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Zoning is hot summer topic for supervisors

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By John Barnhart

    Zoning was at the center of the Bedford County Board of Supervisors' discussion Monday.
    The  supervisors spent nearly three hours, Monday evening, discussing the planning commission’s comments on their proposed changes to the county’s zoning ordinance. This was a continuation of a process that they began in June.
    The planning commission made its comments on the proposed changes over the winter following a November public hearing. The supervisors delayed discussions of these comments until after the county’s budget was adopted. All the discussions have been held during work sessions in order to reach a consensus on each comment and no vote has yet been taken.
    Monday’s discussion began with the proposal to create a new commercial/residential zone. The planning commission had recommended not doing this. District 3 Planning Commissioner Steve Wilkerson, who represented the planning commission at the meeting Monday night, said that the planning commission opposed the new zone because members were reluctant to relinquish all zoning control.
    District 3 Supervisor Roger Cheek indicated that the new zone was intended to deal with areas, such as those along Va. 24 where residential and commercial uses were already mixed together before zoning was adopted in 1998.
    “How are you going to stop it now?” he asked. “It already exists.”
    “If their house burns down, they can’t build it back because it’s commercial,” said Pollard.
    Discussion revolved around whether there is another way to resolve this problem without creating a new zone. District 7 Supervisor Tammy Parker suggested using the Agricultural Village (AV) zone, rezoning areas along the Va. 24 and U. S. 460 corridors where mixed used already exists.
    “Expand that zone along the corridor,” said Parker.  “Practically anything is allowed in AV.”
    Parker, who was elected last November after the board of supervisors had already made their proposals, also suggested adding uses to the permitted use table.
    “I think that is the most reasonable approach to the problem at hand,” commented Wilkerson. “I wish we had thought of that.”
    The supervisors also discussed cluster development in agricultural areas. The supervisors said that their intent was to allow agricultural landowners to cluster a number of lots together, the number varies depending on whether the land is in an AR or AP zone. This would leave the rest of the land as a viable parcel for agriculture.
    The supervisors’ proposals lowered the minimum lot size in an AP zone from three acres to one. The planning commission and Board Chairman Chuck Neudorfer did not like this.
    “I have always disagreed with this,” said Neudorfer. “It negates any incentive to cluster.”
    District 3 Supervisor Roger Cheek supported the new minimum size for family conveyance purposes. He said landowners who want to convey a piece of land to a family member may want to convey one acre, but must currently convey three.
    “This has a lot to do with family conveyance,” Cheek said. “I won’t change my mind on this.”
    “I don’t think the government should have any say in what you can give your children,” said District 5 Supervisor Steve Arrington.
    District 4 Supervisor John Sharp had another issue. He was concerned about parcels that have been created via subdivisions since zoning was adopted in 1998. He called these “child” lots and the lots from which they were subdivided “parent” lots. He wanted to make sure that any current “child” lot doesn’t become a “parent” lot after the revised zoning ordinance is approved.
    The supervisors reached a consensus to allow the one-acre minimum lot size, but added language to prevent current “child” lots from becoming “parent” lots, with a family subdivision being an exception.    
    The supervisors have proposed allowing “general stores” in AP and AR zones. The planning commission recommended that they be limited to known commercial centers. Arrington noted that there are currently general stores in operation in these zones that couldn’t exist because they are non-conforming uses in those locations.
    Cheek said that there is a case in his district where a man wants to buy a former garage and use it to rebuild diesel engines. He can’t do that because the garage is a non-conforming use in its zone and has been vacant long enough that it has lost its grandfathered status. According to County Attorney Carl Boggess, the Code of Virginia specifies that a non-conforming use loses its grandfathered status if it has not been used as such for more than two years. This is going to force the man to set up his business in another county.
    Wilkerson suggested that this could be dealt with via a “map exercise,” bringing the zoning of a parcel into conformance with its use. A special use permit should be required for gasoline sales. Parker  added that language could be written into the criteria for uses in these zones to clear up the problem.
    “That’s a very nice refinement of what I said,” Wilkerson commented.
    The supervisors’ consensus favored Parker’s thinking. They agreed that a general store should be a use by right in a location where there previously was such a store. Gasoline sales would require a special use permit.
    The supervisors had proposed getting rid of agricultural subdivisions, allowing the owner of agricultural land to split off parcels with a minimum size of 20 acres. The planning commission had recommended keeping this provision. After some discussion, the supervisors agreed with the planning commission.
    The planning commission didn’t like the proposal that allows private access easements for a private road that serves two houses.
    “Since I have been on this board, we have been adamantly opposed to private roads,” said Neudorfer.
    “I have 131 miles of unpaved roads in my district,” said Arrington, who added that the private roads in District 5 were better than many Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) maintained roads.        District 1 Supervisor Bill Thomasson said that the problem is the lack of maintenance agreements. The road ends up deteriorating and this hurts property values along the road.
    “We are talking about a driveway to access two homes,” commented Parker.
    The supervisors' consensus was to keep the easement provision, agreeing with Parker that this is a driveway. The number of houses served by the easement could increase if VDOT increases the number allowed before requiring a commercial entrance.
    District 4 Supervisor John Sharp said that it’s safer to reduce the number of driveways entering a road.
    The supervisors ended their work session by beginning a discussion of corridor overlay districts.
    “It’s gotten entirely too restrictive,” said Parker. Parker said that these add a layer of restrictions on top of restrictions that various zones already impose.
    “You are making things too complicated and too restrictive,” she said.
    “I don’t want to prevent one business from coming to Bedford County in a commercial location,” Arrington commented.
    Neudorfer, however, said that the idea of corridor overlays was so that people driving these highways would have something to look at besides signs and the rear ends of other cars.
    • In their regular session, the supervisors approved petitioning the governor to declare Bedford County an agricultural disaster area due to damage from the June 29 derecho along with drought and heat. This would allow those affected to qualify for relief assistance. The supervisors will continue this process at a work session on August 27.
    • The supervisors also authorized sending out a request for proposals from executive search firms interested in assisting the county in a search for a new county administrator. Frank Rogers has been serving as interim County Administrator since February when Kathleen Guzi stepped down after her resignation was accepted in a closed meeting. The supervisors plan to interview firms at an August 27 meeting. This work session begins at 5 p.m. and, after the supervisors finish these interviews, they will resume discussion of the zoning ordinance.