Su­per­vi­sors to take up sweep­ing changes to zon­ing or­di­nance

Res­i­dents, other of­fi­cials ques­tion the need and pur­pose

Rappahannock News - - FRONT PAGE - By Patty Hardee Spe­cial to the Rap­pa­han­nock News

Pro­pos­als for the most sweep­ing amend­ments to the county zon­ing or­di­nance in decades are be­fore the county’s Board of Su­per­vi­sors and Plan­ning Com­mis­sion. If adopted, th­ese amend­ments would dras­ti­cally change the process for con­sid­er­a­tion and ap­proval of ap­pli­ca­tions for per­mits for such uses as tourist homes, B&Bs, fam­ily apart­ments, and event venues.

The ac­tion comes in the wake of sev­eral con­tro­ver­sial and con­tested per­mit ap­pli­ca­tions in re­cent months for con­fer­ence and event cen­ters, wed­ding venues, and bigcrowd fes­ti­val sites around the county.

A res­o­lu­tion pre­sented at the Sept. 6 BOS meet­ing by Com­mon­wealth’s At­tor­ney Art Goff and then-Zon­ing Ad­min­is­tra­tor Dave Dameron states that the amend­ments would “elim­i­nate the dis­tinc­tion be­tween spe­cial per­mits and spe­cial ex­cep­tions in fa­vor of a sin­gle process of ap­ply­ing for a spe­cial ex­cep­tion….”

Af­ter re­view and con­sid­er­a­tion by the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion, a fi­nal de­ci­sion would

be up to the Board of Su­per­vi­sors, says the res­o­lu­tion, and “the Board of Zon­ing Ap­peals would no longer be in­volved” in hear­ing and ap­prov­ing per­mit ap­pli­ca­tions.

The amend­ments are re­flected in a marked-up copy of the 191-page or­di­nance posted on Board­docs be­fore the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion’s Oct. 18 meet­ing. In­cluded in that doc­u­ment are sev­eral other pro­vi­sions, that, if adopted, would:

➤ Change the min­i­mum acreage re­quire­ments for tourist homes and board­ing houses and elim­i­nate acreage re­quire­ments for B&Bs.

➤ Seem­ingly ex­pand the au­thor­ity of the BOS.

➤ Al­low the Zon­ing Ad­min­is­tra­tor to waive the re­quire­ment of a zon­ing per­mit for zon­ing per­mit for cer­tain kinds of con­struc­tion on ex­ist­ing struc­tures.

➤ Limit the BZA to hear­ing only zon­ing vari­ances and ap­peals.

At their Oct. 18 meet­ing, the plan­ners opened a pub­lic hear­ing which was re­cessed to be con­tin­ued at its Nov. 15 meet­ing.

In the mean­time, the BOS is sched­uled to hold a pub­lic hear­ing on the amend­ments next Mon­day, Nov. 6, at its reg­u­lar meet­ing. (At press time, the agenda for Mon­day’s BOS meet­ing had not yet been posted on Board­docs.)

If it chooses, the su­per­vi­sors could vote at that meet­ing to adopt the amend­ments. How­ever, at the Oct. 25 BZA meet­ing, Hamp­ton su­per­vi­sor John Lesin­ski “speak­ing as a cit­i­zen tonight,” said “I do think the Board of Su­per­vi­sors wants to take the time to be de­lib­er­a­tive about it and not rush to judge­ment on it.”

Lesin­ski also stated at that meet­ing that he is a spon­sor of the amend­ments.

At both the Oct. 18 Plan­ning Com­mis­sion meet­ing and the Oct. 25 BZA meet­ing, county res­i­dents ques­tioned the need for the amend­ments in light of other needed mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the zon­ing or­di­nance, as well as the speed with which they seem to be moving through the sys­tem, and ex­pressed frus­tra­tion with the per­mit process in gen­eral.

AR­GU­MENTS FOR AND AGAINST

Pro­po­nents of the amend­ments ar­gue that elim­i­nat­ing the BZA from the per­mit re­view and ap­proval pro­ce­dure would stream­line the process and make it less con­fus­ing. Af­ter Lesin­ski ex­pressed at the Oct. 25 BZA meet­ing that the per­mit process is “con­fus­ing for ap­pli­cants,” BZA mem­ber David Kon­ick pushed back.

