Citizen group says supervisors violated state law

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By John Barnhart

    A group that calls itself Bedford Above Board, is unhappy with the way the county went about notifying citizens of a public hearing on the zoning ordinance. The hearing, on changes that the board of supervisors plans to make to the county’s zoning ordinance, was held in November. It ended up being held in two parts because the supervisors’ meeting chamber was not big enough to hold the crowd that turned out. It was reconvened to Bedford Science and Technology Center the following week.
    The group sent a letter to County Administrator Kathleen Guzi, last week, alleging the county failed to follow state law when it sent out notices to citizens. The letter contained an opinion by Jessie Richardson, Jr., an attorney and professor of urban planning at Virginia Tech. According to Richardson’s opinion, the notice that the county sent was so vague that people receiving it would not be able to determine if they needed to attend the public hearing.
    “In conclusion,” Richardson wrote, “ my opinion is that the notice provided by Bedford County fails to comply with Virginia law. The notice lacks even an attempt at a descriptive summary of the changes to the ordinances. Further, the casual and cursory attention to the sweeping changes to the ordinance prove misleading to a citizen attempting to ascertain whether she should attend the public hearing.”
    Richardson contrasted this with a document that the planning commission sent to the board of supervisors, concerning the proposed changes, last fall.
    “In contrast, the Mem-orandum dated October 27, 2011, from the planning staff of Bedford County to the
Bedford County Board of Supervisors and the Bedford County Planning Commission contains, over 24 pages, descriptive summaries of the proposed changes and voices concerns about those changes,” Richardson wrote. “The summaries in this Memorandum summarize changes in densities, uses and building restrictions. The fact that the summary took 24 pages denotes the complexity and breadth of the proposed changes. The notice contained 2 pages, most of which were dedicated to matters other than attempting to summarize the changes to the ordinance.”
    Bedford Above Board got started in early November, according to David Lowry, one of three men who signed the cover letter under which Richardson’s legal opinion was forwarded to Guzi.
    “It was a direct result of what happened in November, of those notification letters that went out,” said Lowry.
    Lowry said that it began after he got in touch with Steve Stevick, who currently represents District 5 on the county’s planning commission. Stevick, in turn, knew other people.
    “It grew rapidly,” he said. “We have more and more citizens who want to get involved.”
    According to Stevick, Bedford Above Board is a loose association, rather than an organization. At this point, it has no formal structure.
    “It’s really a groundswell reaction to the board of supervisors' proposals,” he said.
    Stevick said that, as a member of the planning commission, he has attended seminars conducted by Richardson.
    “He is a very well recognized authority on the topic,” Stevick said.
    According to Stevick, the supervisors’ proposals make little or no effort to implement the comprehensive plan. He also believes that, rather than being business friendly, they are actually the exact opposite.
    “They don’t have a well-planned community that protects people’s investments,” said Stevick. “That’s the opposite of business friendly. Business people like to know what to expect. They don’t like surprises.”
    “The board of supervisors not only ignored what the planning commission did, it set up a procedure to avoid planning commission input,” Stevick said.
    He said that the supervisors’ proposals indicate that they have little interest in zoning  and the planning commission