By Alex Bridges
STRASBURG -- Strasburg leaders may exempt the town from its own development rules.
A majority of Town Council support leaving an exemption in the Unified Development Ordinance as proposed in the lengthy document. The town could exempt itself from certain requirements of the ordinance if it provided a compelling argument, officials said.
Mayor Timothy Taylor took a straw poll of council members during a work session on the UDO on Monday. Councilmen Rich Orndorff Jr., Robert Baker and Richard Redmon did not support the exemption. Council members Sarah Mauck, Scott Terndrup, Jocelyn Vena, John Hall Jr. and Donald Le Vine voted in support of the exemption. Taylor would have voted in the event of a tie, though council normally does not take official votes during work sessions.
Taylor said an exemption could give the town some "wiggle room" in terms of the requirements of the UDO. Economic Development and Planning Manager Kimberly Murray pointed out that language in the document does give council the power to modify standards.
The town hired Planning Works to help officials and council create the ordinance that combines Strasburg's zoning and subdivision regulations. Bruce Peshoff, of Planning Works, sat in on the work session via video conferencing. Peshoff pointed out that the ordinance grants the town exemptions from the regulations as allowed under Virginia law.
Town Council is expected to take action on the ordinance at its regular meeting May 13.
The majority of council showed support for leaving language in the ordinance that states "the intent of Town Policy is to hold the Town to the same development and design standards and review and approval procedures as private development." The language goes on to say "However, upon a finding of a compelling public interest by the Town Council, specific requirements of this UDO may be waived for public improvement projects to the extent permitted by state or federal law."
"I still don't feel comfortable because a compelling reason is up to the perception of those sitting in these chairs at the time," Orndorff said before the vote.
The idea of the town abiding by its own development standards came up as an issue when officials vacated the Department of Public Works facility after engineers found problems with the structure. The building likely was not constructed to town standards, officials have said.
Orndorfff questioned whether or not the town could avoid having to spend more money to build a new public works building if officials presented a compelling argument for an exemption. Orndorff pointed out that this may appear unfair to the developer who comes to build in town but cannot receive the same exemption.
Le Vine responded to Orndorff by saying that the town could rewrite the UDO should the document not allow an exemption. At the special meeting held by town officials on the public works building, Le Vine spoke out about the need for Strasburg to abide by its own standards.
"I'm trying to suggest some barrier to make it more difficult, and also council has to go on public record for why it's doing it because council can modify any of these things at some point if they want to do it," Le Vine said.
Orndorff said to do so would take more time and energy.
Baker suggested that the ordinance include language to require council to hold a public hearing on any effort by the town to seek a waiver from its own rules. Baker pointed out that an appeals process also remains in place.
"If we have the public hearing and the council holds itself accountable for its decision, as opposed to it's cheaper so we're going to do it this way," Baker said.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org