Defending the Occoquan Watershed
On June 22nd, the Board held a public hearing on the proposed agritourism amendment to the zoning code. While this amendment passed by a vote of 7-2 despite the objections of numerous citizen associations and the Board’s own Environmental Committee, I opposed this amendment because as it stands it does not protect the Occoquan Watershed, which I committed to protecting when I took office. There can be a solution to allow agritourism and protecting the watershed, but this amendment was rushed to meet a July 1st deadline and was not ready for primetime. Since my Town Hall in Clifton in 2020, I have heard from many of you who are also concerned with the implications of this change as you have called, written, and attended the Televised Town Hall this past March as well.
For background on agritourism, see my newsletter from February 2020.
I believe that agritourism if done right is an opportunity for the County to deliver on jobs, increase our tourism revenue and benefit our agricultural sector. However, in this case, I voted against the Zoning Ordinance amendment expanding agritourism uses in our rural areas. The proposed amendment had too many unanswered questions including concerns with density, septic, parking, water quality and the impact on the Occoquan watershed including the objections of numerous citizen associations and the Board’s own Environmental Committee.
While agritourism can create a new revenue source for our community and jobs associated with the operation of new businesses, I remain concerned by the impact of agritourism operations and relaxed rules on operations near the watershed will have on our environment and our water. We need to find a solution to serve both of these priorities.
The agritourism amendment goes into effect today on July 1, 2021, along with zMOD, the separate zoning modernization omnibus I will share more on below.
I will continue to advocate for policies that seek to conserve our rural areas and the environment and prevent the creation of the burden of density on our communities in suburban neighborhoods and rural areas.
New Laws Starting July 1st
Over the winter, the General Assembly passed a number of new laws including requiring five-day in-person learning for public schools and allowing alcohol to-go from restaurants for another year. Of all the changes, I am most glad to see that five-day in-person learning will be a required offering for all Virginia school districts. Virtual learning has been an intense struggle for so many students, parents, and teachers. I am glad to see many were able to finish out the last school year in the classroom and many more will return to the classroom in the fall.
Another change that will benefit our community, especially our restaurants, is the allowance of to-go alcohol sales from restaurants for one year. The service and hospitality industry was one of the hardest hit industries by the pandemic. With our community’s high vaccination rate and people returning to restaurants, this is a great opportunity for our restaurants to increase sales and continue bringing people back to work.
To see more highlights of General Assembly changes that go into effect today, see here.
In addition to state laws, the Board approved the zMOD zoning ordinance in March that will also go into effect today. These changes include removing the age and disability requirements for accessory dwelling units.
I voted against this ordinance because it was originally intended to be a reorganization and instead presented significant changes that could impact the character and density of our residential neighborhoods. For more of my thoughts on zMOD, see my newsletter from March.
For more information on all the changes going into effect with zMOD, visit here
Free Summer Concert Series Kicks Off July 14th - I am excited to remind you that my annual free concerts in the park series kicks off Wednesday, July 14th at 7 p.m. at Burke Lake Park. Mark your calendars for the opening concert which will feature a returning favorite, Randy Thompson Band. 2 Silos, Peterson’s Ice Cream, and the La Gringa food truck will also be returning this year.
Throughout the series, I am also excited to bring back some of our student talent who will perform the opening acts. Come early to get settled with your picnic blanket, food, drinks, and enjoy the whole show! Here are the great bands we have lined up for this summer, along with a seventh show August 25th artist TBD. I look forward to seeing you there!
14 Randy Thompson Band (Americana Country, Roots Rock)
21 The Skip Castro Band (Party Band)
28 The Road Ducks (Southern Rock)
4 The Johnny Artis Band (Blues, Rock & Roll)
11 Practically Einstein (Vintage Rock)
18 The Colin Thompson Band (Blues Rock)
25 Rescheduled show / TBD