Are info meetings on the way out?

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Supervisors may drop requirement

By John Barnhart

    Bedford County’s supervisors voted 6-0 Monday, with District 7 Supervisor Tammy Parker absent due to illness, to initiate changes to Article I of the county’s zoning ordinance.
    The main changes eliminate the requirement for developers to hold public informational meetings, which are held before public hearings and must be advertised, and the need to post signs on property that are subject to requests for rezoning, special use permits or variances.
    The supervisors discussed the changes during a 5 p.m. work session and voted on them during their regular meeting which followed the work session.
    “Neighborhood informational meetings were quite important under LUGS,” County Attorney Carl Boggess said.
    LUGS was the Land Use Guidance System which preceded the county’s adoption of a zoning ordinance in 1998. Boggess, who suggested the changes to Article I, said the meetings put an applicant through an additional process. It’s an extra step that isn’t required by state law.
    District 4 Supervisor John Sharp, who ultimately voted with the other supervisors, was uncomfortable with eliminating the informational meeting requirement. He said that it is easier for neighbors to get to one of these meetings than to drive in to Bedford for a public hearing. He also mentioned a recent case in which a developer improved his plan based on input he received during one of the informational sessions.
    “I have a hard time with this one,” he said.
    Boggess suggested that holding one of the meetings should be up to the developer.
    “I don’t think we should make them do it,” he said.
    District 2 Supervisor Curry Martin supported eliminating the requirement.
    “I’ve had two of these in my district and nobody showed up,” Martin said.
    County Administrator Mark Reeter said attendance at the meetings depends on the level of controversy surrounding the proposed project.
    Sharp was also concerned about the requirement to post signs on property where changes are proposed. He said there will be no public notification without the signs or informational meetings.
    “I don’t want anybody to accuse us of trying to slide anything by,” he said.
    The resolution that the supervisors adopted is an initiating resolution that sends the revisions to the planning commission. The supervisors will take final action after the planning commission reviews it and makes recommendations.

New vehicles, leftover
 funds and VRS
    During the meeting the supervisors voted 6-0 to spend $590,000 to replace county vehicles, 16 of which are Sheriff’s Office vehicles. They also voted 6-0 to re-appropriate $782,000 left over from last fiscal year’s budget to the current fiscal year.
    Two suggestions from the county’s human resources department were also adopted on a 6-0 vote. Reeter told the supervisors that the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) has a local disability benefit program and is requiring localities to either irrevocably opt in, or irrevocably opt out by Sept. 1. Reeter suggested opting out because the county would have greater flexibility by going into the market for disability benefit insurance.
    Reeter recommended opting into a VRS sponsored 457(k) plan. A 457(k) plan is the public employer version of a 401(k) plan. Reeter said that 100 percent of the money deposited in an employee’s account, under this plan, comes from the employee. There is no local government contribution. This brings to three the number of such plans that Bedford County offers and Reeter suggested that the supervisors consider adopting a policy to cap the number of plans the county offers.

Fill dirt, tie votes
    The supervisors took no action on a proposal by developer George Aznavorian to provide free fill dirt for the rerouting of Woodhaven Drive. Aznavorian is doing earth moving on the Harmony site and offered the dirt he digs up in the process to the county. Deputy County Administrator Frank Rogers said the dirt that Aznavorian is offering meets the county’s requirement for quantity and quality.
    The problem is that the county would have to act now and this would require Woodhaven Road to be closed twice, instead of once, in the spring, when the work could be coordinated with the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) work. Rogers told the supervisors VDOT prefers one closure in the spring.
    According to Rogers, accepting the dirt from Aznavorian will save the county $150,000 on the project. If the county accepts it, the work that requires the dirt would have to be done now. Storing it on the site wouldn’t be practical because the cost of keeping it loose until spring would eat up most of the savings. Rogers also noted that if work is started and the weather doesn’t cooperate, Woodhaven Road could end up remaining closed until spring.
    The supervisors’ failure to take action Monday night wasn’t for lack of trying.
    Board Chairman Steve Arrington said that the county can deal with the weather and he was willing to try and get the savings.
    “It’s either now or later,” Arrington said. “It has to be closed sometime.”
    “This is in my district,” commented District 6 Supervisor Annie Pollard. “It’s going to affect people in my district.”
    Pollard moved to not accept the fill dirt and have only one closing of Woodhaven in the spring.
    The result was a tie vote with Pollard, District 1 Supervisor Bill Thomasson and Sharp voting in favor of the motion. District 2 Supervisor Curry Martin, District 3 Supervisor Roger Cheek and Arrington voted against it.
    The tie vote meant no action.
    A motion to accept the fill dirt also resulted in a tie vote. Martin, Cheek and Arrington voted in favor while Sharp, Pollard and Thomasson voted against it.
    “It’s all Tammy’s fault,” Sharp said after the vote, noting her absence.
    Another vote is scheduled for the supervisors’ Aug. 26 meeting.

License plate reader
    At the end of the meeting, Sharp brought up concerns about the Sheriff’s Office’s use of a license plate reader. Sharp had read a news story about Lynchburg and Campbell County using one of these devices and checked with the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office.
    “Evidently we do have one,” he said.
    Sharp wants Sheriff Mike Brown to make a presentation to the supervisors on the device.
    “I want to make sure we are not storing that type of data,” he said.
    Boggess said that the Sheriff’s Office stores this data for 60 days, unless investigators find something that is usable in a criminal investigation. He suggested that it will be hard for the Sheriff to make a presentation at a work session. Boggess said it will have to be general so that investigation methods are not revealed. It won’t be legal for the supervisors to have a closed session on this.
    Sharp said that Campbell County’s sheriff was on WLNI discussing how he uses it.
    “I don’t see why we can’t discuss this in an open session,” Sharp said.
    “I don’t like what I hear going on at the federal level with the NSA,” Sharp commented.  “We don’t live in Europe yet.”