Zoning ordinance hearing continued to this Thurs. as overflow crowd turns out

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By John Barnhart

    A public hearing on changes to the county’s zoning ordinance, Thursday night, drew so many people that the hearing had to be continued until this Thursday night.

    About 300 people showed up last week; there was only room for 75.
    Most of those who turned out were unable to get into the meeting room and some of those who managed to squeeze in had to leave and stand in the hall.
    The crowd was angry — and vocal.
    “I think it is really a poor thing that there is no room,” said one man.
    There were other shouted complaints.
    “There are over 300 people here,” said one. “Everybody has the right to hear,” shouted another.
    Those who had to move into the hallway said that there wasn’t room there, either.
    One major complaint by speakers was short public notice. David Lowry said that he didn’t learn about the proposed changes until he received a letter on Nov. 2. He said that this gave him little time to review the proposals before the meeting. He also said that some of the proposed changes are  not in accord with the county’s comprehensive plan.
    “The zoning ordinance must comply with the comprehensive plan,” he said.
    “We left overcrowded, overbuilt Northern Virginia,” said Harold Switzer. Switzer said the proposed changes would double the allowed density in residential areas.
    “It is our understanding that the board chose to disregard the recommendations of planning staff,” he concluded.
    “Please take your time in rendering your decision on zoning in Bedford County,” added Ralph Brush who is also worried about greater residential density. “Please don’t create a nightmare.”
    Gary Chittum criticized a proposal that he said would reduce the minimum lot size in agricultural preserve (AP) areas from three acres to one.
    The greatest number of complaints came from a proposal to combine the R1 and R2 districts, and this seemed to be the prime driver for density concerns. Greg Modzelewski said that combining these districts, along with increasing the number of build-able lots in AP zones will mean greater demand for public services which, in turn, means higher taxes.
    “You have not demonstrated that we won’t end up with higher taxes,” he said.
    “As far as I can see, this plan benefits the builder and penalizes the homeowner,” said Sharon Reynolds. “We are going to pave Bedford and turn it into Lynchburg.”
    Some, however, liked the changes. Donnie Slusher, a local surveyor, applauded the supervisors, saying that the existing zoning ordinance denies citizens their property rights because it’s overly restrictive.
    Doug John brought up an example of excessive restrictions. He said that he wants to turn the old Forest Fire Department building into a micro-brewery and had asked that this be made an allowed use, but this has been left out of the changes.
    Bill Fowler said that he owns a building constructed for a manufacturing operation in 1981. Now the land is zoned for office space only.
    “Somebody arbitrarily rezoned our building,” he said. Fowler also said that he owns a cattle farm that has been rezoned residential.
    Margaret Burks said that she and her husband own a farm in an AP zone on Big Island Highway. She wants to be able to build a beauty salon on the property and would like to see personal services added as a permitted use in AP zones.
    “We’d like for my wife to have a little beauty shop on 122,” said her husband, Don Burks.
    The meeting was continued to this Thursday, Nov. 17. It will be held at Bedford Science and Technology Center, on Edmond Street in Bedford, at 7 p.m.
    “I hope everybody comes back out,” said Derrick Noell, chairman of the planning commission. “There is a lot in [the zoning ordinance] we are all concerned about.”    
    District 1 Supervisor Dale Wheeler said that the 25 speakers brought up 38 complaints.
    “I can eliminate two-thirds of it by putting R2 back in,” he said.