Concerns voiced over proposed zoning changes
When the Urbanna Planning Commission started writing the new zoning ordinance six or seven years ago, chairman Phil Friday said he told his fellow commissioners: “You want to think about how much control you want to have over your neighbor; and how much control do you want your neighbor to have over you.”
The 101-page zoning draft “is a simpler and better ordinance,” said Friday, who added the commission has written a “new” proposed zoning ordinance. “We’re not re-writing the old ordinance, we’re scratching through the whole thing. We’re writing a new ordinance,” he emphasized.
The proposed ordinance was submitted for public input last month. Since then, the commission has considered suggestions and started tweaking the ordinance wording.
A public hearing will be held on the commission’s final proposed ordinance before it is sent to the town council for its consideration for approval.
The old zoning ordinance was written in 1979, noted Friday, when “no one had any idea about the internet” and that some day a business could be run from a home.
“We’ve made it simple and reduced the overall size of the ordinance,” he said. Permitted uses for each zoning district can be listed on one sheet of paper. “We’re trying to get government out of your life.”
The last major change to the town’s zoning ordinance was in 2003 to add wording required by the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, said Friday. It also was updated about 10 years ago.
One change proposed is absorbing the Historic and Architectural Review Board (HARB) into the planning commission. Friday points out that HARB, an unelected body, has the power to levy fines, while the planning commission cannot. The planners can only make recommendations.
The overall size of the zoning ordinance has been reduced, said Friday. There are two zoning districts—Residential and Business—instead of five districts as in the current ordinance.
The proposal allows the basic uses “by right” and other uses are permitted only if council issues a Special Use Permit, said Friday.
During the public input session on Nov. 20, Greg Baka, a land planner employed by condominium developer Ray Watson, who plans to build the Urbanna Landing condo complex, said the current zoning ordinance allows uses “by right” that include marinas and docks, short-term boat repair, fuel sales and mixed uses.
As originally presented, the proposed ordinance only allowed marinas to be built with a Special Use Permit, and Baka noted “there is no guarantee of [getting] that.”
Taking away the right to build marinas without council approval, said Baka, “makes the property worthless.” He also said it equates to “down zoning” waterfront property.
Friday said last week he understood Baka’s point, and the marina section of the proposal was amended by the commission at a Dec. 3 work session. The revised proposal now allows marinas as a permitted use in the Business District, and fall under the same conditions as other town businesses, said Friday. One requirement is that buildings in the Business District that are over 5,000 square feet need a Special Use Permit (SUP), which can be granted only by the town council.
Regarding SUPs, Friday said last week that the proposed ordinance contains wording to the effect that “every building project is different, so no SUP will count as a precedent for another application,” he explained.
The new zoning proposal also specifies that the town’s jurisdiction goes to the middle of Urbanna Creek, because the middle marks the boundary between Urbanna and Middlesex County. This means boathouses and docks would need town approval, in addition to other regulatory agencies, including VMRC, said Friday.
James and Bonnie Vautrot of City of Anne LLC, which owns the Liberty at Compass Quay hotel on Urbanna Creek, wrote a letter to the planning commission stating they are concerned about the proposed zoning changes regarding the B-2 (Mixed Use Waterfront) designations. The letter offered no specific concerns.
Also speaking at the public input session was Buddy Wyker, who recommended a 27-foot maximum building height unless the town council approves a taller building.
Wyker said he calculated the height of existing town buildings as follows: Urbanna Baptist Church, 31 feet; Urbanna Baptist Parsonage, 29 feet; The Tavern, 26 feet; BB&T, 35 feet; and Urbanna Town Hall, 33 feet.
In response to Wyker’s comments, the planning commission set the maximum building height at 28 feet, measured to the roof ridge.
The earlier draft zoning ordinance sets the maximum building height at three stories and 35 feet, as measured at the roof ridge.
Town council member Janet Smith, a former member of the Urbanna Planning Commission, said building heights should be lower, noting that council attempted to have the proposed Urbanna Landing condominiums lowered from three stories to two stories. (The developer has filed a $4.5 million lawsuit against the town over building height and other issues.)
Smith also said the proposed ordinance “changes zoning in this town significantly.”
She said SUPs lead to “haphazard growth.”
Smith also noted the proposed ordinance does not give direction for “redevelopment” of land. She cited the Urbanna Market property as an example, stating that if the grocery store were to leave and a developer wanted to use that property for another use, the ordinance provides no direction.
Friday said redevelopment issues are addressed in the town comprehensive plan.
Bob Calves delivered nine pages of comments on the proposed ordinance. He told the commission that leaving land uses to SUPs is risky and can lead to litigation. “Special use permits can be good and bad,” said Calves. “I don’t think the town should rely on SUPs” and should codify uses.
Calves also said that townhouses would be “impossible” to build in town under the proposal, but duplex houses could be mixed in with single family dwellings.
Friday said the proposed ordinance will be reviewed by the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission and Urbanna Town Attorney Andy Bury.
Friday said the commission will consider other revisions, including parking, and a public hearing will be set before the ordinance goes to council for final consideration.