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Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.

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Zoning administrator to get additional power?

On Aug. 10, Supervisor Emmitt Marshall asked staff to start the public hearing process to grant Zoning Administrator Troy Tignor additional powers in relation to the physical requirements for a lot or parcel of land, including size, height, location of features to any building, structure or improvements.

The zoning administrator would be allowed to grant any modification if he finds that

  • strict adherence to the zoning rules would produce a hardship,
  • that the hardship is not shared “generally” by other properties in the same zoning district and same area, and
  • the authorization of any modification he makes will not be of “substantial” detriment to adjacent property, and the character of the zoning district will not be changed by the granting of the modification

Mr. Marshall made this motion after the Board of Supervisors agreed to allow sawmills in A-3 zoned land if the property is at least 20 acres. Marshall, who is retired from the lumber business, said three sawmill owners called him to complain that they had to get special use permits to expand their businesses. The original plan was to allow sawmills anywhere in A-3 zoning, but Marshall changed it later to the current rule of 20 acres or more.

There is no explanation as to why he wants to grant the zoning administrator additional powers to allow for modifications to the zoning ordinance. I called Mr. Marshall today and asked him to explain why he made the proposal. He said this amendment is necessary because of what happened to the sawmills.

“We’ve got four lumber mills in the county and if something happens to one of the buildings, and they are non conforming, then they can’t be replaced. They can’t get the permit. I don’t think it is anything that will affect the county very much.”

On Sept. 1, the Planning Commission will have a public hearing on this issue, which is less than three weeks since he made the proposal. The commission will forward a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, which will hold the final public hearing likely sometime in late September or early October.

There is an advertisement in today’s Region section on page C-5 about the commission’s public hearing.


  • mustang2

    This is not necessary. It would open the door for massive non compliance with the law based only on hardship. Complying with laws is ALWAYS difficult/expensive/troublesome. This standard would create unacceptable consequences and would basically gut any and all ordinances if adopted and subsequently used as a precedent. It would also open the door to an explosion of lawsuits which would be expensive for taxpayers as who could truly determine the extent of hardship? In addition, it places Mr. Tignor in legal jeopardy since his judgment alone determines whether or not hardship meets the criteria. He will be accused of corruption and certainly such an ordinance provides the appearance of corruption. Shame on Mr. Marshall. BTW, isn’t Mr. Tignor his nephew? Terrible idea. Of course what will happen is the idea will be scaled back and some method will be crafted to allow it to be more palatable granting the expansion of the saw mills. I can understand Mr. Marshall’s concern about the specific cases at hand. Surely there can be a more intelligent resolution to the immediate problems.

  • bhaas

    What constitutes a “hardship?” What defines a “substantial” detriment? Those are very vague terms when we are dealing with zoning issues out of the purview of the PC and BOS IMHO.

  • Martin (Marty) Work

    Someone who would or should know, without excluding Supv. Marshall from the discussion, please tell me Spotsylvania County’s Zoning Administrator, TROY TIGNOR, is NOT related to, or is the nephew of Supv. Emmitt Marshall.

  • mustang2

    Many years ago, a young reporter for the Free Lance Star named Larry Evans wrote an article headlined:

    For Spotsylvania, It’s All in the Family.

    Evans later went on to become editorial page editor. Perhaps you might find the answer to your question. Marty in that article. Cheers.

  • Vince Onorato

    Oh it’s true alright. More for your book Marty.

  • LarryG

    add my name to those that think this is a bad idea. Mr. Tignor might be put in the position of making recommendations to a representative or elective body but should not be the final arbiter.

    Mr. Marshal, sometimes seems to not understand or not care as to what constitutes ethical jeopardy.

  • Martin (Marty) Work

    Sounds to me like Supv Marshall is playing a game found somewhere between ethical jeopardy and final jeopardy. And yes Vince, the book will note these circumstances and will even include a footnote about the Spotsylvania County Focus Group, without minutes that some claim to be just a RUMOR.

    If Mr. Tignor is running a risk of being empowered with being the lone arbiter on zoning decisions where did the Zoning Board of Appeals go, or has that committee be religated to more creative reform of business decisions by our local government and elected officials?

    It’s no wonder that the BOS attempted to change their By-Laws in 2007 just to keep me from showing up once a month to discuss the designed poor business conduct of their friends, and how they made off with what used to be my home.

    With UDAs on the horizon it makes sense there should be only one person in charge of zoning and ordinance changes and by-right construction being designed by the development community. It reminds me of when the BOS eliminated 12 citizen committees to “streamline” their thinking and putting the public farther at arms length, when Supv. Skinner came on board with the financial assistance of Cosner, Silver, Meadows, Welsh and Pohanka. At least that’s what the Registrars office provided to me.

    So, is this all about one big happy family, or is there room to negotiate a different or even better deal than being provided by the County as they constringe public resources and put them further at arms length from the business strategy our elected officials have put into place, without public awareness or input (at least a second qualified opinion)?

    Thank you all for sharing with me and our blogging audience just another small piece of the puzzle that has surrounded my thoughts for the last 15 years.

    Should I also include the FLS and Dan Telvock as being kin to this family, or continue to take for granted they are supplying their public with their best and balanced reporting on ?

