to be open for the good of the community.”

“Why would you put in the middle of a residential community the capability of waste incineration?” asked Meyers.

“Maybe you have a point. Maybe we should look at that and see why it’s in there,” said Trala.

“How about some justification of why you’re doing it,” said Meyers.

“Look at the overall picture of Northampton County — in every public hearing, we are listening to the public,” Trala said.

“Mr. Trala, we don’t know what to ask; we have been shut out from the beginning.” said Dufty.

“I don’t believe that to be true,” responded Trala. “You have a right to ask questions. To be concerned.”

“Why is the term ‘waste related’ even in the ordinance?” asked Dufty.

“You have a point,” said Trala. “It should be out.”

There have been many questions around substandard zoning practices, and the Wave was able to get a few moments with Bob Meyers to elaborate and provide some specific examples. “There are four lots in the Prettyman Circle area that are consistent with the size of two lots of 57 and 34 acres between Warehouse Creek and Holly Grove Cove that have been designated as Residential with NO residential communities surrounding them. The assignment of an Ag designation to the four parcels, based on the designation of the other two parcels demonstrates an arbitrary decision that is erratic and appears devoid of thought. Good zoning practices should reflect the character of the existing neighborhood,” Meyers noted.

Going around the room, the majority of concerns included elimination of town edge, the creation of Planned Unit developments such as in Accomack, the removal of the Special Use Permit Process, elimination of Waterfront Village zoning districts, and the possibly of “waste related” activities taking place in the county. Although not part of the zoning, of particular concern to several people was the county’s plan to begin tax billing two times per year with an estimated cost to the county of $20,000. The County Treasurer will be sending out tax bills due June 5, with a 10% late fee if paid after that. Given the harsh winter, many citizens have had to endure extremely high electric and heating bills — adding a tax bill in June, for many, will add another layer of financial stress.

The Board of Supervisors plans to meet March 30 to consider “if” the public comments should be considered and factored into the final draft. Several citizens responded that there was going to be an attempt to “put into the record an official objection to the Public Information sessions” due to the fact that specific questions about the zoning ordinance were not answered.

With the information sessions coming to close, the opportunity to redress grievances about the process and new zoning is coming to a close. Data collection will continue for the Supervisors, as well as for opponents, and in the next few months, the final makeup of the ordinance should begin to become apparent, and may determine if and when any legal challenges may take place.

Maps from the session:
2/15 Map Draft North:
2/15 Map Middle:
2/15 Map South:
Proposed zoning 2/15 Draft:



One Response to “Rezoning ‘Information Session’ Turns into Showdown”

  1. Janet Sturgis on March 26th, 2015 1:28 pm

    The citizens and BOS of Northampton County need to know the differences between waste/sludge incinerators and gasifiers. Gasifiers are one environmentally responsible way of dealing with those wastes resulting from sewage treatment and agriculture (not just chicken poop). The resulting methane can then be used to produce electricity thaT in turn can be used to power the treatment plant, County offices, pumping stations, water reclamation plants, etc. Stop trying to bleed the same people for tax revenue and put some of those Northampton County employees to work looking for grant money! We need to think ourselves into this century and beyond. Water reclamation would protect our aquifer situation and our water quality in the Bay and tributaries. These technologies I have mentioned require engineers and highly trained individuals — positions our children could pursue upon returning to the Shore. We could become a showplace and great learning center for the east coast while protecting our valuable resources.