Va. Ordinance Relaxes Development Restrictions, Causes Dispute

Jan. 4, 2008
Chairman feels board was misled into approving ordinance

An ordinance passed last month by Virginia’s King and Queen County Board of Supervisors making land and pristine waterways more accessible to developers is causing dissent among officials there, according to a report in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Environmental Codes Compliance Officer Christine Breddy said she is ignoring the ordinance because it disregards state law designed to protect water quality from the effects of development, the paper reported.

"We're just issuing permits based on the old rules," Breddy said.

Lying about 60 miles northeast of Richmond, Va., King and Queen County is bounded by the Mattaponi River and the remote Dragon Run Swamp, and is filled with features like beaver ponds and woodland streams.

The ordinance redefines how the county will meet the terms of the state's Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, and eases the definition of land where new development is subject to tougher controls to keep pollution out of the bay.

The changes mean land clearing would go unregulated on many building sites of less than 10,000 sq ft; the old threshold for a county land disturbance permit was 2,500 sq ft, according to the paper.

Under the old ordinance, stricter controls applied to development on land with any one of the following characteristics: being in a flood plain; having highly permeable soil, highly erodible soil or wet soils; or land sloping at greater than a 15% angle, Breddy said.

The new ordinance eliminates wet soils from the list, requires a combination of two or more of those characteristics to bring on stricter oversight and raises the sloping threshold to 25%, the paper reported.

The ordinance gutted the county's old bay preservation requirements, Breddy told the paper. "They just basically wiped it out."

Board of Supervisors Chairman Doris Morris agreed. She said the county’s Planning Commission misled the board into approving the new ordinance, Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area Overlay District, on Dec. 10, according to the paper.

"This was a wrong attempt to deceive the board," Morris said. The Planning Commission's memo to the board said the revision was necessary in order "to clarify the wording to bring us up to state requirements," she said.

The Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, passed in 1988, is aimed at protecting the bay and tidal rivers, and requires jurisdictions east of Interstate 95 that lie in the bay's watershed to impose state standards on development there.

The act requires local governments to ban building within 100 ft of creeks, rivers and perennial streams and to establish "resource management areas" elsewhere, where stronger environmental restrictions would apply.

The new King and Queen County ordinance eliminates prohibitions against wholesale forest clearing within the 100-ft area and defines "resource management areas" more narrowly, Breddy added.

Breddy said that on the day the planners created the new ordinance, the state division of Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance had found King and Queen County’s old ordinance in compliance with the bay act. "There was no reason to change it," she told the paper.

No site-plan proposals or subdivision plans have been submitted to the county government since the new ordinance was passed, Breddy said.

The local-assistance division is looking over the county's changes to see how they measure up to state requirements, division director Joan Salvati said.

The state can require local governments to rewrite ordinances to comply with the bay act, according to Salvati.

Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch