Virginians Don’t Want Fracking in the Forest
More TLC for Two Very Important Bay Critters

Northumberland Citizens Hope Petitions Save Bluff Point

Bluff Point aerial 
Hundreds of Northumberland County, Va., citizens are making one thing perfectly clear: they don’t want the county to make a special exception and allow a massive new development in one of Northumberland’s most environmentally sensitive areas.

Some 620 county residents – about 5 percent of the county’s population -- have signed petitions opposing a “special exception permit” that would let Charlottesville developer Tom Dingledine build his Bluff Point project.

Not only is the number of petition signatures significant, but half of them come from residents living in parts of the county not immediately adjacent to the project area, according to Citizens to Protect Bluff Development map Point, a group opposed to the development plan.  In other words, it’s not just a NIMBY thing; folks across Northumberland don’t want the county to okay the project.

The developer needs the special exception permit because some of the 898-acre parcel he wants to build on is designated a conservation district by the county’s comprehensive plan. That means the parcel, much of which is a peninsula of forests, wetlands, and tidal marshes jutting into the Chesapeake Bay, has been deemed too environmentally valuable to be developed. 

Northumberland County, located on Virginia’s historic Northern Neck between the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers, is a rural community whose past and future are closely tied to farming and fishing. Recognizing that its cultural and economic heritage depends upon clean water and the protection of natural resources, the county’s comprehensive plan notes that future development in Northumberland must be done in an “environmentally sensitive, planned manner that preserves sensitive features such as floodplains, wetlands, dunes, beaches and natural topography.”

But it is on sensitive areas that Dingledine has proposed building 530 single and multi-family homes, a DSC_0039 90-room resort hotel and spa, 34,000 square feet of commercial shops, restaurants, artificial lakes, a new marina with 98 slips, and dry storage for 130 boats.

The proposed development – it would be the largest in Northumberland’s history -- has created quite a stir in the county. Scores of concerned residents have attended briefings, written letters, and spoken at  hearings to urge the county not to violate its own long-term growth plan. They’ve told local officials they’re worried about runoff and other pollution contaminating local creeks and the Bay, further jeopardizing restoration of oysters and the oyster economy.

They maintain that the shallow nearby waters and wetlands simply will not support a proposed marina and will require significant and long-term dredging. They’re worried that increased drinking water needs will further stress local groundwater supplies. They argue that if Dingledine wants to build, he should do so in areas the county has properly and publicly earmarked for growth and development, not in a conservation district.

DSC_0071 But their concerns haven’t been enough. The county board of supervisors delayed a final vote last fall and opted to hire a consultant (paid for mostly by Dingledine) to study the proposal and make a recommendation to the county. That’s due later this month. Meantime, Supervisor James Long asked for a “sense of the community” survey to gage wider public opinion. That’s what prompted the petition effort.

According to a recent press release from Citizens to Protect Bluff Point, “The result is an overwhelming response from all parts of the county urging the board of supervisors to deny the special exception request but allow the developer to proceed using the guidance in existing county zoning ordinances and the comprehensive plan.

“While the survey’s original target were those residents and landowners directly adjacent to or otherwise directly impacted by the proposed development, the countywide response was astonishing. Once word spread that a survey was being conducted, the initiative gained a life of its own. People from all over the county called or contacted the group requesting copies of the petition and organized their own local sign-up campaigns.”

The citizens presented the 620 signatures to the supervisors in June but continued to circulate petitions through this week. They’re also planning to make the Bluff Point development project an issue in fall’s board of supervisor elections.

“Please do your part to ensure the county administrator and the supervisors do not underestimate community opposition to this ill-advised project,” the group’s press release urges.

Questions: How much weight should Northumberland officials give citizen petitions? How much should the consultant’s recommendation count? Can a consultant funded largely by the developer really provide an unbiased report? Would a countywide referendum be the best way to decide this issue?

 If you were on the county board, what would you do?

Chuck Epes
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Comments

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Sounds to me like another Blackwater proposal. Hmmmm If I propose something completely over the top for this piece of property, the state will buy me out, for the "new value" I've put on it with this ridiculously over the top proposal....

Bluff Point, VA must be protected. In fact there are Bluff Point type areas throughout the Chesapeake region and protection of those valuable natural areas should become a multi-state action that bars the Dingledine types from destructive access. It is heartening to read about responsive citizen action, we need that on a bay-wide basis to help save and protect the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. By-the-way it needs to be emphasized the humans are a part of that vital ecosystem.

Any municipal official who supports Dingledine's "development" deserves public shame. Their flavor of cowardice fouls the honorable notion of community service.

I presume Bay area residents know this, but let me summarize the lesson: most elected officials simply DO NOT respect what citizen and public professional planners do. They don't understand it, or the legal authority it represents.

Even after proper research, analysis, and data evaluation is done; even after community and developers' needs are assessed; even after vast public input (including much from the development community) is considered -- EVEN AFTER THE COMPROMISES HAVE BEEN MADE -- even the best, most balanced plans are typically ignored.

If a developer proposes an outrageous VIOLATION of a plan, most elected officials cave in, ignore their own best plan guidance, and allow the destruction. Why? Because the developer drops subtle hints of "legal action" to protect some imaginary "right" to destroy what the public decided to protect. Elected officials don't understand the power of planning. Thus, they take no stand. They are ignorant pawns in the developer's game.

In recent years here in Michigan, particularly egregious violations of the public trust have occurred. In Benton Harbor, Jack Nicklaus and Whirlpool Corporation filled wetlands, laid greens over sand dunes and misappropriated a PUBLIC PARK. We're now watching similar horrors unfold near Saugatuck, where Aubrey McLendon is holding the community hostage to plans for more sand dune and lakeshore destruction.

The only solution is to become ~permanently~ involved in these processes. Attend every planning meeting, and public meeting, even when your pet peeve is NOT on the agenda. Learn about planning and its proper application. Laws already exist to protect exactly what Dingledine and others like him would destroy. Your existing plans should have accomplished this. If your officials won't honor plans, educate them. Those who refuse to be educated must be removed from office.

This must be a lifelong commitment. Some of you also must get elected to public office. If you begin to respect the planners' work, and the resources they understand, the community will ALWAYS support you. ALWAYS.

I am heartened to see you fighting for this important area, and against the destruction the Bluff Point project would bring. I wish you luck. You will need it.

Gary et al,
Thanks for weighing in. Fundamentally (I think) we get the developments, natural resource protections, planning, and government we deserve. In other words, citizens must get involved and let decisionmakers know how they feel, and back it up at the ballot box. Commendably, that appears to be what is happening re. Bluff Point.
Chuck Epes

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