The board of supervisors often have to make tough decisions. Budget time involves a lot of those. They have to balance what people in the county want their government to do with how much tax money it is reasonable to demand the county residents pay. They also need to be able to discern the difference between wants and needs.
They also have to make tough decisions throughout the year concerning land use. Land use involves the principal that one person’s right to extend his fist ends where another person’s nose begins. Everybody has a right to use his property as he pleases, but nobody has a right to use his property in such a way that it interferes with somebody else’s property. This is one of the reasons why we have zoning.
This month, the supervisors had one of those tough decisions on their plate. A developer came to them with a request to build 270 row house units on a 27 acre tract of land. In order to do this, the zoning had to be changed from R1, which does not allow row houses, to R2, which does permit them with a special use permit. A property owner has a right to use his property the way he wants, within the limits of the law.
One man’s use of his property has the potential of impacting another man’s use of his. A number of people who own houses near the proposed development. Some bought their property knowing that the R1 zoning placed a limit on the density of the residential development that could be built next to their neighborhood. The knew that houses could be built on that land and it wouldn’t remain fields and forest permanently. However, they felt that a development of the density proposed would negatively impact their neighborhood. Like the owner of the 27-acre tract, these property owners have property rights too.
There were other issues the supervisors had to take into consideration. Taxpayer funded public schools are an essential service provided by Bedford County. Most of the people who move into this development will have children and the supervisors had to consider the impact these extra children will have on the school division’s costs. This is one way the developer’s use of his property affects everybody in Bedford County, whether they live next to the project or not.
In the end the supervisors voted to approve the project, although three of them opposed it. District 7 Supervisor Tammy Parker had the best opposing statement. She was uncomfortable with the density of the project, placing 270 housing units on 27 acres of land. She also noted that it adds a lot of impervious surfaces in the form of roofs and pavement to an area that currently soaks up rainfall. District 7 Supervisor Bob Davis poked a hole in the argument that the development was needed to provide workforce housing to promote commercial development. He noted that Botetourt County has a smaller population than Bedford County but it has a lot of industrial development. He said that what is prompting that development is not the availability of workforce housing but the availability of I-81 which makes is easy for these industries to get their product to market. There was also a question of how high a wage a person will have to make to be able to afford one of these places, which will have prices of $250,000 to $300,000.
Board Chairman John Sharp brought up the best reason for approving the request. He understood why the neighbors are not happy with the project, however he noted two important things.
One is that the existing zoning of a piece of property is not set in stone. While people may have bought houses with the zoning of the adjoining property in mind, a local governing body, subject to the provisions of law, does have the authority to change that zoning. Ultimately, the only way you can control the use of a piece of property is to buy it.
Another factor that Sharp pointed out is that the Comprehensive plan designates that part of the county as a growth are. The idea was to concentrate development in one area and keep sprawl from spreading all over the county.
It was a tough decision, and the opponents of the project are angry. However, somebody was going to be upset no matter which way the decision went. It’s part of the job the supervisors volunteered for when they sought one of those seven hot seats.