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January 25, 2013From: Leslie Cheek, III. Vice PresidentTo: Members of Citizens for Fauquier County (CFFC)Subject: Accelerating State Preemption of Local Autonomy - H.B. 1430, the “Boneta Bill”
Dear Fellow Fauquier Citizen:
The organization to which you belong, Citizens for Fauquier County (CFFC), has historically focused its attention on purely local determinants of County public policy – zoning ordinances, development proposals and the like – on the assumption that the General Assembly would recognize the appropriateness of local solutions to problems with purely local implications.
But for the past six years, on issues ranging from farm winery event regulation to urban development area density to alternative on-site septic system installation to highway routing, Virginia’s legislature has dramatically curtailed localities, authority to respond to their particular needs, forcing organizations like CFFC to react to state, rather than local, threats to County governance.
By far the most egregious assault on local autonomy is this year’s H.B. 1430, the so-called “Boneta Bill,” introduced by Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-31), whose district includes parts of Fauquier County.
Named after Martha Boneta, who has been engaged in a running battle with County zoning officials since 2006 over alleged unauthorized uses of a building on her Paris farm, the bill would strip Fauquier’s government of its authority to prevent property owners in the 80 percent of the county’s land area zoned for Rural Agricultural (RA) uses from indulging in non-agricultural commercial activity in the name of protecting their “property rights.”
By defining “agricultural operation” to include “the commerce and sale of … art, literature, artifacts, furniture, food, beverages and other items that are incidental to the agricultural operation,” H.B. 1430 would void most of Section 5-1812 of Fauquier’s zoning ordinance, which limits “farm sales” to “agricultural products and value-added agriculture products” and provides that “[a]t least 50% of the products that are for sale… shall be produced” on the Fauquier farmer’s owned or leased property.
What this means is that any Fauquier forester could, without a permit, construct a factory to make furniture from the trees grown on his property and sell that furniture in a store on that property. Similarly, a Fauquier cattle farmer could open a hamburger stand, and a Fauquier farm winery a tasting room, all without County approval.
More troubling, H.B. 1430 would nullify any County ordinance “directed at persons, property or activity” on RA-zoned land that “seeks to restrict the free exercise of … the right of… peaceable assembly….”
What this means is that your neighbor could organize a Woodstock-style rock concert on his or her farm without regard to the County’s longstanding regulation of massive “special events” (e.g., the Gold Cup races).
Most disturbing, because it is blatantly unconstitutional, is H.B. 1430’s creation of an expostfacto right (effective as of July 1, 1981) for “aggrieved persons” to hold “[a]ny official or employee of a County personally and financially accountable “in the amount equal to the fines and penalties” that he or she imposed pursuant to ordinances that were then in effect and that they were empowered to enforce.
What this means to a County employee is the possibility that the faithful execution of his or her job could result in a personal financial loss. Why would any rational individual stay on for this kind of duty?
My purpose in writing this overlong letter is to suggest to you that your expression of revulsion at terrifying departures from established public policy will make a difference in the outcome of the General Assembly’s consideration of H.B. 1430.
Whether you are a farmer or not, I think you should be concerned about H.B. 1430’s frontal assault on local limitations on the kinds and extent of activities considered inappropriate in RA – zoned areas.
H.B. 1430 seeks to give unfettered power to individual land owners to behave as they wish, regardless of the harm their conduct may inflict on others similarly situated, and without consideration of the County’s collective interest in protecting the values that brought many of us here.
Should you agree that Fauquier needs to reinforce, rather than denigrate, its commitment to a genuinely agricultural economy, I hope that you will exercise your individual right to ask your local legislator to reject H.B. 1430’s attempt to destroy Fauquier’s rural tranquility.