The Northampton Board of Supervisors held, what is purported to be the last public hearing in regards to the proposed zoning changes on Monday, which drew an audience of over 200 citizens. With elections looming, the current Board has accelerated their plans to get the zoning changes adopted before the first of the year when the makeup of the Board officially changes. Several on hand noted that the most recent public notice that went out was confusing. Adding to the confusion was that some of the changes to the zoning, mainly change from AG to R-1 or 3, seemed to affect minority land owners more negatively, which led some, including Leo Kellam of Wardtown to register a complaint, having it read into the record:
Several years ago I purchased land at the corner of Milton Ames Drive and Wardtown Road in the vicinity of what is known as Wardtown, Virginia. The zoning designation on the property when I bought it was agriculture, and I have actively farmed it since purchasing it in 2012. The property was previously subdivided into plats and before I purchased the property I understood that I could build houses there for my three sons. I understood that because the property had been subdivided, that, even though it was considered agricultural property, I would be able to realize my plan when I was ready to build and when and if my sons expressed a desire to locate on this property.
On or about October 23, 2015, I received a notice from the Northampton County Development Department that informed me my property MAY be affected by the proposed new zoning ordinance. Along with that letter was a map, which on one side showed current zoning designations and on the other side showed proposed changes. This map was very confusing to me, as the colors between R-1 and R-3 were very similar. In short, I knew my property was going to be rezoned, without my permission, but I assumed from the color chart it was going to be rezoned to R-1, which would allow me to divide my parcels into one acre building lots if I should desire. However, after reading the county notice many times, I was still confused.
… my property is proposed to be rezoned into R-3 which means it limits what I can do with this property in the future, but more importantly it changes the use of the property, as it is currently zoned agriculture.
I am also placing into the record the fact that the zoning notice was very confusing, and if I had not had a chance meeting with my neighbor, I would have assumed that my property was to be rezoned R-1 . The confusing nature of this notice and proceeding has to raise the question of how many of my friends and neighbors who are having their zoning designation changed by this process know how and if their property is being affected.
Charles and Bettye Smith also had comments read into the record:
We are writing as landowners and taxpayers in Northampton County regarding a notice we received in the mail that informed us our land is proposed to be rezoned from its current agricultural designation to R-3, a residential district that allows one house per 3 acres. We purchased our property in 2001 and it consists of 17 acres in total, which includes the 1.6 acre plot on which our house is located. The remaining acres of land that we own surrounding our small house plot is, and has been, in active agriculture. We are happy with that designation, as that is the main reason we purchased the property.
The notice we received in the mail was very confusing for two important reasons. First, the difference in coloration between R-1 designation and R-3 is very hard to distinguish. Second, the notice did not explain the full importance of the change in zoning. In fact, we had to read the separate notice in the Eastern Shore News to learn about the vast differences in uses that were allowed in agriculture districts versus residential zones. A change from agriculture to residential severely limits what we can do on our property, and represents a taking of value from our property without our consent…this proposed change in zoning classification appears to be entirely arbitrary and seems to be driven by much more than normal zoning practices. Indeed, the parcel just to the northwest of our 17 acre land consists of 12. 5 acres approximately with an occupied house on it which sits on a 2.5 acre plot. Under the current zoning, it is classified as agricultural. However, unlike my property, it is not proposed to be rezoned into residential, even though the amount of land is smaller and the house lot is significantly bigger than ours.
This disparity and inconsistency can also be observed on the parcels to the south of Milton Ames Drive on Wardtown Road, where houses that sit on as little as an acre have not been rezoned into residential and remain, under the proposed zoning, agricultural. We strenuously object to this proposed rezoning and request that this process be halted until the proposed zoning is consistently applied across all zoning districts.
Other Zoning Issues
Roberta Kellam questioned how a property next to a lower income neighborhood could be (has been) rezoned from AG to industrial. Ms. Kellam was referring to property near Branscome off 13, north of Nassawaddox. The property is zoned AG, but importantly is now heavily forested, serving as a much needed buffer zone from Branscome industrial processes for several houses to the east. Kellam voiced concerns that this is really an, “environmental justice issue”.
Another speaker (Mirror could not obtain name or address) told the Board that she and her husband had purchased a small farm off Occohannock Road, hoping to develop a small, sustainable, self-subsistent farm, focusing mainly on traditional and domestic husbandry. They were taken aback when they discovered via the public notice that their property was going to be rezoned into R-3, which would disallow the uses they originally bought the property for. At this point, they hope to argue “grandfathered status” once the new zoning is implemented.
FBill Parr also spoke in favor of the proposed zoning, however he also registered a complaint that some of his AG zoned property was being rezoned into residential.
The rezoning of AG into residential, as was noted by several public comments claim that the zoning appears to have treaded upon environmental justice and Civil Rights grounds, while not remaining in compliance with the intent of the Comprehensive Plan. Ken Dufty, who has opposed the proposed zoning since March of 2014, concluded, “I am officially objecting to the Board’s decision to close the official public comment period at the end of the public hearing tonight. The presentation by staff tonight is the first comprehensive presentation during which attendees can attempt to understand the many changes that are being proposed. But rather than being given the chance to prepare written comments on this issue, the Board has decided to close the official record as people are filing out of the auditorium. This is a constitutionally-barred denial of full public participation in a governmental action, and the Board should decide to keep the record open until the Planning Commission finishes its review…our property at 3259 Wardtown Road, while remaining in a Hamlet district, is being harmed because the different uses proposed in a Hamlet District are markedly divergent from the uses allowed by right and SUP in the current zoning. We are asking that this process be immediately suspended and indeed halted until more is learned about this apparently arbitrary and capricious attempt to completely rezone this county into something the majority of residents never asked it to be”.