Ken Dufty made a request to cancel the July 11, 2018, Planning Commission public hearing in a letter sent to the Board of Supervisors. At last Tuesday’s meeting, Chairman Murray informed the record that that the July 11, 2018, Public Hearing has been canceled. No reason was given. Below is Dufty’s letter outlining the reasoning for holding off on the meeting:
Dear Chairman Murray and Northampton County Supervisors:
We recently learned that a public hearing is being tentatively scheduled for July 11, 2018, at the Machipongo Middle School to receive input into the new proposed Northampton County Comprehensive Plan. My wife and I are asking that this hearing is canceled and that this attempt to subvert our near unanimous county’s vision, goals and hopes for Northampton County’s fiscal, environmental and recreational future as memorialized in our 2009 Comprehensive Plan by a minority of special interests be rejected out-of-hand by your Board.
As you know, Virginia Code 15.2-2223 requires that every municipality located in this great Commonwealth prepare and adopt a Comprehensive Plan to guide future development and land use within its territory. It also requires that a Comprehensive Plan be updated every 5 years to include traffic, population, land use, and other demographic information that may or may not have been forecast in a previous iteration of the original plan.
Our 2009 Comprehensive Plan was written with broad public input which included work shops, focus groups, town hall meetings, distribution of over 1200 in depth written survey forms, involvement by town governments and community groups, and many other opportunities for public input and comment. Indeed, it has been reported that Mike Chandler, the Commonwealth’s most esteemed expert on community planning and the instructor of the Virginia Planning Commission school, has characterized our 2009 Comprehensive Plan as one of the best and most inclusive planning documents he has ever reviewed. In short, that 2009 Comp Plan captured the vast majority of our citizenry’s hopes, desires and goals for the future of our county on every level.
In contrast, the draft 2018 Comprehensive Plan that was written by arbitrarily selected authors and limited public input is on its face and in its core a complete reversal of the visions that were penned into our 2009 Comprehensive Plan. Rather than inviting the same broad participation by the thousands who took part in the drafting of the ministerial 2009 Comp Plan, this arbitrary NEW Comprehensive Plan cloaked as a mere “update” calls for changes to our land use laws and community visions that were explicitly rejected by the majority of residents over a decade ago, and there is no empirical evidence that supports the contention that our views and goals in that regard have changed in a manner that reflects those now being promoted by this small handful of authors in the current draft.
To wit, the new draft Comp Plan suggests that Hamlets be eliminated and be renamed “villages”, which doubles the density (number of houses) and allows commercial, industrial, and institutional uses in these small developed districts. Note that my wife and I purchased a house in a Hamlet in 2010 BECAUSE of the Hamlet zoning and restrictions, and would not have made this investment in this small community IF it was designated as a Village, as the NEW draft allows. Commissioner Mike Ward at a Planning Commission meeting earlier this year which I attended justified the elimination of Hamlets in Northampton County by convincing his fellow Commissioners that there are no Hamlets in Virginia, and his statement served as a basis for the Commission to make that recommendation to your Board. In fact, there are scores if not hundreds of Hamlets throughout the Commonwealth, so this recommendation is arbitrary and capricious and cannot stand a judicial test.
Also, the NEW draft plan calls for floating districts called Planned Development Areas or PUD’s, an allowance that would run diametrically opposed to the goals of the 2009 Comprehensive Plan which called for future development to be encouraged around the town centers where infrastructure such as sewer, water, fire and police services are readily available without burdening our county’s coffers by forcing expansion of these services at the expense of the taxpayers. Again, there is no empirical data or substance to call for these floating districts that can include commercial, institutional, industrial, recreational, and residential expansion in areas far from community services, and allowing these districts could not only destroy this county’s rural nature, but could send tax rates spiraling upward at a time when this Board is working very hard to hold the fiscal line in that regard. In short, while this recommendation to add Planned Development Areas or Planned Unit Development zones may serve the real estate and developer’s interest, it runs directly counter to the well conceived 2009 Comprehensive Plan and does so with no basis in fact, law, reason, or evidentiary support. In short, it is a classic and undeniable example of an arbitrary and capricious act and one that threatens Town Edge Districts in a manner that these towns cannot afford or have requested. Note that these districts were added to the Draft Plan after Commissioner Ward seemed to argue that the Virginia Code required that counties add these districts, an argument that is again specious and ill-informed as the code allows them but does not require them.
In another arbitrary and capricious act recommended by the Comp Plan Advisory Committee (established in 2012 to rewrite our 2009 Comp Plan and including Chairman Bill Parr, Pat Coady, and Bill Payne as members) as well as an arbitrarily selected “stakeholder group” from which this writer was barred, the NEW draft plan eliminates waterfront villages, calls for the creation of communities far from established services, and does not protect our sole source aquifer’s recharge area known as the “spine” and the Route 13 corridor-a priority established by the large number of residents, business owners and officials when drafting our 2009 Comp Plan.
Most of the unilateral changes contained in the NEW proposed draft plan, which never should have gotten this far in its arbitrary iteration, appear to be the will and desire of a small handful of private interests who want to sell more real estate to those who may not so share in maintaining the rural nature of our county, a trait that indeed makes it so attractive to the higher end investors who seek to escape the busy, congested, and highly developed areas that are expanding furiously while simultaneously driving real estate taxes skyward due to the increased drain on community services. However, as is the common theme of this request, there is no empirical data or evidentiary basis to support these unilateral changes to our 2009 Comp Plan. There are no expert opinions. There are no written surveys indicating that the majority of residents want the changes these private interests promote, aside from a weak push-poll-like phone survey that was funded by the National Association of Realtors, oft erroneously cited by the Planning Commission as “proof” that the masses desire to reject our 2009 Comp Plan’s visions and goals.
In closing, we are asking you to cancel the public hearing on the draft 2018 Comprehensive Plan for the reasons stated above and to remand this issue to the Planning Commission instructing them to merely update our 2009 Comprehensive Plan with the demographic, transportation, economic, and growth trends that are part of the mandated 5 year update of Comprehensive Plan as envisioned by code. Comprehensive Plans such as our all-inclusive 2009 iteration are not meant to be rewritten every 5 years, but merely require that it be updated. It is absolutely incredible that anyone would think that an entire county’s visions and goals as established in such a monumental visioning undertaking as evidenced from 2006-2009 in this county has changed unless there is an overwhelming outcry from the majority that would support that effort. Absent that demand, there is simply no reason to put our residents through another trying and controversial time like we experienced during the contest over the 2014-15 attempt by the same small band of private interests who now are presenting that they know more about what we want and hope for this county than we, the majority, know.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. Please place these comments into the public record. We trust you will do the right thing and grant this request.