In a 4-3 vote, with Mayor Dize casting the deciding vote, the Cape Charles Town Council approved item 6A on the agenda, Application for Zoning Text Amendment – Section 3.14 General Business/Light Industrial H-1. In 4-2 vote, Council also approved item 6B which made changes to the Zoning Map Amendment (ZMA): Rezone 1201 Bayshore Road (Tax Map #90-8-1A1) from Harbor District to General Business/Light Industrial H-1.
Councilman Bennett, Buchholz, and Follmer proved to be clear-headed and seemed to understand the gravity and long-term importance of allowing one of the County’s critical businesses to be able to expand its horizons and diversify the kind of work and jobs it can bring to Northampton citizens. Grossman and Holloway voted no and had some concerns about whether the parcel in question should be allowed to operate by-right for things such as storage. Interim Councilwoman O’Brien also voted no.
Not a single member of the Northampton Board of Supervisors was in attendance. District 1 Supervisor John Coker, who lives just a few minutes away, was a no-show.
While a big win for Northampton families, it was a major rebuke of the group calling themselves Concerned Citizens for Cape Charles.
Before beginning discussions, Councilman Bennett called out a member of the Concerned Citizens group, Joe Coccaro for his gross smear tactics and public, personal assassinations, “I take it very seriously, personally…is Mr. Cocarro giving his opinion or the opinion of this group? Mr. Coccaro questions my relationship with Eyre Baldwin, and my, and my firm’s interest in Coastal Precast. Coccaro alleges in the email citizens are concerned that Coastal Precast has been a or is a client…That I have a conflict of interest. How dare you Mr. Cacarro, you don’t even know me. Nor do you know what my current firm does, or what my previous firms did…this is very insulting…Mr. Coccaro, if you are going to question my professional integrity, in public, you better bring some facts. I have never worked with Coastal Precast so the claims are baseless”.
Bennett then offered to recuse himself, however, no member of the council found any reason to do so.
Councilman Follmer followed, “I support what Steve said, and I have found it very troubling that some people who, unable to raise substantive issues decided to accuse council members of something…there were some people that met with staff, and felt that their lobby was superior just because it was not commercial. That is really distasteful. If all you can come up with is assuming wrongdoing because you can’t come up with anything else, if you want to lose my ear, that is the best way to do it. Don’t tell me you are maligning people because you love this town, that is not true. The mayor told Mr. Coccaro to come to the meeting and read his emails aloud…I do recall the accusations he (Coccaro) made at that (previous) meeting, and they were more direct than he implied in his written comments tonight…I think it is absolutely cowardly that he did not show up in person. Shame on you Mr. Cocarro”.
Some things did raise a few eyebrows, including Planning Commissioner Diane D’Amico. If you are acquainted with Ms. D’Amico, you know that she is a nice, passionate person. Her actions here, however, should be looked into. When this topic came before the Planning Commission, D’Amico could easily be accused of grandstanding the issue. The zoning changes were approved and sent onto Town Council, but D’Amico, acting as a “concerned citizen”, continued to be quite vocal about her opposition to the sale and zoning amendments. Her animosity toward Coastal Precast was apparent and gives the impression that she has a real agenda. As a citizen, no problem, but as a member of the Planning Commission, the appearance of bias and an agenda is problematic.
Town Manager Hozey’s actions were also a bit curious. He appeared nervous, and stuttered and stammered around the motions in a circular manner. He seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to guide Council away from approving the text changes to the ordinance and confusingly set out four options to choose from, three of which would probably have scuttled the deal between Southport, LLC, and Coastal.
Interestingly, it was these options and the purported problems with the light industrial zoning text that Grossman and Holloway glommed onto as a way to justify a nay vote–the optics here were not the best, as it appeared to provide an out, a way to have their cake and eat it too. That is, they can say how much they support the proposed projects, while at the same they can appease the angry mob of concerned citizens by casting a no vote.
“I’m amazed that people are so hesitant over what-if, it is incredible to me that you think these guys are going to close on the property and immediately submit a tree cutting plan and take over the place before we can make these text changes. It’s amazing to me,” Bennett said.
Even in 2021, what you do is still more important than what you say.
Bennett, Follmer, and Buchholz were having none of this nonsense and voted to approve both motions.
This night belonged to Mayor Dize–it was his finest hour. Dize fully grasped how critical it is to the working families of the Eastern Shore that Coastal continues to have the ability to thrive and prosper, “When I came for my interview for harbormaster, I looked at the harbor, I looked at the deepwater port. Since I got here, I’ve watched it grow, and over that time, we’ve had a lot of what-ifs, and I can tell you, as harbormaster, I sat up here begging for money to build breakwaters, begging for money to put slips in…across the way, there’s a lot of industrial, I hated to see the rail go, I love the rail…this is a train town, I’d like to see those trains still running. This town was built industrial. That harbor’s manmade. It was built for commerce. It’s a port, a port of entry for ships to come in…also a harbor of refuge…It’s not a marina. It is Cape Charles harbor, look on any Federal map. The port of Virginia, the Commonwealth, the Federal Government, every taxpayer has put money into this town for commerce. For me to sit here and I’ve listened to you, but there’s also a silent majority; I hear from other constituents…you are the loudest, but I have met with Coastal on your behalf (Concerned Citizens), and they have obliged…they have put in silencers, bought a water truck to cut the dust down, they have been good stewards. That park (STIP), was meant for industrial…this is a big opportunity for our area, our kids, they go off to college, but they never return because there’s nothing to do here. I can envision this being an opportunity for the Rosenwald school, being a school again, offering training in the trades. The thing that gets me the most…I know we say town, town, town, but I try to see the bigger picture. When you vote, I want you to think of our kid’s future”.
This was also a reminder that sometimes government still works for the little guy, looks out after those that may not have a voice or the platform and clout to defend their own interests. The attempts to delay, even cancel the zoning changes and jeopardize our future was defeated in Cape Charles tonight.
There were heroes at the August 19, 2021, Regular Meeting of the Cape Charles Town Council: Bennett, Follmer, Buchholz, and Dize.