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Bedford supervisors are considering elimination of signs and neighborhood meetings on zoning changes.
Sunday, August 18, 2013
Sometimes old-fashioned methods work best when trying to get a message to our neighbors as they dash from work to soccer games to the grocery store.
Bedford County leaders should be mindful of that maxim as they consider changes in how they notify nearby residents of a pending zoning request.
Supervisors voted last week to begin a review of a proposal to eliminate requirements that a zoning applicant host a neighborhood information meeting and that a sign be posted on any property subject to a requested rezoning, special use permit or variance.
Signs are a common sense, low-tech way to give a shout out to people who are most likely to be affected by a land-use change. Staffers recommended that the posting requirement be preserved, but with clarification that the county will take responsibility for erecting the signs rather than assigning the task to the applicant. That’s in keeping with current practice. But supervisors instead asked the planning commission to consider eliminating the sign rule entirely. County officials should think twice before they end an effective means of notification that requires minimum fuss.
Neighborhood information meetings allow for informal chats between a property owner or developer and nearby residents. They can sometimes tone down or avoid a ruckus during future public hearings. At other times, the applicant throws a party and no one shows up. Either way, both sides have a chance to size up the situation before formal proceedings begin.
Some supervisors have rightly expressed anxiety about any changes that create the potential for unhappy people to surface late in a rezoning process, or after it’s too late for them to have a say. That’s a risk supervisors and the county’s planning commissioners should fully consider before adopting any changes that would make government less open. The current system works well because its top priority is to ensure county residents are informed. That’s a priority worth preserving.
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