Buckingham planning commission weighs big questions

Published 9:32 pm Thursday, January 26, 2023

DILLWYN – How much control does a county board need over what happens on your property? If you want to change the zoning, should you be required to say what you plan to do with it? Those were some of the questions the Buckingham County Planning Commission debated during their Monday, Jan. 23 meeting. 

The discussion centered around one request, coming back for the third time. Olympia Moore owns a 13.77 acre parcel of land at 29661 N. James Madison Highway in New Canton, in one of Buckingham’s designated growth areas. Moore, who lives in North Carolina, inherited the property from her parents. The issue is it’s currently zoned A-1 (that is, zoned for agriculture). Moore wants the county to change the zoning to B-1, in hopes of attracting some businesses to buy or lease it. 

But the issue for some planning commission members is the fact nobody, not even Moore, can say what would happen with the property. During the last time she came before the commission in December, Moore was asked if she had read the zoning ordinance and if she could tell the group why she needed a zoning change. Basically, they wanted to know what she planned to do that wasn’t allowed in an area zoned for agriculture. She told them no, she hadn’t read the zoning ordinance. 

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In her application, originally dated Sept. 27, 2022, Moore writes that “at this present time, I have no plans for this property. I am willing to be open and listen to the needs of the community. Currently, I am requesting to have the property zoned for commercial use as it would benefit the county for future use.” 

When should an application be reviewed? 

But it’s the missing pieces that frustrated some board members. Moore, who didn’t show up and wasn’t able to be reached by county staff for the Jan. 23 hearing, by her own words hasn’t said what she wants to do with the property. So how can a planning commission effectively review a proposal like that, group members asked. 

“Why do we even entertain it if she’s not planning to sell it and at least up till now, she’s not aware of what she wants to put on it or at least she’s not willing to tell us,” asked commission member Peter Kapuscinski. “Quite frankly, it’s not that we’re denying her an opportunity for rezoning. It’s a question as to whether or not we have to sit here and guess what she wants to do with that property.” 

Danny Allen, who serves as the board of supervisors representative on the commission, agreed. Like Kapuscinski, he asked what they were supposed to review, with no information on even a proposed business moving in. 

“Unless people come and tell you what they want to do, there’s no reason to change it from A1 to B1,” Allen said. 

Without a plan, a proposal or anything to go on, Allen argued it wasn’t a benefit to the county. 

“It’s not growth,” Allen said. “If you come up here and say I want to put this there or I want to put that there, that’s growth. It’s just an improvement for her pocket, it’s nothing to help the county.” 

But if she was able to bring in a business, it would benefit the county, commission chairman John Bickford pointed out. 

 “That’s what I told her the last time,” Allen said, referring to the December meeting where the board delayed any action. “If she wanted to wait and bring a business in , that would be great, that would be very helpful. But she’s not doing that.” 

Does a special use requirement drive away business?

Bickford meanwhile raised another concern. Typically, the planning commission sends applications to a public hearing and goes over the needed requirements at that point. But by possibly not sending this case to a hearing, Bickford said they’re basically denying not just this application, but any others like it. 

“So therefore any zoning changes in the county would have to be done by special use permit,” Bickford said. “That would mean any business that’s coming into the county or wants to start up in the county would have to go through the special use process, which is a three month to four month process. That’s including our growth areas and village centers.” 

He cautioned the commission that, with very limited zoning for business already in Buckingham, a decision like that wouldn’t go over well with companies. 

“I can tell you, with almost certainty, that’s going to be perceived by some businesses that we’re discouraging businesses, we’re not being as business friendly as we should,” Bickford said. 

He argued that Moore is trying to be proactive, to get a change that might bring in more potential businesses. The only way to get the control other members wanted, Bickford argued, was to require everyone to go through the special use permit process. That way, you can put conditions on any approval. 

Kapuscinski said he doesn’t believe they’re doing that. He just wants to wait until Moore has an actual project in hand, something for the board to review. It’s hard to go over business requirements and check to see if the project meets Buckingham’s ordinances when there is no plan. Plus, in this case, part of the documentation isn’t complete, as it’s missing a road review by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). 

“I think proper use of land is not our only responsibility,” Kapuscinski said. “I think our responsibility is to the community as well, because if we hurt those people around her, then what good have we done for the county?” 

What’s next for the planning commission? 

Buckingham Planning Administrator Nicci Edmondston told the group Moore understands she would need to have all the documentation in place before it could go beyond a hearing. 

“Before she could move any further than that, she would have to have VDOT (report) ready, before a recommendation could be made,” Edmondston explained. 

By a 5-3 vote, the group agreed to send the application to a public hearing in February.