Chairman Hubbard and Northampton County Board of Supervisors;
I am writing in regard to the ongoing attempt by the Northampton County Board of Supervisors to rewrite and revise the 2009 Northampton County zoning ordinance, an effort that has been undertaken with no meaningful or substantive opportunity for citizens, civic groups, community organizations, or local governments to participate in this review and revision process. Additionally, the many changes to our current zoning ordinance that are embodied in the revised draft public document that will be the subject of a public hearing on November 2, 2015 were performed extant of an evidentiary basis and were arrived at with virtually no input from experts, independent analysts, or studies as required by code.
During the October 6, 2015 meeting of the Northampton County Planning Commission, several points were raised by the Chairman and at least one other member of the Commission that should serve to give pause in pursuing the current path to expedite a final decision in this ill-fated zoning process.
First, the Chairman of the Planning Commission, when informing the other members that the BoS had now given the Commission sixty (60) days to review only the changes the Board has made to the March 11, 2014 hearing document, correctly pointed out that the Commission never had the opportunity to review and comment on the entire rezoning document. If you recall, the Planning Commission was barred from reviewing the portions of the March 11, 2014 Public Hearing Draft that they had failed to review, as the Board demanded that they discontinue their review at the end of the 90 day review period which expired in June, 2014. Since that time, the BoS had ample opportunity to allow the Planning Commission to finish the review of the remaining portions of the March 2014 hearing document. That failure is now being repeated, and the BoS is making yet another procedural error when directing the Planning Commission to review only the changes to a document that they indeed never reviewed in its entirety. This is a fatal procedural error and all further processing of this process known as the complete rezoning of all lands in Northampton County, Virginia should cease until this fatal error is rectified.
Second, at the Northampton County Planning Commission October 6, 2015 monthly meeting, Commissioner Ward identified what he considered deficiencies or “oversights” in the current iteration of the revised zoning document. The Commissioner mused that the document that the Planning Commission is being asked to review apparently has omitted language that encourages affordable housing, as is contained in the 2009 zoning ordinance. As has been pointed out numerous times by at least one former Planning Commissioner, the March 11, 2014
Public Hearing Draft failed to comply with the Federal Fair Housing Act in regard to supporting and fostering affordable housing, and it is apparent that the current iteration of the draft rezoning documents still suffers, fatally, from this omission and “oversight”. Therefore, it is readily apparent that, even before the document is sent out for public comment (at a significant cost to county taxpayers), the draft document is insufficient, legally indefensible, and devoid of the studies and analysis required by code and court rulings. Therefore the further processing of the draft rezoning document should be immediately halted until these, and many other procedural and substantive defects have been resolved.
Finally, Commissioner Ward identified another deficiency or “oversight” in the handling of “agriculture” and “aquaculture” in the draft rezoning document. As the Commissioner correctly pointed out, the Commonwealth of Virginia identifies “aquaculture” in the category of “agriculture” and there can be no substantial differentiation between these two in the way they are handled under a zoning ordinance. Separating these two, in regard to allowances and/or restrictions, is the same as passing an ordinance that separates an agricultural operation that grows corn from an agricultural operation that raises and markets soybeans. Separating aquaculture from agriculture, or not including aquaculture as an agricultural process, is discriminatory and not allowed by the code of Virginia. It is a fatal substantive and procedural error.
Note that the October 6, 2015 Northampton County Planning Commission meeting marked just the very first day of the 60 day review period the BoS is imposing on this commission to review and comment on only the changes the BoS made to the March 11, 2014 public hearing draft. It is noteworthy that just minutes into the starting bell of this latest review at least three procedural and substantive defects in the rezoning draft document have been identified by the Planning Commissioners. It is difficult to believe that the three fatal defects pointed out by the Planning Commission at this early stage will be the ONLY deficiencies or discrepancies that will be discovered as the Commission resumes its review.
Therefore, it is apparent that the “rush” to complete this ill-fated process to completely rezone the lands known as Northampton County stands not only on “shaky ground”, but appears to be rooted in legal and procedural quicksand. It is also apparent that forward movement of this current process is unsupportable and unwarranted, and represents an unnecessary and foolish waste of taxpayer and county resources. We reiterate that this process should immediately stop for the above reasons, and for the many reasons that are embodied and incorporated into the public record of this debate.