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A controversy surrounding the Bedford County Board of Supervisors’ decision to revise, rather than replace, the existing zoning ordinance continues.
Last month District 2 planning commission member Lynn Barnes resigned, sharply criticizing the board of supervisors in his resignation statement. Monday night, District 7 Supervisor Tammy Parker responded to Barnes, reading from a prepared statement.
Parker, who was elected to an open seat last November, worked in the county’s planning department prior to being elected. She resigned from that job at the end of last year.
“I want to speak on an issue tonight from the inside as a former planning staff member,” Parker said.
“After hearing his [Barnes’] comments, it’s apparent that either he’s misinformed as to the actual recommendations of professional planning staff or that he’s knowingly supported an agenda driven by personal biases,” she said.
“The primary misconception is that county planning staff supported the writing of a new zoning ordinance,” Parker said. “Only one planning staff member pressed for a new ordinance with new zoning districts. The rest of staff (individually and collectively) did not agree. We wanted to update our current ordinance and fix what we know needs fixing.”
Parker said that a consultant from Blacksburg was hired to write two sections of the proposed new ordinance. She termed the result a “copy and paste rendition” and said that county staff had to edit this to remove references to “Town of Blacksburg” and “Montgomery County.” She also said that the result of the consultant’s work was more restrictive than the existing zoning ordinance and so complicated that planning staff had difficulty understanding it.
Another problem was that it would have reset all existing subdivisions. “Child lots” from previous subdivisions would have become “parent lots” and could have been subdivided to the maximum allowed in each zoning district.
“This fact alone is a game changer that would undermine the county’s comprehensive plan and agricultural land preservation,” Parker said.
Parker said that staff objected to the proposed new zoning districts and suggested adding definitions and new uses to the existing zoning districts.
“Our concerns were completely disregarded,” she said. She also said that they were told that there was no reason for planning staff to talk to the board of supervisors. Parker also said that the planning commission seemed to be unaware of unintended consequences of starting over with a new zoning ordinance.
“Staff was extremely relieved when the board [of supervisors] decided not to pursue the new ordinance but [the] planning commission was led to believe otherwise,” Parker said.
“Also, Mr. Barnes alleges that the board [of supervisors] has made it extremely difficult for staff to be objective advisers because a disagreement might result in some ‘drastic action’ which impairs their effectiveness,” said Parker. “To the contrary, staff’s not been allowed to communicate with or provide information to either board without the censorship of their respective managers. Unfortunately, staff’s fear of ‘drastic action’ for giving their professional advice comes from within their own department.
“Differing from Mr. Barnes’ perspective, ‘one heck of a mess’ was created by deliberately hiding staff’s professional input while playing both boards against each other,” Parker concluded. “This collusion and misrepresentation has been a blatant conspiracy against the public, the board of supervisors and at least most of the planning commission.”
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In business Monday night, the supervisors voted to set the personal property tax relief rate at 55 percent. This rate, according to Susan Crawford, will take full advantage of the funds the county will get from the Commonwealth for that purpose.
The supervisors also voted to allow the sheriff’s office to accept $830,000 from the state for its Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force. According to Mike Harmony, who heads up the task force, the money comes from funds that are assessed on every felony conviction. Harmony said that this amount will grow, rather than decrease, which means that the county won’t end up having to pay for any positions that this money funds.
In a final business item, the supervisors voted to extend Bedford County’s participation in the Tri-County Lake Administrative Commission (TLAC). According to Board Chairman Chuck Neudorfer, this must be renewed every two years.
All the supervisors’ votes were unanimous, with District 4 Supervisor John Sharp absent.