The James City County Board of Supervisors hashed out their ideas on tree preservation, timbering and sound walls during discussion Tuesday about the ordinance update that is currently underway.
During their several hours of discussion on the zoning ordinance update, the Board agreed to add incentives for planting more trees on land to be developed; they supported staff’s new policy plan for sounds walls though one member had reservations; and they decided to reach out to land owners before making a decision on changing the county’s tree harvesting ordinance.
Staff offered a revised draft of the landscaping ordinance to include tree preservation. The new ordinance would require, among other things, a tree preservation plan for new developments.
Board members were generally supportive of the change, but Supervisor John McGlennon argued the county should go further by not just minimizing the reduction of trees but by actively restoring the tree population.
The focus of the Comprehensive Plan is sustainability, he argued, so the county should “look for ways to achieve those objectives.”
The Board agreed to have staff include language that would offer developers incentives for adding more trees.
Supervisor Jim Icenhour pointed out that the ordinance change regarding a tree preservation plan pertains to developments other than residential ones, and he suggested they be included.
Supervisor Bruce Goodson was concerned that builders of single-family residences would need to spend a lot of additional money to have someone complete a site plan of the area, and didn’t like Icenhour’s idea for that reason.
Staff suggested a tree preservation plan could be offered as a proffer by developers of residential areas.
Supervisors also discussed a new policy draft staff developed that would establish new sound wall guidelines that includes better communication with the Virginia Department of Transportation on the design and creation of the walls.
Staff pointed out that the county could not create an ordinance that would attempt to regulate VDOT, but that VDOT agreed to work within the new policy as much as possible.
McGlennon shared his reservations about the use of sound walls in general, and said sound walls are “a reflection of a failure” in the planning process that allows high-speed roads too close to residential areas.
“We’ve used sound walls to address [this] failure,” he said. “My preference would be for our policy to avoid sounds walls by proper planning” by keeping these sorts of roads further from residential areas.
Staff told the board that the circumstance is avoided when possible, and that VDOT actually decides when a sound wall is needed, not the county.
During their meeting, the board considered three various options for updating the county’s timbering ordinance for any future timbering operations.
Staff suggested an option that would ensure a company planning to timber would offer verbal notice to the county of their intent, while the Planning Commission’s Policy Committee favored a written notice.
There is already ordinance language that discusses setbacks of timbering operations within the Primary Service Area, but the planning commission’s favored option also includes language that requires any timbering in General Agricultural Land outside the PSA and near a Community Character Corridor to have a 50-foot buffer.
Staff said they had not yet discussed the options with land owners who might be affected by any changes.
Board Chairman Mary Jones said she “would be uncomfortable moving forward [on a decision] without getting input from [affected] property owners.”
Supervisor Jim Kennedy said he had heard from his constituents and several of them were concerned about the plan and didn’t understand it very well. He also wanted more information on the feasibility of some of the requirements.
Staff will reach out to affected property owners and get some more information for the board.
The ordinance update is now in its second stage, which means staff is presenting drafts to the Board for feedback. The board looked at many more proposed changes Tuesday evening than the few discussed above; citizens can read the drafts discussed on the county website or watch the video of the work session.