By Stefanie Jackson – The Northampton planning commission was left to reconsider the effectiveness of its communication following two long and contentious public hearings April 2.
Eyre Baldwin, of Pearl LLC, received the planning commission’s approval for a minor special use permit (SUP) to convert an old farm shed into a new business he called a “food hub,” where customers can buy wholesale or retail, fresh and prepared local foods.
However, that conclusion was reached after an hour-long inquisition that left Baldwin wondering aloud if keeping people in business “means nothing” to the planning commission.
The Northampton board of supervisors granted the special use permit April 9 and removed several of the 10 conditions set by the planning commission.
The planning commission did not approve a major special use permit for John and Linda Cleaveland, of Franktown, to use their land as an event venue – also after about an hour of discussion. That matter was tabled until May.
Linda Cleaveland concluded her remarks to the planning commission with, “If you want a good story, we can dig up a lot of dirt on this county.”
The former wedding planner had begun by saying she believes hosting weddings on the 65-acre property with a water view would present “a wonderful opportunity for Northampton County” for economic growth and to “show these people how beautiful the Eastern Shore is.”
“I love weddings,” she said.
But Commissioner Janet Sturgis didn’t love the zoning application. The directions for filling out the application requested an “accurately scaled plat,” but instead commissioners received a marked-up aerial photo.
The notes written on the photo did not include all the required information, such as the distances between buildings, streets, and property lines. “I can’t accept this,” Sturgis said.
She questioned why a note said 500 guests would need 167 parking spaces, or one space for every three guests, when staff recommended a maximum of 150 guests.
Linda Cleaveland attempted to estimate how many guests she wanted to host, but her husband later balked at the questions.
“Why don’t you folks get together and decide what the limitations are … make it simple, not like Washington,” he said.
Furthermore, Sturgis was perplexed by a letter from the Virginia Eastern Shore Land Trust, which has a conservation easement on the Cleaveland property. The letter contained awkward wording that could have been interpreted to mean weddings up to seven days long were permitted.
“Maybe you need to go back to English class,” Linda Cleaveland said.
“Excuse me?” Sturgis replied.
Commissioner Glen Anders raised concern about the safety and accessibility of the long dirt road leading to the property.
Later, Sturgis seemed to hit a nerve when she said commissioners also need to discuss a 2017 resource protection area violation on the property, and Linda Cleaveland said she would “open a can of worms” if there were any questions about it.
Before the Cleavelands left, Chairman Dixon Leatherbury hit them with the news that the SUP for their private air strip had expired because they had sold some of their land and their property had fallen below the minimum area required for the permit.
Senior Planner Kelly Parks originally recommended rejecting the Cleavelands’ wedding venue application based on multiple objections made in writing by neighbors, mostly concerns about noise and traffic.
But Parks was willing to reverse her position if neighbors supported allowing the SUP with several conditions, including limitations on amplified outdoor music.
Commissioner Andrew Follmer later said, “We can tighten up our communication.”
If an issue with a zoning application is found during a public hearing that “we could have caught very early,” then “we’re not working well together. That should not be a reason for a delay.”
The board of supervisors held a public hearing on the Cleavelands’ application April 9. That story will appear in next week’s edition of the Eastern Shore Post.