By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau
RICHMOND, Va. — State Delegate Brenda Pogge says “politics, not sound commonsense” are driving an Eastern Shore county campaign to zone out agricultural activities.
“Downzoning always results in a loss of property rights, and we may be looking at 5,000 to 7,000 citizens losing freedoms that they already enjoy,” Pogge told Watchdog.org.
York County sued two oyster fishermen — Greg Garrett and Anthony Bavuso — in an effort to shut down their small, home-based operations.
Bavuso calls the litigation part of a larger campaign against landowners.
“The county is using oysters as an excuse. They’re carrying out an urbanization agenda involving high-density projects,” he said.
The mainly rural county had a population of 55,000 in 2012. York politicians would like to see that figure grow.
Supervisor Tom Shepperd, in a TV interview, said the Virginia General Assembly’s nearly unanimous passage of broad freedom-to-farm legislation triggered the county’s reaction.
“When they came back to us with (House Bill 1089), they forced us to do what everyone else is doing, which is to pretty much have a one-size-fits-all approach,” Shepperd said.
But John Moss, a councilman in nearby Virginia Beach, said he was unaware of other local jurisdictions “downzoning” in reaction to HB 1089.
Moss was at a York demonstration that protested the county’s proposed zoning changes. Pogge spoke at the event.
“I oppose the potential rezoning and will steadfastly support the right of citizens to reasonably enjoy the use of their own property within the law as they see fit,” said the Norge Republican whose district includes York County.
“The most ironic point to me is that this board of supervisors is composed of five Republicans. This doesn’t make sense from any angle — environmentally, economically or philosophically,” she told Watchdog.
Though county staff has offered supervisors a range of zoning options, Garrett and Bavuso are bracing for the most restrictive rules. They say other landowners should, too.
“I believe that York County will go ahead with a plan that removes the agricultural by-rights and mandates a special use permitting process,” she said.
Opposing the move, Pogge suggested, “This issue could quite possibly be settled without such a draconian approach.”
Garrett sees more irony in the land-use showdown.
“York County was where freedom was won,” the oysterman said of the Revolutionary War.
“York County has been a rural area where people have grown crops and livestock for over 400 years,” Garrett told Wavy News. “They’re talking about doing away with livestock, doing away with agriculture.”
Kenric Ward is a national reporter for Watchdog.org and chief of the Virginia Bureau. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward