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Town property owners want the ‘red line’

by Tom Chillemi

“The rules are to protect us all. This [proposed zoning ordinance] doesn’t look like a plan for equal treatment.” —Developer Ray Watson Jr.
The Urbanna Planning Commission’s proposed total revision of the town zoning ordinance drew stern criticism from three town property owners during a public hearing on August 27.

The planners started the revision several years ago and realized after looking at a few chapters the zoning ordinance was outdated, said Urbanna Planning Commission chairman Phil Friday. The commission decided it would be easier to start over and write an entirely new zoning ordinance.

Usually when an ordinance change is proposed, the section to be deleted is denoted with a “red line,” and the new language is written below the old section. The planners didn’t use this approach when they revised the ordinance. “We red lined the whole thing,” Friday told the audience at last week’s public hearing.

However, Jim Vautrot, who owns at least three commercial properties in Urbanna, insisted the zoning changes should be highlighted. Vautrot owns Liberty at Compass Quay hotel, the former Dollar General Store building, and the lot where Moo’s Restaurant stood before it burned last year.

Agreeing with Vautrot were Ken Fleishman and Ray Watson Jr. of Potomac Timber LLC, who want to build condominiums and a new marina at Urbanna Yachting Center. “We don’t know what the changes are,” said Fleishman. He added that it would take a long time to figure out the zoning changes made by the planners.

Watson added, “There should be a side-by-side analysis” of the current and proposed ordinance.

Commission member Don Richwine, who also serves on town council, said highlighting the changes would be difficult. “We probably made a mistake in trying to do too much at one time,” he said.

By the end of the meeting, Friday said the commission could highlight the changes, and would accept written comments and input on the proposed ordinance after it is “red lined.”
Specific concerns

Vautrot said he is concerned about a proposed clause that states a Special Use Permit (SUP) does not set a precedent. “Everybody has to be treated equally,” he said.

Vautrot suggested the proposed ordinance be submitted for legal review by a law firm.

Andy Bury, attorney for the Town of Urbanna, told the commission he had “some issues” with the proposed ordinance.

Watson said the Intensely Developed Areas (IDAs) have been omitted from the commission’s revision. “You’re basically condemning waterfront property,” he said. (A waterfront IDA is permitted to develop those areas where construction is prohibited by the Chesapeake Bay Act.)

Friday agreed IDAs should be in the proposed ordinance under the Bay Act section.

Watson said Residential zoning should not be left up to the town administrator, indicating the ordinance should be more specific. “How are you going to sell your property if you have got to be a ‘good ol’ boy’ to buy it?” Watson asked.

“The rules are to protect us all,” said Watson, “This doesn’t look like a plan for equal treatment.”

Vautrot said there are things in the proposed ordinance that do not mesh with state law.

“The potential for spot zoning is huge. I think the changes in here are secretive and circuitous and they need to be clearly defined,” said Vautrot.

“It appears to be leaving things more open to interpretation and potential political chicanery. We’ve got to remove the politics from zoning,” said Vautrot.

Watson, like Vautrot, took issue with the maximum building height being reduced to 28 feet, measured from the ground to the roof ridge. The current height limit is 35 feet, measured to a point halfway between the eaves and the roof ridge.

“You will have a lot of two-story houses with flat roofs,” Watson said.

Town resident Bob Calves pointed out that the proposed ordinance permits “rooming houses” with up to 10 rooms, and allows duplex construction “by right,” which means without rezoning or special permits.

Bill Hight said the current zoning ordinance is 25 to 30 years old, and the new ordinance will be around for “a long time.” Hight favored keeping the 35-foot height. (About the height of the BB&T building.)

Friday asked that written comments be sent to the town office as soon as possible.

Fleishman said he would respond within 30 days after receiving the proposed changes that are highlighted.

Upcoming meetings

The planning commission’s next work sessions are set for 5:15 p.m. on Wednesday, September 9, and Wednesday, September 16.

During the meeting town resident Buddy Wyker noted that work sessions of the planning commission are open to the public.

The commission’s regular monthly meeting is on the fourth Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. The next regular meeting will be September 24.

The Urbanna Town Council will hold a public hearing and consider the proposed zoning ordinance after the commission makes final changes.

Other comments

Town resident and property owner Robert Montague spoke against a proposal that would combine the Historic and Architectural Review Board (HARB) with the planning commission. As proposed, two non-voting members would be added to the commission to assist with architectural reviews.

In reference to the benefits of living in Urbanna, Calves said, “We control our land use. That’s the most important thing.”

posted 09.02.2009

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