    With the Planning Commission Meeting and what’s left of “Public Hearings” in Spotsylvania County, it should be a hoot on how the County is going to spin their version of ” ALL IN THE FAMILY” with serial reruns on what its like to run an empire, with all the lights cut off.

    Larry said it best, a long time ago. WE deserve what we get in government by way of just sitting back and watching someone else do our thinking for us. By the way, who is Lewis Watts, CBO related to or is he just another sacrificial lamb that just got relocated to the Court House Towers?

    Lots of questions and just some of the answers, but I am making progess. Covered a lot of ground in the past 5 years and should be making more in the next five. See you soon.

  • mustang2

    From Marty’s post:

    If Mr. Tignor is running a risk of being empowered with being the lone arbiter on zoning decisions where did the Zoning Board of Appeals go, or has that committee be religated to more creative reform of business decisions by our local government and elected officials?

    Any aggrieved person can appeal a decision of the Zoning Administrator. Now, what exactly is an aggrieved person? Someone who has a case similar to the one Mr. Tignor approved but who was denied? Someone who lives near by a project Mr. Tignor approved who figures the decision has adversely affected the value of his property but Mr. Tignor did not think so? The city last year? went through a similar series of questions with persons in the historic district claiming their properties had been harmed because city council gave an applicant an exception to add a non conforming addition to a historic property. The complainants were told they did not have standing and I think they lost in court when they sued. Since they lost on the standing issue, they could not have the real issue resolved so we do not know what would have happened. But if they had made it to court, they surely would have had to produce evidence that the project in question actually had the effect of reducing the value of their historic property. I may not be recalling all the details but I do think they never got to the actual issue due to standing. But I could be not recalling correctly. The same could happen to those in Spotsylvania who claim a decision by the Zoning Administrator adversely affected the value of their property. If they lost at the BZA, then their recourse would be to go to court. But the BOS knows where the courthouse is too.

  • Martin (Marty) Work

    The BOS do know where the Court House is and leverage the cost of today’s litigation as one of its best bargaining chips, when push comes to shove.

    When the BOS eliminated “arbitration” from the ranks of civil dispute resolution, it eliminated “would be litigants” with real and legitimate ISSUES OF DISPUTE, but couldn’t get past the legal expense, unless counsil for the the moving party against the County took the case pro-bono or had financial backing not identified in the pleadings.

    Having a bone to pick with the County has been religated to the “cost of doing business” before the Spoptsylvania County Circuit Court, instead of an arbitration panel of 1-3 informed legal practitioners. If you have questions about this particular rule of law you can review the film taken of the BOS scheduled meeting when County Attorney Strohman persuaded the BOS, based on his litigation experience, that “arbitration” put the County more at risk for legitimate dispute resolution.

    It’s a strategic litigation strategy that’s been around for a long time, and serves only those who can afford to sit and do NOTHING, whether the cause is righteous or not. I know what it’s like to go pro se, because no one in town dared to go against the FAMILY and those enlisted from the outside would only take a case for billable hours and business income.

    I can still remember when HILL filed his “Freedom of Information” against the BOS and was caused to spend $20,000 just to have the Court tell him there was a “Southern Fried” version of FOI that would cost him dearly and still provide no answers or documentation to his inquiry.

    The Spotsylvania County Circuit Court being the only forum made availabe to the public turns away many challenges and changes that need to be heard and endorsed by the public, but are cut off at the knees for want of disposable income. Such is the nature of oligarchy governance.

    Said more simply, you can stand at the podium but have no standing, simply because no one is listening because THEY don’t have to listen, even when the presentation FROM the podium hurts their ears, but does not intefere with their soda break.

    Said another way, with one person being the lone arbitor on zoning in Spotsylvania County serves the same business agenda as you would find in attempting to make your way to the steps or through the County Circuit Court, or, if you want, subordination of your first and second amendment rights under the US Constitution.

    The rule of law deceives as much as it affords the opportunity to be heard, but often times falls on deaf ears, because the challenge doesn’t conform to preconceived notions that justice will be served, but only if you have enough money to underwrite what shouldn’t be instead of what should be.

    Mr. Tignor is not the answer, for any reason you care to imagine. Let’s hope we will leave something to the public to decide for themselves.

  • Jack Lucas

    Breaking with centuries’ old tradition, the Planning Commission voted 6 to 0 to end open public hearings by putting all the future decision-making powers for zoning modifications into the hands of a single appointed “Zoning Czar”
    At a time when legislators rank the lowest in popularity polls, this new change in public policy ROBS citizens, small businesses, and the private homeowner of their voice, input, and opinions in reshaping the “new” Spotsylvania.
    A Zoning Administrator is generally considered to be an advocate for big business and big development.
    At the end of his presentation, the current Zoning Administrator cavalierly commented to an almost empty hearing room that he can make all these decisions in an afternoon.
    Public policy for any community is shaped by the pulse of its vocal electorate – enfranchised citizens – and not by a single “appointed Czar” suppressing public hearings. This appears to be the first step towards banning public hearings altogether.
    Our forefathers in 1770, in their disputes with totalitarian King George III, would be appalled at such insolence and arrogance of power – and centralized control by a single person – that the Planning Commission has shown here.
    When the Board of Supervisors further approves the amendment change this month, freedom of expression for all citizens of Spotsylvania will have been dealt a terrible blow.

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