Editor’s Note: This analysis by Mary Miller is excerpted and updated from Citizen’s for a Better Eastern Shore’s (CBES) July 2015 ShoreLine Newsletter. To find out more about CBES visit their website here.
Northampton County Rezoning—
…..the clock may start ticking soon
At the end of the May 26 Board of Supervisor’s Work Session, with no Agenda notice, and with only the CBES representative left in the audience, the Board members were presented with a new calendar for action on the county-wide rezoning proposal. Each member received a Red Binder containing all changes agreed to up until that date, and several pages of brand new recommendations from county staff.
Many of changes in the most recent draft have not been widely distributed. Although many are available on the county website, there is still no comparative document to show changes between current zoning and proposed rezoning.
Board members state that changes provided by unnamed Staff have often been in response to citizen input, but that doesn’t always mean that the changes have been for the benefit of county residents. In fact, many of the changes, in fact much of the unchanged rezoning draft, appears to benefit people and industries that are not yet even living or operating in the county.
- Real Estate Development industry—building for investment, for speculation, for whom? —the industry is always looking for new fields to plow, new “pristine” shorelines to pave–a dramatic increase in zoning density is proposed with no plan for providing or paying for county services—local real estate taxes paid by current residents will subsidize the development industry—removal of several workforce housing opportunities limits housing options for local residents
* Planned Unit Developments (PUDs)—residential, industrial, agricultural or commercial development permitted in any zoning district, with no performance standards, no criteria, no density limits, no setbacks, and no enabling Ordinance—the developer would make up the rules and the county would have almost no grounds for denying a project—Accomack County is facing a lawsuit over a PUD denial—
* Multi-family Dwellings (MFDs), Mixed-Use buildings (also MFDs), 4 units per acre, in districts with no central water and sewer requirements or availability—no criteria for including work force or affordable housing
* Accessory Dwelling Units, one for every single family dwelling—no density requirement
* Affordable Housing Incentives— removed from the proposed rezoning
* Mobile Home Park District—removed from the proposed rezoning
And a change to retain the Town Edge Districts around the towns as it currently exists, and which participating town officials understood would be retained, was completely rewritten by county Staff into a very different district.
- Town Edge—proposed new changes remove proffer opportunities and permit all listed uses ‘by right’–—In response to several Towns protesting the elimination of the Town Edge District, a meeting was held with the Economic Development All the Towns present prefer the current or an enhanced Town Edge District zoning. Concern was expressed about waste sites and industrial poultry operations near towns and interest expressed in proffers during rezoning, as current zoning provides, to help fund services.
* Staff recommends a new Town Edge District—1 Single-family unit per acre—1 acre lot size–potential for expansion of town utility service may enable new Multi-family use, eg 6 units per acre
* All listed uses allowed “by right”—including civic groups, clubs and organizations; met towers to 199’; recreational playing fields, including rest rooms and lockers for scheduled sports events and other field activities; wineries; wireless communication facility to 199’; uses similar to permitted uses
* Current Town Edge zoning allows for rezoning to residential and commercial areas, with the opportunity for town/county cooperation and use of proffers to offset increased need for public services—proposed rezoning eliminates that process
* Request at meeting from town officials that waste facilities be 2,000’ from towns, not include handling or processing of waste from outside the county, and a revised “waste management” definition to be drafted, which would allow only county-generated waste to be managed—-these requests are mentioned, but not addressed, in the Staff recommendation
What’s in it for us?
Many of the new definitions and uses, setbacks and removal of performance standards in the rezoning draft, appear to benefit to people and industries not even here yet. Elimination of affordable housing tools, like a density bonus and a Mobile Home Park Overlay District, and the increased density give-away with no low cost housing conditions, would limit or remove low cost housing options for the county workforce. The ability to create Planned Unit Developments with no standards at all, is alarming. The idea that a developer of a Commercial, Industrial or Residential project could make up rules which circumvent county zoning, is irresponsible and would threaten and undermine a careful balance between the needs of current residents and the ability of county resources to support the proposed changes.