, 2014

Supervisors delay action
on tourist home zoning

by Renss Greene

HEATHSVILLE—The board of supervisors public hearing for a proposal to allow tourist homes by right in certain areas of Northumberland packed the seats of the county courthouse November 14. When the dust settled following the hearing, the issue was still undecided.

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The board voted 4-1 to table the proposal until its February meeting. Supervisor Tommy Tomlin voted against the motion.

Meanwhile, the planning commission had recommended approval.

At some points during the hearing, a handful of attendees were forced to stand in the back, as seating had filled up completely. Some 31 people stood up to speak to the board, adding to a stack of letters, emails, and petitions members had received.

County administrator Kenny Eades prefaced the hearing with a reminder of the rules, limiting speakers to one opportunity of four minutes, or six minutes for attorneys representing a group. He also reminded speakers that all comments must be addressed to the board.

Speakers sparred over property values, property rights, whether one law can cover all situations, whether a tourist home is a business, the effect on a neighborhood of short-term visitors, and the economic impact of tourist homes.

Speakers debated whether a tourist home is a business, an issue raised by the 2007 Virginia Supreme Court Scott versus Walker ruling that a homeowners association’s ban on commercial activities did not preclude short-term rentals. Many opposed to the proposal worried aloud that allowing a business into the neighborhood would lower property values.

“Where do those expenses go? Where does the rent go that we collect?” asked Reed Carter of Richmond, a part-time Northumberland resident and tourist home owner. “It’s spent here in Northumberland County.”

“I was going to retire on the water,” said Harrison Daniel of Lottsburg. “We specifically chose Northumberland County because it did not have a high volume of vacation rentals.”

The board heard both sides of an argument over property rights.

“There’s a lot of people in this county that aren’t associated with an HOA, and this process is cutting them out of the process,” said Kaz Kazenske, speaking for the board of directors of Tides on the Chesapeake, a homeowner’s association in Reedville.

“We don’t have a homeowner’s association,” agreed Jim Michelle of Callao. “We don’t have that down on Lodge Road... We have you.”

“If you want to control somebody’s property, my suggestion is to own it,” said Catherine Bennett of Kilmarnock, a tourist home owner.

Maurice Johnson of Reedville, another tourist home operator, raised Northumberland’s comprehensive plan.

“The reality is that this county has a plan, a comprehensive plan,” Johnson said. “It is identified in that plan that tourism must be part of the equation.”

The 2006 Northumberland County Comprehensive Plan, currently being updated, mentions tourism in several places. In chapter 2 of the 2006 plan, one goal for addressing “community development issues” is “to increase tourism and thereby increase jobs and income to the county.”

“We’re not the Outer Banks and Myrtle Beach,” said Jay Lightfoot of Reedville in a speech punctuated by applause and murmurs of disagreement. “Amen! We’re not. It’s different. The people who come here are different. The spring breakers do not come to Northumberland County. Why not? There’s nothing for them to do. The Crazy Crab closes at 10.”

“The issue I think you have in front of you is a more fundamental question, and that is the future of Northumberland County,” Lightfoot told the board. “Where do you see Northumberland County going?”

“There are many areas in the county where short-term rentals would be no problem, but there are also many neighborhoods in the county where it would be outrageous to permit short-term rental,” said Norman Hammer, speaking as the attorney for Bay Harbor Estates. “I think the right way to permit these uses is with a properly-administered conditional use permit situation.

“If, however, you’re of a mind to adopt this ordinance, I would request that you delay it for six months to a year so that these homeowners associations that want to protect themselves against short-term rentals would have the ability to amend their covenants,” he said.

At the conclusion of the public hearing, board member Jim Long moved that the proposal be tabled until February to give board members more time to decide. Tomlin took issue with the motion.

“I’m opposed,” Tomlin said. “I don’t want any more papers. I’ve heard this issue for the past year or two years, and more time is just going to give me more papers.”

“Tourist homes will survive, it’s just a question of what form it will be in,” Tomlin said.

Board chairman Ronnie Jett asked the board why it might want to delay the decision, to which Long responded, “I was thinking about a work session, and I have to read through my notes again before I vote.”

“The owner right here that does not have anything, no covenants other than the county regulations, that’s the folks that I need to come up with a way to protect them,” said board member Joseph Self, supporting the motion.

“I’ve got a bunch of emails too I haven’t read, and I want to give everybody the opportunity to... to have read them all, and check into both sides again,” concurred board member Richard Haynie.

“I want to thank everyone here,” said Jett, following the 4-1 vote. “It was probably one of the most peaceful public hearings we’ve had that had this large a group.”

Also last Thursday

School superintendent Dr. Rebecca Gates reported on the progress of Northumberland’s school safety grant. The division has started negotiations with the winning bidder and is considering the possibility of adding internet protocol connections to the existing analog cameras in the high school.

This is in addition to Northumberland’s existing to-do list for the grant, including a new camera system in the elementary school and electronic door locks in all the schools, she said.

She hopes to have the safety upgrades finished by the time students return from winter break, said Gates.

The board:

• authorized Richard and Dianne Saunders to build within the Riparian Protection Area buffer around Indian Creek. They plan to add on to their living room.

• approved a resolution designating December 6 as “Virginia is for Lovers Day.” The resolution stems from the work of the Virginia Tourism Corporation.

• adopted language from state law on filling vacancies in the offices of constitutional officers. The laws for filling those vacancies will be mirrored in filling local governmental offices.

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