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Nester: New ordinance a work in progress

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By John Barnhart

Progress on a new zoning ordinance is underway.

    According to George Nester, the county’s director of community development, the planning commission is in the process of looking at a draft copy of the ordinance’s permitted use table. This is being done in a series of scheduled 5 p. m. work sessions open to the public.

    Nester said that a zoning ordinance’s permitted use table is the simplest way to find out what is allowed in any district. It answers the question “can it be done?” If something can be done, it also indicates whether anything related to that use is required, such as a special use permit.

    According to Nester, the new ordinance will make few changes, in most cases, to what is allowed in various districts.

    “We are going to see most of the uses continued under the proposed ordinance,” he said.

    One change will be an increased opportunity for commercial development. In doing this, the county will have to determine what type of commercial zone will be appropriate for a particular location. The zone will have to have the infrastructure and population to support the type of development the zone will allow.

    Other goals will be to identify conservation districts where development won’t be wise due to the slope of the land or its accessibility. The ordinance will also try to protect prime farmland.

    It will also have provisions to encourage cluster development. Nester said that the Commonwealth now requires localities to allow cluster development in 40 percent of its districts zoned agricultural or residential. The idea of cluster development is to use a smaller footprint for the built-up portion of the development, keeping a larger percentage as permanent open space. Nester added that this should actually be a benefit to developers because the amount of roads and sewer lines they will have to build will be reduced, lowering their costs.

    The challenge for Bedford County, according to Nester, will be to put cluster development in the right places.

    “This is still a work in progress,” Nester said.

    As the process moves forward, Nester said that each property owner will be individually notified about how his property is currently zoned and what its proposed zoning is. He said that the county staff are making an effort to identify people who own multiple pieces of property across the county so that the county can list all of each person’s properties in one letter. Property owners will have opportunities to come in and talk with members of Nester’s staff about their property’s proposed zoning.

    Nester said that the plan is to have the new ordinance ready for a public hearing in late April or the middle of May with final approval by the board of supervisors in May or June and an effective date of July 1, the date the new fiscal year begins.

    Nester said this schedule gives county staff and the planning commission time to avoid rushing the process. They want it to be a reliable land use ordinance to control growth so that it happens in the parts of the county best able to handle it.