Bill to add ‘tool’ faces critics

Builders and real estate interests squared off against officials from high-growth jurisdictions at a Richmond public hearing Tuesday on ordinances localities use to limit growth to allow school facilities, roads, police or fire protection to catch up.

Each side made its case before the House Counties, Cities and Towns Committee, which is considering bills by Delegate Robert G. Marshall, R-13th District, for adequate public facilities ordinances.

Those ordinances would defer approval of a housing subdivision until a locality’s plan for schools, roads, public safety, sewer and water facilities is met to support the new houses and tenants.

More than 100 people attended the hearing. Speakers called the ordinances everything from “a weapon of mass destruction” on the economy, a needed tool, a second bite at the apple, to dangerously socialistic scheme.

The committee has never favored adequate public facility ordinances, but this year a big push is being made by the Virginia Coalition Against High Growth, a lobbying group of 27 jurisdictional members including Fairfax County and Prince William.

“We are the people who live with the consequences of the building communities,” said Joe Winkelmann, vice-chairman of the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors. “Zoning laws aren’t anything but blunt-edge tools to deal with the pace and the scope of development.”

Those tools now are proffers, which are payments or improvements a developer makes upon rezoning a property to defray the locality’s cost of absorbing a residential, office or retail development.

Delegate Michele B. McQuigg, R-51st District, sits on the committee as does Marshall. She predicted the committee will not waver in its protection of property rights and opposition to these ordinances. Many of the rural delegates from high unemployment areas would love to have the problems that come from a strong economy, she said.

On Friday, McQuigg said a modest bill she put in to allow localities rezone a property with the condition that the rezoning be only good for 10 years, after which if nothing is done to it, it reverts back to the original use. That bill was “gently laid on the table” with only Marshall and her voting for it. More “gently laying on the table” or “pass by until next year” could be in store, she said.

“Until the constituents of each of these delegates tell them, you’re not going to see these tools. That’s why we need to sharpen the tools we have,” she said.

The committee could vote on the bills as early as today.

At times during the two-hour hearing Tuesday, only seven of the committee’s 22 members were in their chairs listening.

Still, a varied amount of concerns were aired.

Michael Toalson, vice president of the Home Builders Association of Virginia, said the ordinances are a flawed concept because infrastructure is built as a response to growth. “Neither local governments nor the development community have the resources to construct roads to nowhere or build schools for children that do not exist.”

One man from Loudoun, Joe Bane, tagged Marshall a socialist, which drew chuckles from the audience and caused Marshall jokingly to raise both hands in victory signs.

“Do we want to ‘Save the fish, save the birdies?’ Are we really concerned about man’s welfare, or do we want to control man and all of civilization?” Bane asked. He contended it is control and “Marshall’s scheme is the dangerously socialistic and anti-American United Nations agenda” to promote “a sky-is-falling hysteria” so it can control humanity through nongovernmental agencies.

Marshall earlier pointed out that Republicans display power in many if not most of the house, senates and governorships of the 14 states that have adopted the ordinances. He said he pointed that out to dispel myths that “we’re a bunch of socialists out here just grabbing property.”

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