Cape Charles Mirror Report
by Wayne Creed
With the end of public comment on the proposed zoning ordinance looming, the citizens of Northampton County once again came out to hold their elected official’s feet to the fire over non-standard, unregulated Planned Urban Developments (PUDs), setbacks, but more importantly, to reinforce the message that large scale, intensive industrial poultry operations are inappropriate for this county. There were one hour and four minutes of public comments. While several speakers attacked the possibility of large scale poultry operations, the bombshell was dropped by Rebecca Geary, whose dramatic testimony provided context to the perception that the public may have been intentionally misled by County Staff and members of the Board of Supervisors in regards intensive chicken farming coming to Northampton, as well as the County’s intimate relationship with Tyson and possibly other large scale poultry processors.
“My family comes from Hogg Island originally, my great aunt was a school teacher there, and my family goes back to the 1600s. I am extremely vested in this county. There was a discussion about chicken houses and the contact that was or was not happening between Tyson and county representatives. I personally took the phone call from Tyson, between July 7th 2014 and April 2015. He wanted to speak to someone in regards to our County zoning situation because he had individuals that were very interested in having chicken farms in Northampton County, and he wanted to see what was possible. I recognized this as a business opportunity and transferred the call to Charles (McSwain). I let him know there was a Tyson representative on the phone, and asked if he would like to speak to him. He said yes, closed his door and he was on the phone for approximately an hour. He came back out, thanked me for transferring the call, and said it was a very valuable call, and very informative. He told the gentleman that at this time it was not possible to have chicken houses in Northampton County, but the zoning that was going to be put into place was going to give them exactly what they need to be able to come here. (audience applause). I just wanted to have that put into the record. And I will say that under oath. I want to thank you for keeping the setbacks and for addressing issues in the PUDs so that intensive chicken farming can’t come to Northampton. I was devastated when I read what was going to happen to Accomac county, and I don’t want that to happen here. Please keep in place lot coverage limits. Do not rely on the Chesapeake Bay Act, because that law can change. That law has to come from our County.”
Former Supervisor Andrew Barbour also voiced concerns about Intensive Poultry operations, “I’m here to talk about economic development. I know as supervisors you are under tremendous pressure to spur economic growth, and I know it is easier to talk about it then to actually do it; so I wasn’t surprised to hear that Charles McSwain had been in discussions with representatives of the chicken industry. As a supervisor in 2005 I also met with them, when they were trying to expand into Northampton County. After hearing their pitch, I decided that intensive chicken farming was not a good fit for Northampton county for one main reason—the costs far outweighed the benefits. From the grower’s perspective, they have to take out enormous loans to buy the houses and equipment, ten years ago it was half a million for two houses. They don’t own the birds themselves. They take the economic risks without any of the economic upside. The industry is using something called the tournament system, to rank their growers. Farmers that can produce chickens at the lowest price per pound, get favorable treatment. Farmers at the lower end get inferior birds—integrators will withhold birds, unless they do costly upgrades the houses. Constant cycle of debt and they can’t get out of it. Northampton would start behind the eight ball before the first bird arrives, because transportation costs are part of the calculation in the tournament rankings. The cost of bringing feed and transporting the birds to the process plant is all factored in. One of the encouragements was do not get more than twenty-five miles from the processing plant or you are already in trouble. A fraction of a penny separates the winners from the losers, Northampton growers would start at a disadvantage, to their Accomac counter parts. Why would we want to have this kind of industry here—a professor at the college of agriculture in Alban termed the growers as serfs with mortgages. Why would we put our emphasis there, to a support an industry that is going to damage two of the twin pillars of our economy; chicken farming is as hostile to aquaculture as you can get and our aquaculture industry is a stunning success. We have the largest producer of hard shell clams in the world. According to VIMs we employ five hundred people with a direct economic input of forty-two million and indirect of thirty-five million. From a branding standpoint aquaculture works hand in glove with the other success story, tourism. And you have a powerful story of what the region represents and the experience we offer and that translates into money. Intensive chicken farming is not conducive to tourism. Do not trade the pillars of our economy for something that is not good for our environment or our farmers. So do not change the existing zoning ordinance standards for lot coverage, setbacks, and keep Chesapeake Bay Act across the entire county”.
Mary Miller, former member of the Planning Commission, provided more indepth analysis of Planned Unit Developments, and how they are being structured under the proposed zoning, “even with sewer and water the town could not attract even the lowest priced chains. No justification for a residential PUD, the county has thousands of undeveloped building lots and static sales of those parcels indicate there is no additional pressure to develop those lots. Not only are you proposing a new district with unrestricted density, you have proposed massive housing density around town and waterfront villages. Where did this PUD idea come from? Not from the messages you have received from the public. Not from you competitiveness report, not from the Commissioner of Revenue report. Not even from your own appointed CPAC survey which told you three years ago two of the top things you need to do is improve education and provide a emergency medical facility.”
