Thursday, January 9, 2014
Bills seek to weaken local authority related to agricultural operations
VACo opposes HB 71 (Pogge), HB 268 (Orrock) and SB 51 (Stuart), which are identical bills that amend the code of Virginia to make it nearly impossible for localities to ensure that the activities that occur on agricultural operations do not negatively impact other farms, businesses and the larger community.
VACo members, please call your delegates and senators and ask them to oppose these bills.
The bills’ patrons have the good intention of trying to expand agricultural opportunities. Unfortunately, the unintended consequences of these bills are vast. County elected and appointed officials are some of our Commonwealth’s biggest proponents of expanding the agricultural economy through increased production, expanded agritourism activities and additional value added sale, preparation and processing opportunities. Creating a one size-fits-all land use policy regarding agricultural operations in a state as geographically diverse as Virginia poses numerous challenges and creates inflexibility at the local level. It also curtails local ordinances that are designed to encourage value added agriculture while ensuring compatibility with other agricultural operations, businesses and residences.
The bills have multiple components, including a provision that forces localities to allow all usual and customary agritourism activities unless the activity causes substantial impact on the health, safety or general welfare of the public. The legislation also gives agricultural operations the right to sell, process and prepare food products by-right, unless the locality enacts a restriction that bears a relationship to the health, safety, or general welfare of the public. The bills also include a by-right use of any other activities or events that are usual and customary at Virginia agricultural operations, which could provide an open door to allowing any activity depending upon legal interpretations. The health, safety and general welfare language sounds helpful to maintaining some local protections, but a final provision strips localities of all local regulatory tools available to protect the public such as special exceptions, administrative permits and special use permits.
• Local economic developers and land use staff have successfully worked with agricultural operations in all corners of the state to expanded value added agriculture opportunities in Virginia while maintaining local authority to ensure this expansion takes into account the rights of existing agricultural operations, businesses and residences.
• The bills would continue the trend toward more land use decisions being made in Richmond, rather than localities, where land use issues are more appropriately worked out.
• The bills’ forbid the use of all local regulatory tools available to protect the health, safety and general welfare of the public such as special exceptions, administrative permits and special use permits. They also open the door to many by-right uses with very little local flexibility for local communities to consider the impacts on the broader community.
Please also contact VACo staff members Erik Johnston and Larry Land and provide any additional information regarding the impact of these bills on your county. VACo will keep members updated as this and other attempts to weaken local land use authority are brought forward.
Governor McDonnell says farewell
Governor Bob McDonnell started his speech on January 9 by noting that Speaker William Howell promised him all the time he wanted since it was his final State of the Commonwealth Address.
“So get comfortable,” he said.
For much of his address, Governor McDonnell emphasized Virginia’s economic gains during the past four years, including lowering the unemployment rate from 7.4 percent to 5.4 percent and creating 177,000 new jobs.
The governor also highlighted perhaps his biggest legislative victory—last year’s transportation funding plan designed to spend $6 billion over the next six years. McDonnell said the infrastructure transportation plan has an estimated annual economic impact of $9.5 billion and will create 13,000 new jobs.
On the educational front, Governor McDonnell pointed to graduation rates improving 8 percent since 2008 and dropout rate decreasing 6 percent since 2012. Teachers received pay raises for the first time in five years and education dollars going into the classroom increased from 61 percent to 64 percent.
Governor McDonnell, however, also apologized to the General Assembly and to all Virginians for a gift scandal that plagued his tenure.
“Tonight, I say to you, and to all Virginians, that I am deeply sorry for the problems and pain I’ve caused this past year,” Governor McDonnell said.
Senator A. Donald McEachin said he thought the apology was heartfelt and appropriate. “As someone who believes in redemption, I hope the people of Virginia will join me and others in forgiving him.”
Governor McDonnell concluded by asking the General Assembly to embrace the new administration.
“Work closely with Governor Terry McAuliffe, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring to continue to make Virginia a ‘Commonwealth of Opportunity’ for all our people,” Governor McDonnell said.
Governor-Elect Terry McAuliffe is set to be sworn in Saturday at the Capitol.
VACo Contact: Dean Lynch, CAE
Register for the 2014 Local Government Day
The Virginia Association of Counties, Virginia Municipal League and the Virginia Association of Planning District Commissions will host Local Government Day at the General Assembly on Thursday, Feb. 6.
The event will be held at the Richmond Marriott, located at 500 East Broad Street in downtown Richmond.
Staff will report on legislation affecting local governments. Local officials are encouraged to participate in committee meetings and lobby state legislators at the Capitol. In the evening, local officials are urged to invite their state legislators to dinner.
The cost of the event, which includes a box lunch, is $45 per person
VACo Contact: Carol Cameron