New BOS in town: Enviros ready to make 4-2 hay
Ann Mallek's November election to the Albemarle Board of Supervisors signaled a shift in a governing body that's often been at a 3-3 impasse. How quickly that shift occurred has left the now-minority members stunned– and crying foul.
At last week's January 16 meeting, Supervisor Sally Thomas requested that three rural protection ordinances– controversial topics at an October 10 public hearing– be put on the agenda for this week's January 23 meeting.
Board Chair Ken Boyd– whose votes often seem to fall on the side of property rights, along with those of Lindsay Dorrier and ousted supe David Wyant– was out of town, and the board voted 5-0 in his absence to discuss the proposed stream buffer, family subdivision, and critical slope ordinances tomorrow– and presumably vote on them.
"I was really quite surprised because they're such controversial issues in the community," says Boyd. "Sally knew I was going to be out of town weeks ago. I'm surprised they're going to discuss and vote on it at an afternoon meeting when many people can't come."
Most changed is the critical slopes ordinance, which caused consternation in October with its limits on construction of driveways with a 25 percent or greater slope. That's been pretty much ditched, and the revised ordinance calls for driveway access for emergency vehicles.
The family subdivision ordinance originally required property owners to own land for 15 years before subdividing and then hold it another 15 years. That's has been revised to four years before and after subdivision.
Least changed of the three ordinances is the 100-foot stream buffer, which restricts construction near streams– even near intermittent streams.
"There's been so much modification," says Boyd. "How are people going to get information with the county office building closed Friday and Monday?" (Buildings were closed for the Lee-Jackson and Martin Luther King holidays.)
According to Boyd, if there had been a public hearing for a rezoning and if there had been such "drastic changes," the board would insist on another public hearing. And he notes that the January 23 agenda is already full. "Maybe it's already a done deal, but I hope not," he says.
"They've got the votes," he acknowledges, but he adds, "To cut the public out is what really bothers me."
Boyd also slams the Planning Commission, of which Marcia Joseph, his opponent in the November election, is a member. "I'm really discouraged how the Planning Commission handled it," he says. "They didn't do due diligence. It's become politicized. They're supposed to be a deliberative group, not set policy. They've become an advocacy group. I've heard of members stomping out of meetings."
Dorrier, the Scottsville rep, was at the January 16 meeting and originally favored adding the ordinances to the January 23 agenda. But he now says, "I thought about it and said, 'Wait a minute, something's wrong here– the public hasn't been included.'"
Adding the ordinances to the agenda "is not normal procedure," he says, and they should go back to the Planning Commission before returning to the BOS.
"We're not doing what's right by the public," Dorrier insists. "And it's not anything urgent," especially if "we're going to take away rights from property owners."
Dorrier says he'd rather have more public involvement than less. "I wouldn't call it a coup d'etat, but I would call it an end-run around the Planning Commission and the public," he says.
Sally Thomas disagrees. She says she asked for the changes in the ordinances at a public meeting in December. "I certainly would not characterize this as anything back door since the public hearing and all the work on this has been done in the public," she says. "It would have been more impolite to ask staff to put it on the agenda without that conversation."
She says she called Boyd to let him know she was putting the ordinances on the agenda, but he had already left town. "It would have been behind his back if we voted on it while he was away," she says.
The changes to the ordinances are all in the direction the public hearing indicated; another public hearing would be appropriate only if the changes had been "more stringent," she says. Thomas contends the board is being "responsive" and "respectful" to the public by moving toward a vote instead of "keeping the issue dangling."
Jay Willer is executive vice president with the Blue Ridge Home Builders Association. His concern: "At the moment they've rewritten all three ordinances, and we have a new board member who was not an official member in October" at the public hearing.
The changes to the critical slopes and family subdivisions are "probably improvements," he concedes, but he figures the stream buffer will place under county purview an amount of land 50 percent larger than the city of Charlottesville. "No matter what you think of the buffer, this is not an inconsequential control of land," he says.
He's also critical of taking the vote on January 23 because of the change in the ordinances' impacts since October and because Mallek wasn't on the board then. "It may be legal, but it's bad government," he declares.
Mallek was at the October 10 public hearing. "I was quite well informed," she says. "I listened and took notes for the entire six hours." And she feels comfortable participating in the discussion as a board member.
"I was very upfront on my views," she says, calling them "very transparent," adding that they should come as no surprise.
Of the most controversial ordinance, the one concerning stream buffers, she points out that the White Hall District has had 100-foot buffers for the past 30 years. "It was a surprise to people who say I've ruined their lives," says Mallek.
The ordinance puts the 100-foot buffers into effect east of U.S. 29.
And while critics see the rural ordinance vote as rushed, supporters wonder what's taken the board so long to act. "We've all gotten requests from constituents to finish it," says Mallek.