By Christopher Bonner
Easily the most consequential zoning in Warrenton’s history, an under-the-radar zoning amendment to allow residential development on 250 acres of commercial land, is racing to a hearing before the Planning Commission on Dec. 15.
In the middle of a pandemic surge.
In the busy holiday season.
With key questions unanswered.
What’s the rush?
At stake is nothing less than the future of Warrenton as a small town.
It may be a splendid idea to convert vacant commercial land, including lightly used parking lots, to residential use. The catch is that construction would be by right. That means no public hearing to review building plans based on scope, size and design. Simply apply for a permit and build.
By right is a planning tool commonly used to attract development. With mounting demand for housing in Warrenton, why is it necessary to roll out the red carpet for builders? Why jump start residential construction before addressing even the most basic questions. For example:
How many housing units will be built? One hundred or hundreds of hundreds? The proposed zoning does not say.
Where will the water come from? Is the drought reserve in play?
The sewer system is approaching its limit. Can it be expanded and at what cost to taxpayers?
How much traffic will the new housing units generate? How much will wider roads cost taxpayers?
When will Fauquier County taxpayers have to fund school construction to serve a rising tide of new students?
Holding a public hearing as Covid 19 infections are rising alarmingly in Fauquier means that very few — if any — residents will participate in person. Written comments may be submitted after mastering the town’s Byzantine process to do so.
The hearing and subsequent vote on the zoning amendment should be held when residents are in the room with commissioners to articulate their reservations in person. Zoom meetings have a chilling effect on public participation and open the door to abuse.
What’s the rush?