“Communism and socialism are alive and well in the Board of Supervisors,” shouted Clara Belle Wheeler in the hallway on her way out of the County Office Building from the February 6 Board of Supervisors meeting. Just a few minutes earlier, the newly reconstituted Board—with Democrat Ann Mallek replacing Republican David Wyant—had voted for three proposed ordinance amendments that opponents deride as a taking of personal property and supporters defend as necessary to protect the rural environment.
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Will Board pass rural ordinances?
On May 2, 2007, the Board of Supervisors approved Resolutions of Intent to amend certain requirements of the Zoning and Subdivision Ordinances pertaining to Critical Slopes, Lot Access, and Family Subdivisions, but in previous attempts had stalled with a split vote in the face of overwhelming citizen protest.
“Tonight is by my count the sixth time this proposal has come before you,” noted Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center as the public remarks began less than 30 minutes into the meeting. Counter to most who would take the lectern, he felt the ordinances were too weak. “The original proposal has been cut back and watered down in an effort to accommodate concerns about property owners.”
The Board had before them three different ordinances, including one that would create 100′ stream buffers throughout the county and another that would increase the amount of time that a homeowner would have to own land in order to subdivide it for a family member. Instead of an originally proposed limit on building on critical slopes of those at 25 percent or more, though, the Board was now merely considering the recommended access regulations for public safety vehicles like ambulances, but only in relation to new dwelling units.
“We’re afraid that if these provisions get weakened any further there won’t be anything left for you to vote on,” Butler finished, as pastoral images rotated on the large screen behind the Board: a row of rainbow-colored kayaks by a lake’s edge, a babbling brook coasting around rusty stones, a wooded hillside as round as a row of green, orange and yellow ochre bon-bons, and all of a sudden all of it replaced by the county seal.
“Property rights are the cornerstone of our lives,” said John Munchmeyer, chair of the Jefferson Area Libertarians, the next speaker. “I don’t like being told what to do with my property. …I’m appalled at your lack of appreciation for personal property rights.”
The staunchness of those positions was balanced out by John Cruikshank, chairman of the Sierra Club’s Piedmont group. “Please support all three of these ordinances,” he implored, and congratulated the Board on their earlier decision to participate in the Cool Counties program. Audience members laughed in derision but despite the repeated pleas of landowners, the Board took Cruikshank’s advice and by a 4-2 vote—Lindsay G. Dorrier Jr. and board Chairman Kenneth C. Boyd cast the two “nays” —passed the three amendments.
Afterwards, fourth generation county landowner Butch Houchins scoffed at the whole process. “They are paving the entire county,” he said, drunk with disillusion. “We are gorging ourselves to develop. It’s the American Dream.”
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