TAZEWELL, Va. – A crowd of Tazewell County residents sent a clear message to the board of supervisors Tuesday night at a public hearing on a proposed zoning ordinance, and it’s a message two key supervisors say they are heeding.
“There is no appetite for doing any zoning,” supervisors Chairman Mike Hymes said Wednesday. “The two people who made the motion to scrap the zoning plan were both from the Southern District, my district. My constituents are strongly against zoning and therefore I am too.”
Eastern District Supervisor Charlie Stacy, who is also a member of the planning commission and supported the ordinance, agreed that residents do not want any zoning.
“I am not feeling comfortable at this point to ask the board to go against what was large scale opposition,” he said. “We have the ability to do that (direct the planning commission to develop another zoning ordinance) but you have to recognize the volume of voices from citizens.”
About 600 residents jammed Nuckolls Hall at the Tazewell County Fair-grounds for the public hearing on a proposed zoning ordinance for the Eastern District that was created by the county’s planning commission.
The hearing was held as a joint meeting between the commission and the board of supervisors, which could have taken action on the ordinance if the commission had recommended it.
But the commission voted 3-2 to not recommend the ordinance to the board, thereby killing it.
The proposed ordinance was a list of prohibited entities, which included wind turbine farms, large-scale energy projects, nuclear facilties, medical waste facilities, methadone clinics, strip clubs, large canneries and any business or industry that would create odorous emissions.
Stacy said his support of the ordinance is directly related to economic development and zoning can provide a layer of protection for planned growth as well as offer a more enticing enviroment for new business and industry.
He, along with commission Chair Ann Robinson, voted to recommend the ordinance to the board. Charlie Hart, Robert Moss and Jason Herndon voted not to recommend.
“We’re having a hard time recruiting industries to bring good jobs,” he said, explaining that zoning can protect an industry from what could be developed on property around them, from certain types of industries that could hurt property values to residential developments.
“One of the benefits of zoning is that it gives you an ability to predict what could come in,” he said, adding that he believes a lack of zoning has impeded the development of the Bluestone Regional Business and Technology Park.
But Hymes said that, in his experience, zoning has not been an issue for potential business and industries considering locating in the county.
“I have never heard it discussed either way (whether zoning is in place) in any detail with any prospects we have had here,” he said.
Stacy may support some limited zoning, but he said he also recognizes the reality of the situation.
“The overall zoning (rather than just for a wind turbine facility) was the primary concern at the hearing,” he said. “People are concerned that the government will tell them what they can do or not do with their property.”
The majority of people at the hearing, who were from around the county, not just the Eastern District, were not in favor of this ordinance, he said.
The opposition, he said, was organized by the Farm Bureau, which has said the county has a “tall-structure ordinance” that would prevent a wind turbine farm from being developed.
Stacy said the height restriction on a structure is 40 feet, which would “take care of the turbine issue” because those structures are far higher.
However, that local ordinance may not be a permanent roadblock to the development of wind farms, he said.
“The state or federal government may say we can’t pass an ordinance that is anti-renewable energy,” Stacy said, and the tall-structure ordinance would fall into that category.
The proposed ordinance, he said, would have added a stronger layer of protection.
Eric Young, the attorney for Tazewell County, said the planning commission has been working on a zoning odinance for many years, at least since 2002, when a zoning ordinance draft was created.
Young said he came to the county 12 years ago and has worked on an ordinance “for a long time,” but it was not pushed until 2012, when Stacy was appointed to the commission and a committee was formed to finish the task.
“After that, we put a lot of resoures and effort into it,” he said.
Those efforts culminated in two public meetings on the issue in 2015, leading to the ordinance being reommended to the full commission in November. After that, another public meeting was held in December at the Bluefield (Va.) Town Hall.
Supervisors voted in January to set Tuesday night’s public hearing.
Young said that during those public meetings, residents were divided on the issue, but evenly.
That’s why, he said, the ordinance proceded.
Young said the board did not direct the commission to develop the ordinance, but could do so in the future if supervisors agree.
If that ever happens, the commission must produce the ordinance within 100 days. If they fail to do so, the board can then create the ordinance without going through the commission, he said.
But according to both Stacy and Hymes, county residents do not want zoning, and neither has any plans to bring up the issue.
Both also agreed that one of the bright spots of the public hearing was the attendance, which forced county officials to move the meeting from the supervisors’ meeting room in Tazewell to the fairgrounds.
“We had an excellent turnout of about 600 citizens,” said Stacy. “That’s the largest attendance at a meeting we have had since I have been a member of the board.”
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