Battle lines were drawn in the sand at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting in Eastville, as county citizen in favor of keeping the 2015 zoning ordinance in place packed the room, and voiced outrage at what many felt was arbitrary and capricious behavior by the newly elected board. Familiar dissidents who had fought the 2015 ordinance for some time, including Ken Dufty, Art Schwartzchild, David Kabler and Roberta Kellam were also on hand, but found themselves in unfamiliar territory, now on the defensive, having to defend the Duer resolution. While Schwartzchild recommended taking some of the 2015 ordinance and putting it in the 2009 version, others noted that going back will be more difficult than going forward. Citizens told the Mirror privately that they felt for the last two years, the BoS and the County staff have been attacked and bullied by a small segment of the electorate, which had a privileged, limited, and unrealistic vision for the county. The so-called “silent majority” came out of the shadows last Tuesday, and openly voiced displeasure with the direction of the new board.
Bill Payne of Bay Creek supported keeping the 2015 zoning, “I represent the Boys and Girls clubs of southeast Virginia, and I am here to support them, so that they can have the opportunity of economic development, to grow as they grow up. I was also part of the Comp Plan advisory committee, and we made recommendations we are proud up…we recommended streamlining a very cumbersome zoning ordinance. Some of those are reflected in the 2015 ordinance. There may be some flaws in that ordinance, I would recommend to you that we negotiate those flaws…”
Bob Colson noted that the idea of large masses of people coming to the county is a myth, and that the county population has been declining for some time. Mr. Colson, one of the major green bean growers in the county, also complained that regulations forced his operation into wasteful, non-sustainable practices, “Retirees will move here, but one of the main things they look for is medical; but medical is moving to Accomack, so much for making Northampton a retirement community. Decline in potato and tomato production, is down 30% in acreage. Under the current motion to repeal, I could not feed excess green beans due to being a AFO, an animal feeding operation.”
Katherine Campbell attacked the board for a lack of transparency, and trampling on due process, “I was shocked to find that, you passed a law that you drafted in secret, without any public information, you sprang it out, Mr. Duer and Mr. Murray, I can’t find anybody that knew this is what you planned to do….you said it was going to take the county back to 2009, and then back to the future to make it better, and that’s not true. This new law, I don’t think it was drafted with a lot of people seeing it, or on the County’s website like the last one was for months. It says it wants Hamlets to be residential, but there are 25 hamlets in the county, all filled with abandoned banks, grain depots, post offices; in 2009, you needed to get a special use permit to open a B&B, or coffee shop, things a tourist would love to come and see, but take it back to 2009 with this secret amendment, with changes nobody saw and were not publicized, and you’re going to say that these things are now illegal because these hamlets are now residential. Now Mr. Hogg, you say you are very concerned about the property owners and the impact of what this board does, yet you take away such as these special uses that would benefit hamlet property owners, with this secret law that no one ever saw…all Americans want transparency in their government, they want to be involved.”
Lee Kellam complained that throwing away two years of work was a waste of tax payers dollars, “I truly don’t understand why the 2015 zoning ordinance is being replaced, it seems it would be a waste of time and taxpayers’ dollars to trash it.”
Johnny Crumb of Oyster said that the Supervisors were using the election as some kind of mandate, but since hardly 50% of the public even voted, the results did not give them carte blanche to do whatever they wanted without due process and public input, “I want to respect you, but I want you to respect me, and all of the county, not just your constituents, and I don’t know who your constituents are, and you don’t only represent your district, you only represent the people that voted for you, and you don’t even know who all of those are. You are supposed to be representing everybody here…who’s going to protect my children and grandchildren when I’m gone; there’s more than one way to do something.”
Patrick Coady chastised the Board for not following protocol, and for conducting political theater in favor of well thought out legislating, “We are at a place where we can sit down and have a serious dialog about what is good and appropriate for the Comprehensive Plan and the zoning ordinance. The complaints over the last two years about what became the 2015 zoning ordinance, all based around it being sprung on the people… all the discord that led up to the adoption of the 2015 ordinance shows how ill-advised it is to bypass proper procedure. The last three zoning ordinances were adopted partially or fully in advance of the accompanying comprehensive plan, which is putting process exactly backwards. And if you do it again this time, with 23 pages of ill-considered amendments, on top of 3 existing codes, you’ve only compounded the problem. The latest Comp Plan is nearly finished. The direction I believe should be to approve the Comprehensive Plan and then undertake an appropriate zoning ordinance in compliance with the Comprehensive Plan. This board, in less than two months has already taken two actions that not only prove how ill advised, this political theater is to simply rescind the 2015 ordinance; first, passing a motion that was not legally enforceable, because you couldn’t meet the timelines you put in your own motion, and the 2nd, when you held the special meeting here, a closed meeting to consider a legal matter, and after that closed meeting opened up discussion on the amendment, and discussed among yourselves what you really meant. I heard that there would be more discussed than just the legal matter, so I came over only to find the doors locked. That is the second violation. I’m asking you, do this appropriately this time, don’t rush into it, finish the Comprehensive Plan, and then address the issues with the 2015 zoning. Come up with one clean code done the way the process was meant to be done.”
Dr. Federico Molera also felt the Board was acting impulsively, and ignoring not only due process, but also fundamental data, “Two wrongs do not make a right. The previous Board of Supervisors, spent two years, listening to the people….it is very arrogant of you to think that you think you know better than the other group, one that was elected too…in less than a month, you come in and change the whole thing. I am very tired of hearing about the Comprehensive Plan, I was part of the 2009 committee, and we met 200 times and talked about we want this and we want that…and now, 2016 and we’re still talking about the Comprehensive Plan, and we’re talking about people coming from Massachusetts and investing and all that…the employment in the county, between 2012 and 2013 is almost 10% lower than it was with the Comprehensive Plan. Personal property per cent was 24% in 2103…it was 19% before the Comprehensive Plan. We need to start working for the people, and the best way is to educate them…the best education is to find a job. I have five kids and all but one work here…I can’t say that about my grandchildren that they would work here. The ideas that we are an old county, and the retirees are coming and all that…they are not coming. They are not coming, I have been saying that since 2009. According to you, Mr. Spencer (Murray), according to you, we pay property taxes and 70% of the revenues are from that; and that is where you are going to come and put more taxes to us. Because there is no employment here.”