York County residents dispute farming proposals

YORK COUNTY, Va. (WAVY) — York County residents packed a planning commission meeting Wednesday night to share opinions on three proposals dealing with residential farming.

Assistant County Administrator Mark Carter said the Board of Supervisors was considering three options:

  • The first would prohibit new agriculture or aquaculture in rural residential and resource conservation areas.
  • The second would create a new “R33” residential district that would be a low density district. Aquaculture and agriculture would not be permitted as newly established, but could be grandfathered in.
  • The third would establish standards that would apply to any newly established agriculture or aquaculture operation that might be proposed in existing rural residential or resource conservation districts.

The area in question, York Point, is right along the Chesapeake Bay at the mouth of the York River, and some of the farming that goes on there includes harvesting oysters. One resident who operates an oyster farm on his property talked to WAVY.com about the proposals.

“We’re shipping oysters to Chicago, New York, California, Florida, Texas and all over the country because people love these oysters,” said York County resident Greg Garrett. “They’re clean, delicious and fantastic. We named them Forbidden Oysters because of the county’s ridiculous position that we’re not supposed to grow oysters here.”

Garrett expressed his feelings of being targeted by the proposals and how he can’t understand doing away the area’s tradition of agriculture.

“York County where freedom was won, York County that has been a rural area where people have grown crops and livestock since the beginning of York County, for over 400 years,” he said. “They’re talking about doing away with livestock, doing away with agriculture.”

But the board said they’re working hard to minimize restrictions on land use while following new state laws.

“When they came back to us with that bill, they forced us to do what everyone else is doing, which is to pretty much have a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Thomas Shepperd, one of the members of the Board of County Supervisors. “Does it seem like just a neighborhood squabble that’s gotten out of hand? Yes, it looks like that. But for me to say ‘well, I don’t like this person’ or ‘I’m going to get even’ just makes no sense.”

There won’t be a final decision until late June. People opposed to the idea held a “pitchfork protest” Wednesday night ahead of the meeting.

Wesley Thomas of York County said he would prefer the board left the land alone: “It’s our right to farm. York County was founded by farmers.”

But CT Tiller said he lives near an oyster operation and would like to see the area re-zoned. “If you had it happening next door to you, you’d probably be like me, you’re probably looking for some place else to live, because it’s a nasty messy business,” he said.

And Bob Beilhart felt the same way: “It’s a residential area. It’s no place for a commercial business, and that’s my point of it. I moved here 15 years ago. It’s a boating community.”

Delegate Brenda Pogge, who represents the 96th House of Delegates District, which includes parts of James City and York County, sent WAVY.com this statement:

I support the amendment to the state code that clearly defines aquaculture as agriculture, and I believe this is a commonsense policy decision. I stand with my constituents who oppose the loss of the right to farm their own property, a right that they currently enjoy. How ironic that they face losing their liberty in Yorktown, Virginia, where freedom was won.

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