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8/9/2017 2:31:00 PM
Bath Supervisors Address Rezoning Notification Process
News Editor

WARM SPRINGS — Bath County supervisors have approved revisions to the size of signs posted for public notice regarding land use regulations, but they stopped short of increasing costs for postage in notifying adjoining landowners of rezoning requests.

The action came following a public hearing to revise sections and fee schedules in Bath County land use regulations Tuesday night.

Supervisor Stuart Hall introduced a substitute motion to reduce the size of signs to a minimum of two square feet that would be more efficient and look more professional. Currently, there are varying minimum sizes noted in the code that range from six square feet to 12 square feet.

But Hall’s motion did not include a provision to include mailing certified return receipt notices to adjoining landowners. At this time, adjoining property owners are notified for rezoning applications by first class mail.

“I think it is unnecessary,” said Hall, who added that the proposed revisions could adversely impact small business owners and young professionals looking to start a business.

The Code of Virginia provides that adjoining landowners can be notified by first class mail with a signed affidavit verifying that notification was sent for rezoning requests. There is no requirement in the code to send notification for conditional use permits or variances.

The current cost of certified mail is $6.47, so the applicant would have been charged that amount times the number of adjoining landowners.

County Planner Sherry Ryder said she averages about eight mailings per request, but that number has reached as high as 19 in a recent case. She added that if certified mailings were required, she would likely need additional funds in her budget to cover the increased costs for postage.

Hall’s motion was approved by a vote of 3-2 with Claire Collins and Eddy Hicklin dissenting. His motion superceded an original motion that had been introduced by Collins.

“I don’t like ordinances,” Chairman Richard Byrd said. “I don’t like ordinances that have a financial burden on it in the middle of a year when the budget has already been approved.”

Collins originally introduced a motion to approve both the change in the size of signs and the upgrade to certified mail. She cited critical communications, transparency and quality control as reasons for implementing certified mailings.

She added that Bath County’s fee schedules are lower than surrounding localities.

“I’m looking at it from the standpoint of transparency and communication,” she said. “That critical communication means not having misunderstandings and knowing what you are actually doing.”

Comments during the public hearing were equally divided on the proposal.

“For $6, it is a small price to pay to keep peace,” Bruce McWilliams said. “I hope the money does not get in the way of the ability for the board to verify that everyone has the information they need.”

Carl Chestnut countered, “We haven’t had any trouble over the years. I don’t see any sense in changing it.”

The Bath County Planning Commission earlier approved these provisions by a 4-1 vote.

During the public hearing, planning commission member Trudy Woodzell recalled several instances, one in which an absentee landowner received their letter of notification after the meeting had been held.

“We do not take this lightly,” she said. “It’s not about trying to not allow somebody to be in business. It’s about making sure that the owners are informed so that we don’t get caught looking like we’re not informed.”

In a memo to supervisors, planning commission member Lynn Ellen Black explained her dissenting vote on the proposal.

“Mandating the applicant to pay unrequired fees for certified mailings that will cost $6.74 for a letter one ounce and under can be quite chilling to economic growth,” she said. “This requirement can create a hardship on local mom and pop businesses looking to expand and grow. Our young professionals that we all want to see start a business and thrive in Bath County could be hit with an unnecessary fee.

“In this economic environment, we need to try to help our businesses and not burden them with more fees that are not required by the Code of Virginia.

Supervisors entertained other comments from the public during Tuesday’s meeting.

John Cowden of Williamsville, the former chairman of the Bath County Planning Commission who was succeeded by Black, questioned supervisors’ “planning process as you head into the future.”

Cowden questioned decisions by the board in 2016 regarding tourism and economic development.

“Solidly supporting the EDA and a professionally managed tourism program are keys to making Bath a place where people want to live,” he said. “Let’s remember without a well-executed plan, it’s a cycle that can also go in reverse.”

Cowden said supervisors must decide what projects “are most worthy” on a limited budget.

“We cannot save our way to prosperity,” he said.

He also questioned recent charges levied against Hicklin by Hall, who has accused the Millboro supervisor of conflict of interest.

“What is most disturbing is the seemingly petty and vindictive actions that have been taken against Supervisor Hicklin,” Cowden said. “Really, this unfolding drama of county politics has just got to end.

“At one point, we were headed in the right direction with a solid game plan,” Cowden concluded. “Let’s get back on track.”

Jonah Windham said he was disappointed that supervisors did not follow the recommendation from the planning commission.

“We’re back to the same decision making,” he said. “When a planning commission works as hard as this one did to come forward with something — and have heard all of this, experienced it and voted 4-1 to approve it, and the one person that voted against it was one of the people that was having a problem — and then this board does not listen to them, why should they work?”

Windham also urged supervisors to carefully examine their economic and tourism plans.

“You need to think very strongly about what you did 9-10 months ago,” he said. “I can see a difference, and it’s not a good difference. I lay it on you.”

Cliff Gilchrest also reflected on decisions made by the board in 2016, both actions dealing with business and tourism.

“Please Google ‘Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face’,” Gilchrest said.

Following comments from the public, the supervisors took their turn.

Collins said the bickering “needs to stop and needs to stop now.”

“It hurts this community, because those things that are said leave this community every single day,” she said. “When they are said, it puts a black mark on this community. We must stand together, support each other and show that we want Bath County to survive.”

Hall also addressed comments that were earlier fielded by the board.

“We have 4,500 other people to represent in this county,” he said. “We have the same handful trying to dictate to this county every month.

“We listen to you, and we do what we can do to support you, but we have other people to support, too. We have to listen to them,” Hall concluded.

In other business Tuesday, supervisors:

— received an update on Virginia Department of Transportation projects from Residency Administrator Susan Hammond;

— fielded comments from the public urging the board to encourage businesses to open in commercial settings, not in homes;

— approved a data sharing agreement with Geopliant LLC for emergency management services;

— authorized offering supplemental insurance from Washington National as an employee benefit at no cost to the county;

— approved the appointments of Byrd and County Administrator Ashton Harrison to the Bath/Highland Telecommunications Authority;

— authorized Harrison to schedule a public hearing for the Regional Telecommunications Authority with Highland County and the town of Monterey;

— endorsed the 2017 personal property tax rate of 36.33 percent.

This amount equates to the $0,275 allocation of funds from the personal property tax relief program.

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