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Setbacks and moving forward: Pulaski County Supervisors May meeting

By WILLIAM PAINE

william.paine@southwesttimes.com

Just as it was last month, the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors Monday meeting was sparsely attended but still some significant ordinances were passed.

One of the most notable was the resolution urging Governor Northam to reopen the Commonwealth regionally.

On March 23, the governor issued an executive order that closed all businesses that he deemed to be nonessential along with a “stay at home” order for the general public. The purpose of these restrictions was to staunch the spread of the coronavirus.

“We talk about flattening the curve but Pulaski County hasn’t even experienced a curve to flatten,” said County Administrator Jonathan Sweet. “The New River Valley is far ahead of many other jurisdictions, as we have the hospital capacity, we have the testing capacity and we have a very low caseload per capita.”

The resolution notes that between three regional hospitals, there are currently 458 empty hospital beds. It also notes the damage done to the local economy by the governor’s decree and that damage done could well surpass any ill effects of the virus.

“Using the governor’s own metrics, last Friday we could have been leaving Phase 2 and going into Phase 3,” Sweet continued. “Instead we’re interchangeable with the rest of the Commonwealth with the exception of Northern Virginia.”

The ordinance, which “respectfully requests the Governor to rescind prohibitions immediately for Pulaski County,” was passed unanimously.

There was one public hearing scheduled for this week’s meeting, which involved amending the Pulaski County Unified Development Ordinance.

The Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) is a 136-page document designed to promote responsible economic development and growth in Pulaski County, specifically in terms of land usage. The UDO was first adopted by Pulaski County supervisors in 2015 and has been amended five times since then.

The week before Monday’s meeting, the Pulaski County Planning Commission voted unanimously to adopt a newly amended UDO, which entails several significant changes involving setback requirements for structures. Setback guidelines determine the required distance between a structure and its proximity to front, rear and side property lines.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to adopt the newly revised setback requirements, which were significantly relaxed for all zoning categories.

For example, the 2019 setbacks for a property in a Residential Zone required any structure on that property to have 35 feet in front, 15 feet to the side and 40 feet from the rear of the property line.

The newly adopted 2020 setback on that same residential property requires a structure to have only 25 feet in front, 15 feet to the side and 25 feet distance from the rear of the property line.

According to Pulaski County Planning /Zoning Director Elaine Holeton, these amended setbacks reflect the county’s recently passed Comprehensive Plan, which has the stated objective of increasing the county’s population to 40,000 by the year 2030.

“Over 50% of land in the county is zoned for agriculture,” said Holeton. “We’re trying to encourage people to develop more densely and the reason being is because we want to also protect prime farmland. We are trying to encourage more housing development. For many of us, a large yard doesn’t serve any purpose other than having some more land to mow. However, people can still have large yards, it’s just that we are not going to regulate that their setback has to be such a large linear distance. So, essentially, it’s just giving people more freedom.”

Neither of the two audience members at this week’s meeting chose to comment on the revised UDO and it passed unanimously.

One of the two audience members was Town of Pulaski Mayor David Clark, who came to ask the board to designate the town’s Historic Commercial District as a Housing Revitalization Area.

The boundaries of the Revitalization Area extend roughly from Commerce Street to Third Street with Madison and Randolph Avenues forming the east/west borders.

Clark explained to the board how the Town of Pulaski is encouraging residential housing, particularly on the second floor of many historic buildings in this section of downtown. The county recognizing this section of town as being a “Housing Revitalization Area” allows developers to access funding from the Virginia Housing Authority, thereby improving the area and promoting growth.

The board readily agreed and passed the ordinance.

The supervisors next passed an ordinance extending International Boulevard, which enters the New River Valley Commerce Park property from Route 100, so as to provide road access to Patton Logistics, LLC. This company is set to soon start construction on its facility and is expected to eventually employ 33 people.

By using available funds of up to $650,000 from the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Economic Development Access Road Grant, the project is expected to be completed at no cost to the county, as it is estimated that the new road will cost less than $400,000 to complete.

The supervisors passed a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Way of Southwest Virginia to unify and expedite community services for disaster recovery responses related to the pandemic. This better allows the United Way to “seek cost sharing opportunities from FEMA.”

Though many localities are expected to make their own memorandums of understanding with the United Way of Southwest Virginia, Pulaski County is now the first in the region to do so.

The last action the supervisors took was to grant permission for a public fireworks display that is set to be held at the Motor Mile Speedway as part of the Senior Parade and Fireworks display. The event, which is meant to act as a kind of alternative to a normal graduation ceremony for PCHS seniors, is set to take place on the evening of Saturday, June 13.

“I’ll be so glad when this coronavirus thing is over,” said Supervisor Charlie Bopp as the meeting came to an end. “I have never seen anything like this before.”

“A lot of unexplored territory we’ve gone through and I think our county staff has handled it pretty well,” said Chairman Joe Guthrie.

“I agree 100%,” said Bopp.

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