Highland Planning Commission Tables Proposal
Bonus Audio – Changes In Uses:
In my time as a news reporter, it’s been my experience that public hearings have not historically produced much commentary from the public. That was certainly not the case at all during the joint public hearing held by the Highland Planning Commission, Board of Supervisors and the Town of Monterey. The purpose of the meeting was to receive public input on proposed changes to the County’s Zoning Ordinance, and close to 50 members of the public were in attendance to voice their opinions.
Planning Commission chairman Bill Rich opened the meeting with the explanation that they had been directed by the Supervisors to update the current zoning ordinance, then introduced Darrin Coffey, of the Berkeley Group, the consultant chosen to assist with the task.
“It has been my great pleasure to be working with this community’s appointed and elected officials for the past two years or so, updating the zoning ordinance. The zoning ordinance and the subdivision ordinance are two of the primary tools that you use in Virginia to regulate land use. One of the premises behind updating the zoning ordinance is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, the zoning ordinance is broken. It is in many cases out of compliance with state code, it is unclear, it is contradictory – there are definitions that should be in it that aren’t, there are definitions that are dated, etc. And so, what we did in updating the zoning ordinance and combining the subdivision and zoning ordinance into one land use document is to try to simplify and clarify those tools.”
The overwhelming sentiment of the audience in attendance was that a portion of the proposal which was deemed “broken” did not need fixing. While there were some other comments on lack of specificity on roads in the document, as well as the limit placed on the number of horses which could be housed in a commercial stable, the most controversial change was to the conservation district currently in place. Mr. Coffey explained that the current district had no rhyme or reason to why properties were currently zoned as such, and the current proposal would place state, federal and private properties placing above 3,500 feet in elevation into a conservation overlay, for simplification and organizational purposes. Once the public meeting was opened, close to twenty residents spoke, including many who owned property in the areas slated for change, and all expressed reservations about the proposal, preferring to keep their land zoned as is, for a fear of new restrictions and regulations. County attorney Melissa Dowd also read a number of letters received into the record expressing similar sentiments.
Ms. Dowd and Mr. Coffey read lists of land uses which would not be permitted after the changes, as well as uses which would remain the same. This is available as bonus audio with this story on our website, alleghenymountainradio.org. It was also noted that any land use currently in place which would change under the proposal would be “grandfathered in” and allowed to continue – only new use proposals would be affected.
Planning Commission member Sue Cornelius noted that the Commission had spent much time and effort on consideration of the proposed change, and that the conservation district had actually been cut in half. It was also noted that the 3,500 foot deciding line was arbitrary in nature.
After the public meetings were closed, based on the amount of commentary heard, the Planning Commission opted not to forward the proposal to the Board of Supervisors, deciding instead to table it for further study.