Supervisors Approve Northampton Comp Plan Update with Changes

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By Stefanie Jackson – A quorum of three Northampton supervisors approved the county’s new comprehensive plan Tuesday night after making several changes based on recommendations submitted in writing by all five supervisors.

Many of the comprehensive plan changes recommended by supervisors concerned easily corrected factual or grammatical errors, but others warranted discussion.

Columbia Aquifer

Supervisor Betsy Mapp objected to the comprehensive plan’s multiple recommendations that industrial and commercial businesses draw water from the shallow Columbia Aquifer instead of the deep Yorktown Aquifer.

County planning commissioners recommend using the Columbia Aquifer as often as possible to preserve the Yorktown Aquifer, which is replenished by rainfall at a much slower rate than the Columbia Aquifer.

But Mapp said some farmers must draw from the Yorktown Aquifer because they can’t get adequate water flow for irrigation from the Columbia Aquifer.

In some locations, wells in the Columbia Aquifer can pump hundreds of gallons of water per minute, but in other locations, the water flow is poor, she pointed out.

Mapp also noted that some commercial businesses, such as restaurants, need drinking-quality water and cannot use the shallow aquifer.

She eventually agreed that the wording of the comprehensive plan did not need to be changed because industrial and commercial use of the Columbia Aquifer is encouraged but not required by the plan.

Existing Businesses

Supervisor Oliver Bennett, who was absent but submitted his recommendations in writing, believed the comprehensive plan should “allow for controlled development of limited areas along Route 13 to allow businesses to serve the large volume of people passing through the County.”

Parks noted that the majority of public input on the comprehensive plan did not support further development on Route 13, and that language in the old comprehensive plan, which supported existing businesses, was not included in the new comprehensive plan.

“This plan gets rid of the existing business district,” Parks said.

Under the new comprehensive plan, an existing business on Route 13 would be considered a “legal nonconforming use,” making it difficult for the business to grow.

Reincorporating an “existing business district” into the comprehensive plan would allow a business on Route 13 to expand within its own property lines but not expand the boundaries of the business district itself.

Supervisors agreed that the language in the comprehensive plan supporting existing businesses should be restored.

Mobile Homes

Supervisor John Coker, who was absent but had submitted recommendations via email, noted that the new comprehensive plan did not mention mobile homes as a type of affordable housing, as did the old comprehensive plan. He proposed adding the following paragraph:

“The mobile home cannot be ignored as a low-cost affordable housing option. The County should continue to carefully regulate the placement and construction of these homes to ensure quality and compatibility with more traditional housing units. Mobile homes and other types of manufactured housing must be recognized as a means of meeting low- and middle-income housing needs for Northampton County citizens.”

Chairman Dixon Leatherbury said that Virginia Code permits existing mobile homes and allows an old mobile home to be replaced with a new one, regardless of whether or not mobile homes are mentioned in a comprehensive plan, but no supervisor objected to adding the paragraph Coker submitted on mobile homes to the comprehensive plan’s section on affordable housing.

However, if Northampton has no mobile home park overlay district, a new mobile home cannot replace an old mobile home that has been abandoned for two years or more, Parks noted.

Waterfront Communities

No supervisor objected to combining the housing categories of waterfront hamlet and waterfront village into one – waterfront communities – since both types of communities are similar and have similar issues, such as sea-level rise.

Planning Commissioner Janet Sturgis was present and addressed public concern regarding the identification of “working waterfronts” in the new comprehensive plan.

Supervisors struck the working waterfront development area strategy from the plan.

Willis Wharf and Oyster Vision Plans

Mapp asked if the vision plans for Willis Wharf and Oyster could be referenced in the comprehensive plan instead of included in full, since the comprehensive plan is 109 pages, but Appendix C – the Willis Wharf and Oyster vision plans – is 162 pages.

Parks said that public demand was high for including the Willis Wharf and Oyster vision plans in full.

She pointed out that when anyone comes to the county planning office requesting a printed copy of the comprehensive plan, the person is asked if he or she wants a copy with or without its three appendices, and the customer is charged accordingly.

Supervisors agreed to leave the Willis Wharf and Oyster visions in the comprehensive plan and ask the planning office to add an option for a customer to get a printed copy of the plan with Appendix A and Appendix B only, which are an overview of the Northampton community and a glossary, respectively.

CORRECTION
In a previous version of this article, we reported, “The term ‘Working waterfront development area’ was not addressed. The new comprehensive plan states Northampton may consider creating working waterfront development areas, as permitted by Virginia Code. … “ We were wrong.
At the June 8 meeting, the Northampton Board of Supervisors struck the working waterfront development area strategy from the plan.
We regret the error.