Cape Charles Mirror Report
by Wayne Creed
As the County and its citizens continue to grapple over the possible repercussions of the proposed zoning changes, which include chicken houses, planned unit developments, setback limits and the possible nullification of the Bay Act along the seaside, the 2003 report, “Northampton County Sensitive Natural Resource Areas Report and Recommendations”, stands in stark contrast to current plans, and in some ways, indicates that rather than moving forward towards a better Northampton, we are in many ways going backwards. In the late 1990’s, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel Commission proposed a significant reduction in tolls which many felt would, through influx and density, put increased pressure on our natural resources like our sole source aquifer, destruction of farmland and open space–to increase density by building developments, would also increase the levels of congestion—in a nutshell, more development may put a more money in a few folks pockets, but it would forever adversely affect Northampton’s rural quality of life as well as do harm to our fundamental economic base.
In 2001 renewed concern over how the toll reduction would impact, or increase sprawl, the County moved to assess natural resources and, based on this assessment, create a resource preservation overlay district. In what may seem out of place with the operations of the current Board of Supervisors, the County sought technical guidance not just from its own professional staff, but from State and academic organizations. The report was a compilation of the project’s analytical findings and included a “review of the natural resource preservation areas in the County as well as assessment of areas that are particularly vulnerable to development impacts.”
The report found that any decreases in the CBBT toll would “substantially increase the affordability of a commute to and from Virginia Beach”. The conclusion was that an affordable commute combined with the County’s lower cost of living “could rapidly change the Southern Tip into a bedroom community for the metro region across the Bay”. The impact analysis from the report recommended smart growth strategies that Northampton could use to mitigate sprawl and protect the Southern Eastern Shore. A major part of this strategy was the creation of a rural preservation overlay district to minimize impacts on the Shore’s rural character and sensitive natural resources.
• Development and recording of conservation easements for 10 priority Seaside Farms by The Nature Conservancy
• Modification of County zoning and subdivision ordinances to maintain maximal vegetative cover and encourage cluster development
• Designation of appropriate areas as “Exceptional Waters” to stop any additional water pollution
• Adoption of subaqueous permit guidelines by the Marine Resources Commission to ensure appropriate siting of aquaculture, dredging activities and marinas
• Development and adoption of a stormwater management plan and ordinance
• Development and adoption of a public access MOU for appropriate siting of recreational activities and development of ecotourism
The study defines a preservation overlay district as a “land use management technique that adds regulatory requirements and applies specific development performance standards in addition to existing zoning requirements. This land-use tool allows for special regulations that are designed to supplement, rather than replace, existing zoning. Where overlay regulations differ from the base zone, the more restrictive (protective) of the two is administered (Schiffman, 1999).”
The report hoped that the implementation of the County’s SNRA preservation overlay would minimize land-uses that damage natural resources. Using gap analysis the report noted the degree in which native wildlife and natural communities are represented, and “without proper protection actions the natural community’s ability to thrive is potentially threatened.”
Migratory Bird Corridor
Using the Neotropical Songbird Coastal Corridor Study, the report also highlighted how important Northampton County’s location is to the Trans-Atlantic Migratory Bird Corridor. According to the study, “During the fall season, large numbers of avian populations tend to travel along distinct routes asthe study found that the Chesapeake Bay one of the largest physical barriers along the Atlantic Flyway. Birds tend to pile up along the Northampton County’s bayside and Southern Tip in order to rest and refuel before traveling across a large stretch of open water. Because of the species diversity and large number of bird populations supported in these areas during this time, Northampton County has been recognized internationally by the scientific community for its critical migratory bird stop-over habitat.”
Sole Source Aquifer
The report noted that the optimum areas for freshwater recharge occur along the spine area of Northampton County, and that the best groundwater recharge areas are not widespread and only happen in very small areas up and down the spine.
Recommendations for Groundwater Recharge:
• Cluster development on smaller lot sizes, with the remainder of the site preserved as natural area or recreational space.
• Placement of sidewalks on one side of the street only.
• Direction of rooftop runoff to pervious areas such as yards, open channels, or vegetated areas.
The report stated that one of the overlay’s main goals is to maintain to the “greatest extent possible natural community dynamics within a human environment.” Best Management Practices that “balance the needs of people living in the district as well as natural community” needs are critical.
Maintaining wildlife movement corridors are critical for Northampton County which, as was noted earlier, contains important stopover habitat for migratory bird populations. The ability to minimize the disturbance of native vegetation is also crucial. The report went on to say that “The most effective way to maintain natural community areas is to limit disturbance”. If there is a disturbance caused by development replanting indigenous vegetation will help preserve the diversity of indigenous Eastern Shore wildlife, which are dependent on plants for food and shelter.
Northampton County, our home is made up of farmlands, woodlands, tidal tributaries, marsh, wetlands, shorelines, scenic roads, parks, trails and other forms of open space. Those of us that live here, whether born or moved here, cherish this rural quality of life for ourselves, and for the other creatures that share this land between two waters with us. The CBBT study is an old one, but its findings still ring true today. The proposed zoning by the current Board of Supervisors not only ignores the cogent message of this report, but actively attempts to negate it. Population trends are what they are, and for Coastal Virginia are expected to increase dramatically. As the study notes, “with growth, significant changes in land-use patterns are expected as well.”
If the current Board truly has the best interests of the County in mind, it may be helpful for them to take a few minutes and review the report (located on the County website here). If any changes to the proposed zoning is going to be beneficial to Northampton, it should not be used as a tool to promote unregulated sprawl, growth and intensive farming operations, but more an administrative tool used to “protect the county’s rural character and natural resources.”