A.J. Singh, owner of Lankford Truck Plaza, voiced concerns about efforts to rezone parcels next to his business from Agriculture to Commercial (parcels 112-A-14 and 112-A-16), and the severe safety hazards it would create. Mr. Singh noted that his letters of opposition, as well as a petition did not make it into BoS meeting agenda packets, “I learned in my first letter to Chairman LeMond, and my second letter which contained a petition with one hundred signatures opposed to the rezoning were not in the file containing comments on the proposed zoning ordinance. You have been provided information on traffic safety issues at Lankford Truck Plaza and Cape Center. There have been several traffic fatalities at these locations…the common contributing safety factor is direct access to a median crossing on US13, where the extended length of the vehicular traffic blocks both lanes north and south. You have been provided information on the lack of progress at the proposed site and the failure of the parties to demonstrate diligent pursuit of the approved project. The parcels are zoned agriculture and should remain agriculture as commercial zoning for the project is inappropriate. My Supervisor (Hogg) and citizens have presented compelling evidence for agricultural zoning. Supervisor Hogg has requested an opinion on diligent pursuit from the Office of the Attorney General to assist in your decision whether the parties have lost their vested right in their approved project. I remind you it is the charge of the Board of Supervisors to address public health, safety and welfare of the citizens of this county. Promoting such a public health and safety hazard at this location is gross negligence on the part of any county staff, committees or commissions and the governing body.”
Real Estate broker, David Kabler noted that bringing intensive poultry to the County would not produce the kind of business investment needed, but may acutally be counter productive to, “attracting new investment; folks new to the Shore come to relocate here because they like what they see, and they invest in what they like and see, but also what they don’t see; industrial chicken houses. On Route 13 or on the Seaside, envision industrial chickens houses there. Once they are there, they will be there for a long, long time. The industry needs unspoiled areas for growth–in the Accomac report I gave you, Northampton is targeted by the industry for growth for new farms. I should also tell you, chicken farming only generated $1000 in revenue per year. But that comes with thirty thousand birds and over 25 tons of toxic manure; lots of toxic waste. What is wrong with that picture? We must be sure that the industry does not exeed our limitations set in the current zoning. Water and wind sheds should be evaluated to stop the spread of air borne contaminants, and screened from view. Impervious surfaces must protect our sole aquifer. Keep the setbacks and screen for adequate draining of runoff and toxic waste. PUDs, as written leave wide open the door with no regulation.”
Andy Teeling, also brought a plan for sustainable economic development, leveraging our many success stories that have been taking place in our schools, as well as in the County. Teeling offered that the County needs to hire a Public Relations person to “get the news out about what we are doing for our schools. I recommend the county hire a public relations person to maximize the media attention. This will raise a lot of eyebrows and get a lot of people looking at Northampton as a place to locate. A public relations person can market our many assets—who at the county level is marketing the great assets we have. The schools, the kids are our best asset but we have others that are not being marketed. There is money laying on the table since Mr. McSwain has left. I have a perfect candidate in mind, a Northampton resident, a graduate from the high school or Broadwater, who knows the county. Who is getting out of school with a degree in Communications, hired on a short term basis to serve as your PR person. He would know the county, he would know the school systems, a zero learning curve, he would be tech savvy because he would be up on all the latest, he could hit the ground running and write our great stories that are worthy of press releases that happen every week.”
Special Use Permits
Developer Angelo Manuel was on hand to defend two more applications for Special Use Permits for his Kiptopeke Village montage. What started out as hotel, then morphed into apartments, which then added a restaurant, and now has plans to mutate into pseudo convenience store (not allowed in a Hamlet, where the application is currently applied), with the addition of Food Trucks to be parked outside, presumably to accommodate construction crews during phase I of the design.
While residents such as Charles Bruchner and Terry Ramsey voiced concerns over parking and traffic, as well as confusion as to why there would be a need for a food truck parked outside a restaurant, Ken Dufty brought up the salient point that, even as the requests seemed small, taken in a broader context, things can quickly snowball and create unintended consequences. Dufty urged the Board to take the entire project into consideration when voting on a small, extracted aspect of it. Supervisor Hogg said he could not support it because the Hamlet designation prohibited convenience stores. The Special Use Permit to add an additional 200 feet of retail space carried, while the request to have a food truck on site was voted down.
Assessments, normally due in mid-December, will more than likely be extended to March 31st of 2016. The request for the extension is due to new software (VISION) being implemented, and additional time for staff to get up to speed is necessary. Administrator Nunez will make the extension request to the Circuit Court.
USDA Grant Obligations
Administrator Nunez informed the board that the County is moving forward with meeting the requirements of the USDA agreement. The USDA has approved the purchase of 2 school buses, 15 Teacher laptops, 2 Sheriff’s vehicles. In the works, Staff is preparing procurement documents for 2 more generators for the elementary schools, an EMS Quick Response Vehicle, CPR Instruction Kits for the schools, as well as a Sheriff’s Vehicle Detailing Package which includes painting and radio installation.