Bill to Limit Growth Curbs Gains Ground in Va. Senate
By Libby Copeland
A statewide bill that would strip municipalities such as Fauquier County of their ability to require special exception approval for some residential developments passed the Senate Committee on Local Government on Tuesday, causing dismay among members of the Board of Supervisors.
Board Vice Chairman Joe Winkelmann (R-Center) arrived late to Tuesday's board meeting from Richmond to announce that Bill 2324, sponsored by Del. Thomas M. Jackson Jr. (D-Carroll), had passed the committee by a 9 to 5 vote with one abstention after passing in the Virginia House last week.
In December, Del. James M. Scott (D-Fairfax) withdrew a bill aimed specifically at halting the special exception process in Fauquier County, where developers complained that the supervisors have used it as a means of unfairly slowing growth.
The new bill, which is backed by the Homebuilders Association of Virginia and the Virginia Association of Realtors, would remove authority for the special exception process on property where residential development is allowed by right.
Fauquier County, among others, use the special exception process to allow residents to voice their opinions on projects and to place certain conditions -- such as lower density -- on residential development.
"The forces of darkness have prevailed in Richmond, and it is not the last time we will fight this battle," Winkelmann said at Tuesday's board meeting. "It was a good day for the greedy people who want to take away the flexibility of this board, who want to run roughshod over the voice of the people."
Winkelmann called the bill "enormously broad [and] vague."
"We have used this process for over 18 years," Winkelmann said of special exceptions. He added that the bill, which would apply to residential construction, might go before the full Senate for a final vote today.
If it is passed, the legislation would take effect in January 2000. Board Chairman Larry L. Weeks (R-Scott) asked staff members to examine the county's options if that happens.
Spending Plan Put on Hold
The supervisors heard public opinion Tuesday on the Planning Commission's proposed five-year Capital Improvements Plan but decided not to vote on it until they adopt the county budget for the year 2000.
The CIP proposal, submitted to the board in December, identifies more than $3.5 million in projects for the coming year.
In both his alternative county budget proposals, however, County Administrator G. Robert Lee recommends using just under $2.4 million in county funds for capital projects in 2000. Lee proposed two budgets, one calling for no real estate tax increase and the other based on a 1-cent reduction in the tax rate.
The proposed CIP includes some funding for the controversial Auburn Dam, which is not included in Lee's county budget proposal.
During the public hearing on the CIP, Kathleen Rogers, director of land use policy at the Piedmont Environmental Council, questioned environmental and financial aspects of the dam proposal, saying that alternative projects, such as a water tower, might make more sense.
"I think at this point it's probably in the best interests of everybody if this project were withdrawn," Rogers said. "For certainly what you'd be spending just this year [on the dam proposal], we think you can take care of the problem entirely" through another method, she said.
The CIP does not include funding for a new communications system for the sheriff's office and fire and rescue squads. Lee's county budget proposals call for spending $400,000 for the public radio system in 2000.
The budget proposals initially will go to the board's newly created Budget Committee, consisting of Weeks and Winkelmann, who will chair it. They will make a recommendation to the board.
Lee said a budget hearing likely will take place in March, with a vote possible by April.
Upperville Deli Tabled
The Board of Supervisors tabled Sandy Lerner's request to open a deli in the Carr House in Upperville, after a long public hearing that brought out a roughly equal number of speakers for and against her proposal.
The board last year turned down Lerner's request for a special exception to open a 75-seat restaurant and tavern. Last month, the Planning Commission voted not to recommend rezoning the property for a 20-seat deli. She asked for the outright rezoning rather than wait the required year to ask again for a special exception to the current zoning.
Lerner's attorney, Merle Fallon, told the board that it "has the opportunity to show through its vote that we are in fact a business friendly community."
Proponents of the rezoning request argued that tiny Upperville's history spoke of a lively economic base that today is lacking. Today "we see decay, we see buildings falling part," said William Green, a Warrenton resident in the telecommunications business. "A lot of my friends are looking at this and saying, 'Why would we want to come to Fauquier County?' " Green said.
Opponents stressed it is not the presence of a deli but the precedent of rezoning that frightens them. "The rezoning is a threat to a town that could become -- as we said -- like Middleburg," Upperville resident Fred Zimmer said.
The board voted unanimously to table the issue for 30 days.
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