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Column: We should have fought the Wolfe Bros permit harder, but keep fighting

Jared Brandwein [The Independent News]

BY JARED BRANDWEIN

BACK BAY — An editorial in the pages on The Independent News warned us all that we needed to show up at the Tuesday, Aug. 25, City Council meeting to be heard on a proposal to use land zoned for agriculture for a commercial enterprise. 

The ones who showed up were friends of the developer. Most of the rest of us were no shows.

On that Tuesday, literally in the middle of the night when 90 percent of the City was asleep, the City Council voted, 8-3, to approve a conditional use permit to Wolfe Bros Events, LLC for commercial use of a property zoned for agriculture. The use is as an event facility with 30 outdoor events and an unlimited number of events indoor per year. 

Agriculture? They said they may grow a little lavender.

Without receiving the blessing of the Virginia Beach Agricultural Advisory Commission, Wolfe Bros, aided immensely by its insider attorney R.J. Nutter, brought the development project to the Virginia Beach Planning Commission on Wednesday, June 24, and that commission voted to recommend denial of the application, 7-4.

Using an error in advertising the earlier meeting as a loophole that forced a revote of the Planning Commission — again, late on the evening of the 25th — Wolfe Bros and Nutter got the Planning Commission to reverse its recommendation after a parade of people spoke in their support and a number of people wrote letters on their behalf. The skids were greased for this to go their way.

With the wind in their sails – and knowing they had enough council members whose campaigns are supported by the development community – Wolfe Bros and Nutter got the vote they needed to make bank.

Why is this decision so important? City Council has now shown developers how to convert a property zoned exclusively for agriculture into a commercial property.

This is the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent and will serve to devalue the city’s Agricultural Reserve Program, which purchases development rights to keep farmland in use for farming, and is it is diametrically opposed to those who support conservation of the city’s southern watersheds.

The Back Bay Restoration Foundation has a proud history of being a watchdog for our southern watersheds, not a lapdog. Our assumption that Council would never approve such an outrageous use when their Planning Commission had previously recommended denial was obviously wrong. We also expected that our city leaders would be transparent and allow time between Planning Commission and City Council decisions for public input. Again, we were wrong.

If a council member who voted on the winning side, requests another vote within 30 days of the original decision, the City Council will reconsider the application.  

Please join the foundation in emailing the following Council Members to reconsider their vote: Mayor Bobby Dyer, bdyer@vbgov.com; Vice Mayor Jim Wood, jlwood@vbgov.com; Councilmember Jessica Abbott, jabbott@vbgov.com; Councilmember Louis Jones, lrjones@vbgov.com; Councilmember Aaron Rouse, arouse@vbgov.com; Councilmember Guy Tower, gtower@vbgov.com; Councilmember Rosemary Wilson, rcwilson@vbgov.com; and Councilmember Sabrina Wooten, swooten@vbgov.com.


The author is the executive director of the Back Bay Restoration Foundation and a former manager of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Learn more about the foundation online via backbayrestorationfoundation.org or on Facebook via @backbayrestorationfoundation.


© 2020 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

The Independent News

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