“I’ve heard this ar­gu­ment be­fore,” said Kon­ick. “If some­one is con­fused… there’s only one place where that blame be­longs and that’s the of­fice of the Zon­ing Ad­min­is­tra­tor. There was never con­fu­sion when [for­mer County Ad­min­is­tra­tor] John McCarthy was here be­cause he knew the zon­ing or­di­nance. Un­for­tu­nately, af­ter he left, we had a per­son who had no ex­pe­ri­ence on zon­ing.

“As for stream­lin­ing the process, it doesn’t stream­line any­thing,” he said. “You still have to go through the flam­ing hoops.” Cur­rently, ap­pli­cants still have to go to the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion and then to ei­ther the BZA or the BOS.

In ad­di­tion, Kon­ick said that the ap­pli­ca­tion forms them­selves, which have not been up­dated in decades, are con­fus­ing and in­com­plete. If the forms were up­dated with all the re­quire­ments ap­pli­cants need to ful­fill, as well as a guide to help them com­plete the forms, much of the con­fu­sion would go away. Neigh­bor­ing coun­ties, can serve as an ex­am­ple, he said. Fauquier County’s ap­pli­ca­tion forms spell out the doc­u­ments and other ev­i­dence ap­pli­cants need to pro­duce be­fore their ap­pli­ca­tions can be con­sid­ered.

Op­po­nents of the amend­ments ask if the BOS can re­al­is­ti­cally take on all the work in­volved in re­view­ing and hear­ing per­mits. BOS meet­ings al­ready run late into the night. The Board’s Oct. 2 meet­ing to con­sider the Multi-Use Trail ran un­til af­ter mid­night.

A re­view of Plan­ning Com­mis­sion ac­tions be­tween Novem­ber 2016 and Septem­ber 2017 show the plan­ners heard 18 ap­pli­ca­tions. Of those, 11 were spe­cial per­mit ap­pli­ca­tions that were rec­om­mended to the BZA for con­sid­er­a­tion.

Un­der the pro­posed zon­ing amend­ments, those 11 ap­pli­ca­tions would have gone to the BOS in­stead. In the same time pe­riod, the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion also rec­om­mended four spe­cial ex­cep­tion ap­pli­ca­tions and two zon­ing ap­pli­ca­tions to the su­per­vi­sors.

An­other ar­gu­ment is around the idea of accountability. At the BZA meet­ing, Lesin­ski posited that be­cause the BOS is an elected body, it’s ac­count­able to the cit­i­zens. If cit­i­zens don’t like BOS de­ci­sions, he said, they can voice their opin­ions at the bal­lot box.

By con­trast, Kon­ick said that the BZA mem­bers are ap­pointed by the Cir­cuit Court judge. Be­cause the BZA is not elected, it is above pol­i­tics. Ap­pli­cants who dis­agree with BZA de­ci­sions can take their griev­ance to the courts.

Kon­ick also com­pared the level of zon­ing ex­pe­ri­ence be­tween the mem­bers of the BZA and the su­per­vi­sors.

“Look at [the BZA],” he said. “[Among the mem­bers] we’ve got [a com­bined] 75 years of ex­pe­ri­ence” with zon­ing, plan­ning, and land use is­sues. And, he went on, ev­ery­one on the BZA has also served on the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion and gone through ex­ten­sive train­ing.

Lesin­ski of­fered an­other ra­tio­nale for adopt­ing the amend­ments — many other coun­ties in Vir­ginia have also elim­i­nated the spe­cial use per­mit. He told the BZA that Dameron had sug­gested that Rap­pa­han­nock fol­low suit.

To that both BZA chair Alex Sharp and Kon­ick ob­jected.

“We’re dif­fer­ent from other ar­eas,” said Sharp. “We don’t have the de­vel­op­ment pres­sure of other coun­ties and we don’t have to do things like other coun­ties.”

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