Between 2007 and 2009, I and a great deal of others, participated in a series of meetings regarding the creation a new Comprehensive Plan and new Zoning regulations. Back in 2009 we were informed the correct way to address this method of governing our county was to first develop the Comprehensive Plan, then follow that with a complimentary set of zoning regulations. That was the path we followed in 2009.
Several topics emerged as driving issues during this long process involving extensive citizen input. Some of the key issues were:
1) encouraging development in the towns and hamlets instead of along Route 13
2) Making the most of our unique natural resources by promoting traditional uses such as farming and fishing, as well as newer businesses like aquaculture and ecotourism.
3)Preserving our natural assets such as our sole source aquifer, our clean Bay and ocean waters, our unspoiled barrier islands (which form the largest expanse of undeveloped coastline on the East coast) and our fertile agricultural lands
4) Preserving the rural culture and historic values.
An inherent assumption seemed to be it would make the most sense to utilize our strengths, assets and traditions to craft our own future rather than to try and compete with Ocean City, Virginia Beach or the Outer Banks in a pall mall rush to promote commercial development at any cost. Zoning was written to compliment these ideas, including significant setbacks for shoreline development to preserve our riparian zones and filter pollutants before they entered our waterways. Restrictions were placed on development which might harm these natural resources, but provisions were made to achieve approval for non-conforming uses. Traditional uses such as working waterfronts were written into zoning code after meeting with local citizens and officials from the towns and hamlets involved.
In contrast to that 2009 Comprehensive Plan/Zoning procedure, the 2015 Zoning followed a much different path. The Comprehensive Plan was not rewritten prior to creation of the Zoning Ordinance. The 2015 Zoning was written by county staff in a dimly lit back room with zero input from the public. The Planning Commission was not given the opportunity to review the new Zoning until after it was written. They were given insufficient time to review it once it was presented to them and they were denied allowances for extra time or resources to complete a full review of the Zoning. In fact, several well regarded members of the Planning Commission resigned in protest of this treatment. The Planning Commission review of the Zoning was rushed because the former BOS was adamant about their desire to approve the 2015 Zoning as soon as possible, with or without public input. Not exactly a poster child for due process.
For 2 years, hundreds of citizen activists attended meeting after meeting to protest the high handed way the BOS was using to push through the 2015 Zoning. Several members of the old BOS refused to listen to their constituents, claiming they knew better and that the “silent majority” was behind them. In November 2015 that fallacious assertion was demonstrated for what it was when both Districts holding elections overwhelmingly chose Supervisors who had vowed to keep the 2009 zoning. In a petty, vindictive reaction to the November 2015 elections, the lame duck members of the old BOS voted to pass the 2015 Zoning, despite major conflicts with the existing Comprehensive Plan and the obvious wishes of the public, as demonstrated by the election of the new Supervisors.
Now we have a new board, duly elected by their constituents, who is working to reinstate a Comp Plan/Zoning ordinance that was thoroughly vetted by the public and the Planning Commission. It isn’t perfect, but at least it followed legal guidelines and received extensive citizen input during its drafting, which the 2015 Zoning did not.
Finally, it is worth noting that in the “Northampton County Competitive Assessment Study” drafted under the direction of the previous Board of Supervisors and released in 2014, there are a number of obstacles hindering development, such as the county’s remote location, the substandard K-12 education and the lack of sufficient workforce development training. In no instance does the 48-page document list zoning as hindering development.
I therefore respectively request the Board of Supervisors reinstate the 2009 zoning as the basis for future revisions.