Your Turn — What about the impact?

Published 3:53 pm Friday, August 26, 2022

Copeland Casati

Recently, a number of conditional use permits (CUPs) in agricultural areas have been handed out to industrial businesses, specifically permanent sawmills, without considering if they benefit local community enough to warrant waiving existing zoning meant, for generations, to protect our nation’s agricultural areas.

Examples of recent local CUPs for permanent industrial business near us locally include those on Singleton, Rolling Hill Road and Vincent Store Road. Each application was granted without a cost-benefit analysis, nor the need to prove that industrial business in an agricultural zone would provide a benefit great enough to waive existing zoning.

When I requested these figures from zoning and how they measured in the CUP, I was told there was no weighing of traffic nor cost impact, that they did not consider whether such a project would incur costs to our community, that zoning staff did NOT ask for those estimates from VDOT (or elsewhere, even from the applicant). So I thought it might be useful for this and future CUPs, and to ensure that existing CUPs do not expand in their negative impact on our community, to do the research for us all.

In each instance, I found the industrial CUP did not benefit the community but only the applicant.

In my opinion, each industrial/sawmill business degraded neighbors’ property values, affected their quality of life, created noise and environmental pollution, and permanently increased traffic on secondary feeder roads (which were never built for industrial traffic), endangering all. These businesses will continue to impact rural communities financially, environmentally, and health-wise now. I am not arguing these businesses should not exist, but be located nearby where they do not impact the safety and well-being of agricultural land and neighbors. This is why industry is traditionally sited on larger highways where roads are built for such vehicles, and clustered in industrial zones outside of towns: so not to negatively affect the rights and quality of life of neighbors and to protect farmland.

For example, because industry is now on Rolling Hill and Vincent Store Roads, it was necessary for VDOT to adjust and widen the road from its historic use by widening it, and with increased pavements, incurring more costs than what was usually spent because industry is now there. Again: these costs from these businesses are a continued burden on taxpayers. VDOTs widening proves that if an industrial CUP is approved on a secondary/feeder road, it will permanently change the road’s use and necessitate ongoing costs to taxpayers for non-agriculturally zoned use. These are continued costs borne not by the individual business, but by the entire rural community, already negatively impacted.

In other CUP applications, like recent solar farms, zoning requires project descriptions, land management plans, density calculations… why is this not required of all industrial CUPs in agricultural areas? Shouldn’t zoning require applicants to provide traffic impact and project estimates when considering changes to existing zoning?

Since 2018, VDOT costs for Rolling Hill Road were $73,739.84, and for Vincent Store Road, $66,820.60, a cost of almost $150,000 to taxpayers.

I was not able to find tax filings for any businesses on Rolling Hill or Vincent Store Road whose addresses were listed on CUPs that then incurred these costs. (I was attempting to find what profits and taxes these businesses claim, to then compare that to what local taxpayers pay for their roads’ adjusted use, to see if it might be a community benefit or have a negative impact.)

Why is zoning not analyzing these impacts on our community before approval? Highway sites and outside-of-town zoned industrial locations are easily accessible to accommodate such businesses. Amish and other sawmill workers do use vans to travel to work, so can easily access employment in areas built for higher traffic and industry nearby on appropriate sites.

CUP applications and VDOT are inextricably linked: when VDOT is asked to approve an entrance in an agriculture zone it should also send zoning an estimate for changing affected roads to accommodate permanent industrial traffic, and what those estimated ongoing costs might be.

Zoning staff and boards should ask each industrial business applicant in an agricultural zone how their business model plans to pay for VDOT costs, how they will benefit the community, how they will not negatively impact their neighbors before deeming an application as something to even begin to be considered by the public.

CUPs should never negatively impact communities, reduce agricultural land, nor have costs, ongoing, a burden on all but the one they benefit.

I encourage planning and zoning staff to uphold existing zoning and their rural community’s desire to remain agricultural.

Copeland Casati is a native Virginian who enjoys living off-grid, rural culture and the many characters in our area. While she and her family are employed in technology, they have cherished their local friends with and without technology, English, Amish and otherwise. In her spare time, hobbies include solar cooking, eating weeds and zoning. Casati can be reached at Copeland@GreenModernKits.com.