The March 9th public hearing on the proposed 2016 zoning ordinance, which is meant to overturn the existing 2015 zoning, drew a large crowd to Northampton High School. The lines of opposition were visible, with proponents of keeping the 2015 code wearing signature yellow tee shirts, or clothing of a yellowish hue;those in favor of the 2106 ordinance were wearing, well, regular clothing. One editor’s note, it was abundantly clear that, from a fashion and design standpoint, Northampton County really needs a makeover. After just finishing up at NY fashion week, where Kendall Jenner breathlessly and seamlessly worked over four houses, it was hard to take in the mismatched plaid, ill-fitting jeans, as well as dubious color choices on exhibition here tonight. With that said, the dichotomy in viewpoints was indeed clear and concise.
For the yellow shirts, Robert Colson of Cheriton summed it up, “I’m here to tell you folks that no developers are involved in the 2015 zoning movement. Never were, never will be. Just farmers that want to build a produce cooler, a tractor shed or build a pond. Business owners that might want to expand their business, and concerned citizens, basically, your neighbors. The special interest groups were so off base that they didn’t even know who their opposition was. This is the type of falsehoods and propaganda that the special interest groups like the Shorekeepers and CBES put out about us and the 2015 zoning ordinance. The majority of the did want zoning change, they said it at the March 2014 hearing and they are saying here again tonight. As far as the signs and ads go, we bought them—not developers, the citizens of Northampton County. The tenants and workers mentioned in the email are men who were laid off because a stop work order was imposed on the job they were working on due to the lengthy zoning and building permit process. They are also property owners, taxpayers, and citizens of Northampton County. Not just second class citizens. Our opposition has gotten so desperate that they have begun stealing our signs. Our opposition has shown their true colors. I got my project done under the 2015 zoning, and now I’m fighting for the next guy that has to do a project. I’m also here tonight to put Ken Dufty, Roberta Kellam, David Kabler, Mary Miller, Bob Meyer, Martina Coker, Jay Ford, the CBES and Shorekeepers on notice that they have imposed their will on the county long enough. And we, the silent majority, awakened, are here to fight back. “
Speaking for the plain shirts, Roberta Kellam firmly established that point of view, “The 2015 zoning would not be helpful in addressing poverty, economic development and affordable housing, in Northampton County and I am sorry to see so many people being misled into thinking it will help them. The 2015 zoning does not create new jobs or economic development, it was a ruse to get more waterfront subdivision lots and recreate a housing bubble. The main difference between the 2015 and 2009 zoning ordinances is that the 2015 ordinance is a roadmap to turn Northampton County into a suburban style residential development, especially in the area of high end residential development. I value the rural nature of Northampton County; I don’t want to see it turned into an Ocean City Maryland. I do want to see housing that is available to all.”
The evening was not without some humor, as developer Bill Parr, with the performance of the night made an impassioned plea on behalf of the impoverished to keep the 2015 zoning, so as to provide a proper roadmap for wealth and Abraham Maslow-like self-actualization. On the other side, Martina Coker attempted to hold up the 2009 ordinance as red hot engine of economic growth, using the petit délinquants of the Cape Charles Business Association as a shining example of its power (snickers from the crowd).
School Board member Joann Molera provided the Luis Bunuel surrealistic moment of the evening, “We do not have the luxury of having a CTE program that includes kayaking, or any other water activity because most of our students can’t swim, much less take kayaks out. And even as supportive as I am of all the eco-tourism, the practical nature of educating our kids is not going to allow for all of these luxury eco-tourism jobs. The reality is our kids don’t swim, they drown out in the Chesapeake Bay. I’d love to see them swim, but we don’t have the money for that either. So please do not downgrade our schools (puzzled looks, and hushed murmurs of ‘What?’)”.
With battle lines drawn in the sand, it is becoming abundantly clear that Northampton County is firmly and indubitably mired and entrenched in a systemic cycle of dysfunction. Like Cher, the Murray Board may want to turn back time, but that seems destined for epic failure. The strange paradox is that Northampton only feels fixed and certain when it is in motion—unfortunately, this board is moving backwards, and this effort already smells like doom. From a design standpoint, it seems critical that the county instead shift its focus to building a solid framework (finish the Comprehensive Plan) before attempting to instantiate another zoning ordinance. With a framework in place, you build upon it, and create applications (ordinances) that can solve the problems that have been identified while designing said framework. Patrick Coady has said this several times, and we echo it here—finish the Comp Plan first, then use it to modify the ordinance that is currently in place. That is the proper order of things, and the first step away from institutionalized dysfunction. Like the man said, the first step is admitting you have a problem.