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County cracking down on zoning

Cumberland County officials say they’re cracking down on enforcement of their zoning ordinance and conditional use permits.

“The focus will be zoning,” County Administrator and Attorney Vivian Seay Giles said of the enhanced enforcement.

“It’s really been a need for quite a while … The efforts to enforce zoning have not been very aggressive in the past, but it has been a need. We need to do a better of job of that.”

The county’s zoning ordinance regulates uses and activities on land zoned for specific uses, such as residential use, industrial use or agricultural use. Conditional use permits are issued by the county — through the planning commission and the board of supervisors — to allow uses or activities not zoned or allowed by-right on the property.

“It will primarily relate to current conditional use permits and current uses that are non-compliant,” Giles said, “because the new applicants generally do a very good job of making sure that they’re in compliance from the off set.”

She said the county would look more carefully at zoning requirements and properties that are not in compliance and bringing them into compliance. “We have a large number of people who go to great lengths to make sure they are in compliance.”

“That will vary,” Giles said when asked how the county would identify non-compliance issues. Often times, the initial correspondence with the property owner is driven by a complaint. “That’s very common. But, that’s not to say that we won’t look at other properties as well.”

“Anytime that we get a complaint, we go and visit where the complaint is made,” said County Planner Sara Carter. “It’s my job to go out there and take pictures and determine whether or not what I see there rises to the level … (of being) out of compliance with the zoning ordinance or is it out of compliance with their conditional use permit, if they have one.”

If a property or use is out of compliance, she says she issues a notice of violation to the permit holder or land owner.

“That is a legal notice that the Code of Virginia (says) needs to be included in it. From there on out, it’s a legal process, so they have 30 days to respond to that notice of violation to either clear up the violation or they can say, ‘I want to appeal your notice of violation.’”

Appeals are made to the county’s board of zoning appeals.

The case could also be turned over to Giles, acting as county attorney, for prosecution.

“Well, the first step and the most important thing that citizens need to be aware of and the most important component, in my opinion, is that the zoning administrator will contact (them),” Giles said of the process. “That’s a statutory requirement.”

The last thing the county wants to do is take a non-compliance issue to court, she said. “We don’t want to do that. But, at the same time, we need to make sure that the properties in the county are compliant with the zoning ordinance.”

Giles said there were “enough” properties out of compliance, but “not a whole lot.”

“We will work with any landowner who is making a good-faith effort to bring their property into compliance.”

There’s a certain point that litigation begins, Giles said, like when no resolution can be made between the county and a landowner or permitholder.

Violation of the zoning ordinance is a misdemeanor offense, according to the ordinance.

County officials are working with “a few” landowners on non-compliance issues, Giles said.

“It’s really both,” she said of the amount of violations stemming from conditional use permits or the zoning.

According to the zoning ordinance, “any person, whether as principal, agent or otherwise, violating, causing or permitting the violation of any of the provisions of this chapter, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction, may be fined not less than $10 nor more than $1,000. If the violation is uncorrected at the time of the conviction, the court shall order the violator to abate or remedy the violation in compliance with the zoning ordinance, within a time period established by the court.”

Failure to remove or abate a zoning violation within the specified time period constitutes a separate misdemeanor offense, punishable by a fine of no more than $1,000, according to the ordinance, and any such failure during any succeeding 10-day period shall constitute a separate misdemeanor offense for each 10-day period punishable by a fine not greater than $1,500.