From the Editor’s Desk: The rules in Buckingham need to change

From the Editor: The rules at Buckingham need to be changed

Published 2:48 am Thursday February 2, 2023

It’s not about ownership. It’s not a question of yes or no. It is about information or its partial lack. On Monday, January 23, the Buckingham County Planning Commission held its regular monthly meeting. For the third time, they heard Olympia Moore’s request to change the zoning of their 13.77-acre property from agricultural to commercial. And for the third time there were some problems.

The property is now located at 29662 N. James Madison Highway in New Canton, in the heart of one of Buckingham’s designated growth areas. In the designated growth areas, county officials hope to attract businesses to locate in the next few years. It strikes me as odd that county officials designate an area for business growth but aren’t really pushing for a zone change to allow businesses in that area. It’s like using your campaign speech to announce, “I want an Applebee’s or a Checkered Pig to move in,” but then not moving on to actually make that happen. Anyone can see that zoning would need to be changed to attract business. And yet that didn’t happen. Like I said, it just strikes me as odd.

Anyhow, Moore says she has no plans for the property. She has no business in mind, she just wants to make a change hoping to attract one. And that is absolutely what the rules allow. Under Buckingham’s own zoning ordinance, you can go to the Planning Commission, apply for a zoning change and provide no information as to what type of company you wish to bring in. And as I mentioned earlier, it’s understandable why anyone looking to sell or rent their property would want to make the switch.

Buckingham Agricultural District allows greenhouses, garden shops, home service businesses, all farms and that’s it unless you go through the special purpose permitting process. And most companies don’t want to deal with the hassle of this three to four month process, so they move on.

A business district in Buckingham, on the other hand, allows for everything from retail stores to restaurants, apartments to craft shops, barber shops, grocery stores, banks, bakeries, butchers, candy shops, private golf courses, drug stores, hotels, museums, sporting goods and auto repair to name a few. You can see where this would be more attractive to a budding business owner or a property owner looking to sell.

It therefore seems logical on this page to call for a shift from agriculture to commercial zones, particularly in a designated growth zone. And let’s get that out of the way right now. My problem is not with the property or request for change. My problem is the process, the way these things are supposed to be done.

In this case, the problem several members of the Planning Commission have had with Moore’s request is that it is not complete. There is no traffic study from the Virginia Department of Transportation, and since they have no plans for the property, the rest of the application is also mostly blank. Planning department officials said it was typical of the commission to send such applicants to a public hearing, where they understood all paperwork would need to be completed in order to move on.

Why? Why are we asking a planning commission to do this? Why send an admittedly unfinished motion to a public hearing? Shouldn’t all i’s be dotted and t’s crossed out at this point? How do we have enough information at this point to hold a public hearing? How is a neighbor supposed to decide whether he is for or against something if he doesn’t know what it will be?

This is how things get approved in different places and the local residents get upset afterwards. And then they’re told, “Well, you should have spoken at the public hearing.” How? They didn’t have enough information. They were only told that this decision could change the zoning. OK. Most people have no idea what that means. The next question will be what kind of business would move in? Well, we can give you the list mentioned before, but that’s the best we can do. We really don’t know. What changes does this mean for our schools? What will that mean for traffic? Again, we don’t know anything about this until a company applies to move in.

I would argue that the process needs to be slowed down. Even if you don’t have a specific project in mind, we need to have all the information we need on hand before moving from step one to step two.

Perhaps that will provide enough information for neighbors to decide whether they are for or against something. It might make it easier for the commissioners when they have to vote. It would ensure that only completed motions made it to the public hearing, wasting less time of the Planning Commission. Why debate and discuss if the project isn’t over yet? You’ll just do it again next month.

Yes, that means some people or companies will not apply. But in cases where you don’t even have plans for a property, I would argue that anyone can afford to wait.

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