Senator backs zoning referendum bill

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Meanwhile, the county planning commission begins working on repeal.

By Patrick Smith

INDEPENDENCE — Grayson supervisors’ effort to put the future of zoning before county voters now has a sponsor in the General Assembly.
A three-member majority of Grayson County supervisors voted Jan. 9 to direct county staff to pursue a special referendum vote on the issue of repealing the county’s zoning ordinance, which requires General Assembly approval.

On Jan. 17, Senate Bill 668 was presented to the General Assembly by Sen. Bill Carrico of Fries.
The bill, if passed, would require Grayson County Circuit Court to order the referendum vote on or before Aug. 15, 2014.
The referendum vote would be held in conjunction with the 2014 general election in November, and would ask qualified voters the question, “Shall the county repeal the existing zoning ordinance for the County of Grayson?”
Citizens would vote either “yes” or “no.”
“Following certification of the election results by the electoral board, the court shall enter an order proclaiming the results of such election and a duly certified copy of such order shall be transmitted to the board of supervisors of the county and the State Board of Elections,” Senate Bill 668 reads.
The vote would be binding. “If a majority of the voters voting in the referendum vote to repeal the existing zoning ordinance, the existing zoning ordinance shall be repealed effective Jan. 1, 2015.”
In presenting the bill, Carrico stressed that the bill was not by his request, but at the direction of the county.
Carrico said the county’s zoning debate was brought to his attention after the large citizen turnout at the board of supervisors’ Jan. 9 meeting, where citizens spoke passionately both in defense of and against the zoning ordinance.
He said he also received a letter from county staff stating that the supervisors had voted to pursue the referendum vote three days prior to the deadline for bills to be drafted and filed.
The senator explained that, due to the tight deadline, he was not able to discuss the issue with county officials before presenting it to the General Assembly. However, he  said Monday that he had requested each of the Grayson supervisors to meet with him in Richmond on Tuesday, where their unanimous vote for a resolution would be required to proceed.
A unanimous decision could prove difficult. So far, all zoning-related issues before the board have been decided on a split 3-2 vote, with supervisors Glen Rosenbaum, David Sexton and John Brewer voting to repeal zoning and supervisors Brenda Sutherland and Kenneth Belton voting against. The board split the same way in choosing to seek approval for a referendum.
“I don’t have a complete understanding of the particulars as to what [the county] wants me to do,” Carrico said on Monday. “I guess tomorrow [Tuesday] evening they will tell me how they want to approach it, but if it’s the will of the county, [the supervisors] need to be here to explain it.”
After learning of the presentation of Senate Bill 668 on Monday, Grayson Planning and Community Development Director Elaine Holeton said that she will inform the Grayson Planning Commission at its next meeting where the county’s chance for a referendum lies.
“I’m surprised to hear Sen. Carrico has presented the issue of referendum to the General Assembly,” she said. “But regardless of how the issue of referendum unfolds, the planning commission will proceed with careful review. And, should the board of supervisors’ directive remain in effect, the planning commission will ensure due process is followed.”

Planning Commission Discusses Repeal
On Jan. 21, the Grayson County Planning Commission — which was unaware of Senate Bill 668’s inception — discussed their directive from the board of supervisors to draft an ordinance of repeal to the county zoning ordinance within a 100-day deadline.
The planning commission had sent a recommendation to the board of supervisors last month asking the board to cease the repeal process and to reconsider its request for the commission to draft an ordinance of repeal. However, the supervisors voted 3-2 at their January meeting to continue the repeal process and for county staff to pursue the referendum vote.
Holeton pointed out that the 100-day deadline given to the commission draft the ordinance of repeal would fall just after the group’s regular March meeting.
Members of the planning commission expressed their concern that the timeframe might not be long enough to hold public hearings and gather other data needed to make an informed decision. Some also pointed out their legal concerns on the matter.
Holeton informed the planning commission that a zoning ordinance has never been repealed before in Virginia, but said an ordinance of repeal would follow the same steps as developing a new ordinance. She said the process would require the planning commission to hold a public hearing and to notify every county landowner, both residents and non-residents — at an estimated minimum cost of $17,710 —  before making a recommendation to the board.
During public comment, citizen Mary Kelley pointed out to the commission that if the county was able to hold a referendum on zoning, those property owners who are non-county residents would not be able to vote. “Consider how both populations can have input,” she suggested.
John Brewer, chairman of the board of supervisors and new member of the planning commission, indicated that the supervisors might be willing to grant an extension to the 100-day deadline.
He also concluded the meeting by reassuring citizens that “no decision has been made” prior to public hearings in regard to the repeal.

Commission Selects Leaders
Before its discussion on zoning last week, the planning commission began its meeting by nominating a new chair and vice chair.
Dr. Palmer Fant prefaced the nominations by reminding the planning commission that the chair and vice chair must be experienced members of the commission, and by reminding citizens that zoning does not affect their taxes.
Fant began the election for chairperson by nominating Larry Bartlett. Don Dudley then nominated Lindsey Carico.
Following the nominations, the planning commission to install Carico as chairwoman in a 6-3 vote, while the vote for Larry Bartlett resulted 2-6. (Bartlett did not participate in the vote).
Bartlett was then nominated and chosen to serve as vice chairman.