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A proposed resolution by Roanoke County Supervisor Ed Elswick offers no improved guidance on how to resolve competing interests of landowners.
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
There was a bit of irony in Supervisor Ed Elswick’s latest attempt to head off future land-use conflicts in Roanoke County by nailing down just whose property rights take precedence when neighboring property owners object.
Elswick’s revision of a resolution he first submitted in May still states people have a right to use their land as they see fit, so long as they don’t interfere with the rights of others to use their own land. But it contains this important addition: “or land use as prescribed in Roanoke County Zoning Ordinances.”
The central question — whose private-property interest is to come out on top if two competing interests infringe on each other — remains a mystery.
But in the unlikely event the board of supervisors were ever to adopt the resolution, at least it wouldn’t throw the county’s entire zoning ordinance into dispute.
Elswick’s proposal is no closer to being passed because, while offering no added guidance on how to resolve land-use disputes, it assumes that county government is settling these arbitrarily, without adequate opportunity for affected parties and the public at large to comment.
This is simply not the case. Indeed, the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce opposes the resolution because it would increase the scope and complexity of government while adding uncertainty to decision-making on land-use matters.
Currently, controversial changes do not go unchallenged. It hardly needs saying, but the county’s appointed planning commission holds a public hearing on a zoning request before making a recommendation to the elected board of supervisors. The board holds another before voting on it. Sometimes requests prompt community meetings beforehand.
None of which is to say that even vocal opposition will necessarily block approval.
Government is not the cause of conflicting interests. It is the arbiter, with a duty to follow zoning laws fairly and to consider rezoning and special-use requests in the best interests of county residents as a whole.
Supervisors sometimes must choose between two desired results: say, protecting residential areas from encroachment by business development and growing the county’s commercial and industrial tax base, which pays much of the tab for services — like good public schools.
In defending his proposed resolution at a work session last week, Elswick reminded skeptical colleagues that the board has approved rezonings over heated neighborhood opposition. He cited the Keagy Village retail and office park, approved in 2004, which still lacks an anchor store. By the time of the vote, though, the development’s nearest neighbors favored it.
In deciding such issues, board members have to exercise their best judgment. If voters think they get it wrong more than they get it right, they’re ousted. That’s representative government, not tyranny.
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