Agricultural Rights of York County Citizens Threatened by Board of Supervisors Rezoning Plans

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by Kate Miller and Shelby Mertens

The York County Board of Supervisors will consider sponsoring an application to rezone the York Point area of Seaford at its May 6 meeting. threatening the agricultural rights of their citizens.  The board has proposed R14-66, a resolution that opponents say remove their freedom to farm.

York County Attorney James Barnett said the board of supervisors will send the application to the York County Planning Commission if the board decides to approve the application at its May 6 meeting. He also said the planning commission will hold a public hearing and make recommendations before the application is sent back to the board of supervisors, who will make a final decision after another public hearing. The public hearing is scheduled for May 14 and opponents have organized a “pitchfork rally” to occur before the hearing.

York County Board of Supervisors Chairman Donald Wiggins said aquaculture is allowed in York Point, an area zoned as Resource Conservation (RC), but a special-use permit is needed to operate a business there. Wiggins also said the board of supervisors must hold a public hearing as part of the process for an applicant to receive a special-use permit. He said the public hearing gives the applicant’s neighbors the opportunity to express whether they would like to have the business in their neighborhood.

Barnett said the May 14 public forum at the York County Planning Commission meeting will give both citizens in favor and opposed to agricultural rezoning in the county a chance to have their voices heard by county officials.  Barnett states:

There’s a lot of citizen feeling on both sides of this issue, so the board is trying to feel its way through to try to do what’s best while preserving the integrity of residential neighborhoods where agriculture might now be allowed but where, in fact, there isn’t any (agriculture)

Anthony Bavuso harvesting oysters

Anthony Bavuso harvesting oysters. One oyster can filter 50 gallons of water every 24 hours, removing dirt, toxins and nitrogen from the bay. Oyster farming is good for the environment and the economy. Photo Credit: Julie Reichle

Local oyster farmer Anthony Bavuso, who operates Seaford Oyster Co. in the York Point neighborhood, is opposed to the board’s rezoning plans.

Bavuso believes the county’s action is an attempt to purposely remove agricultural rights of property owners as a response to the General Assembly’s passage of Senate Bill 51, which prevents localities from imposing regulations and requiring special-use permits for various activities at agricultural operations — such as agritourism events and the preparation and sale of foods otherwise complaint with state law —and House Bill 1089, which creates a standard definition of agricultural products and protects aquaculture as a form of agriculture.

You would think that after the General Assembly spoke so loudly by voting 128 to 5 for HB1089, which clarifies that the law has always meant that county’s can not require (special-use)permits for farms such as mine that York County would get the message,” Bavuso said.

 

According to Bavuso, property owners will lose their rights for small contracting businesses, plant nurseries or greenhouses and agriculture if the resolution is passed. Bavuso also claims property owners will no longer be permitted by right to have private kennels, chicken keeping, horse keeping and orchards or vineyards. He said the county would require a $450 permit in order to have any of these activities.

Bavuso has been involved in an ongoing battle against York County over his right to engage in oyster farming since the board of supervisors changed the definition of agriculture to exclude aquaculture in 2011. Bavuso and fellow York County oyster farmer Greg Garrett have both been sued by the county for continuing their operations without a special-use permit.

According to Wiggins, Bavuso was denied the special-use permit by county officials.

Bavuso believes the county has a “political vendetta” against him since the passage of those bills in the General Assembly.

“Their response to the bill is to propose rezoning the whole county and to file a suit against me,” he said. “This just shows that the York County Board of Supervisors is so bent on their political vendetta that they would propose taking away centuries old property rights from thousands of citizens, including mine.”

Bavuso also believes the act is an attempt to urbanize York County.

“This proposal represents a divergence of historic proportions from the rural and agricultural York County that we have loved for years and is steering us toward further urbanization and the eventual change of York County to York City,” he said.

SB51 goes into effect on July 1 and HB1089 will not take effect until Jan. 1, 2015.

Bavuso claims the board said they wanted to pass the rezoning resolution before July 1. However, Bavuso said he is confused at why the board is rushing to pass the rezoning law, when he said changing the zoning does not have any affect on the implementation of SB51.

“I don’t understand what they’re trying to accomplish by rezoning before July 1 and why they’re in such a hurry,” he said.

According to Barnett, Bavoso and his attorney have argued that Bavuso will be able to rightfully continue his oyster business under a grandfathered status after July 1, which is the effective date for SB51.

Barnett said he does not agree that SB51 will allow Bavuso to operate under a grandfathered status.

“But there is some concern that he’s (Bavuso) going to try to make that point,” Barnett said, “so hence the perceived need to maybe act on York Point before the other more global issues are decided.”

Wiggins said that permitting aquaculture in the York Point neighborhood is a concern because the lots in the neighborhood are very small. He said the neighborhood was zoned as Resource Conservation before the area was developed to have small lots.

York Point is not a suitable place to conduct a commercial oyster operation, Wiggins said.

“The neighborhood is just a quiet, nice neighborhood,” he said.

Wiggins said citizens presented a petition to York County officials asking them to address the issue of agricultural rezoning in York Point.

“Of course, he (Bavuso) doesn’t care what the neighbors say and he says ‘I’ll do what I want to do,’ so that’s Bavuso for you,” Wiggins said.

Garrett has also voiced his opposition to the proposed R14-66. Garrett states:

This is Yorktown, this is where freedom was won for all of Americans and they are looking at down-zoning thousands of properties. The estimate is between 5,000 to 7,500 properties in York County that currently can grow agriculture.

And continues…

According to Garrett, York County is the only locality in Virginia that has attempted to restrict aquaculture.

“This is really fascinating because York County is the only county in Virginia, based on what we can tell from the research that we’ve done, that has actually come against oyster-aquaculture,” he said. “Most cities and counties have embraced this.”

Barnett declined to compare the county’s concerns about residential aquaculture businesses in York Point to its concerns about such businesses in Garrett’s neighborhood, Dandy.

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