RICHMOND – A proposal to redraw judicial districts was left in a subcommittee last week during the General Assembly session.
The measure proposed by Del. Bill Janis in the House and Sen. John Edwards in the Senate would have changed the boundaries for judicial circuits in Virginia. And, it would have separated Bath and Highland counties into different districts, which concerned local attorneys, clerks and judges. Highland County, particularly, would have been lumped into a district stretching all the way north to Winchester and Warren County.
The House bill passed on a close vote, 52-46, on Feb. 8, and then moved to the Senate Committee for Courts of Justice. From there, it was assigned to the Civil Subcommittee, where it was left.
Meanwhile, Sen. Frank Wagner’s Commonwealth Energy Policy bill, SB 862, is still alive in the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce and Labor, where it has not yet been scheduled on the docket to be heard.
The bill would stipulate that any locality enacting an ordinance to address sites for solar or wind energy facilities use language to establish criteria, and make the ordinances consistent with the Commonwealth Energy Policy.
Highland supervisor Robin Sullenberger, who has been in Richmond the last couple of weeks, reports he’s heard discussions about removing “scenic” and “viewshed” from the proposal, perhaps because those terms are too difficult to define and likely to generate controversy, criticism or even litigation. “‘Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder’ is the way it was described to me, meaning that aesthetic decisions can easily be based on opinion rather than definitions or guidelines,” Sullenberger said. “Like it or not, one of the legacies of the Highland project will be the tone it has set in Virginia as a whole. No one else wants to go through this kind of contentious ordeal, so the groundwork is being laid to streamline the process. It may take several iterations because local jurisdictions resist losing control, but will not go away.
“Developers do not want to be encumbered by guidelines that are open to interpretation and thereby increase exposure to risk,” Sullenberger added. “From the jurisdictional viewpoint, history has shown that courts nearly always uphold local land use decisions, but the process still takes time and it doesn’t alleviate the disruptive impact and monetary loss.”
Sullenberger stressed, however, that he doesn’t know what, if anything, might change in the wording of the bill once it’s heard in committee.
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