Category Archives: Zoning Requests

BZA Dismisses 7, Defers 4 Floodplain Variance Requests

At its evening meeting on February 5, 2018, the Nelson County Board of Zoning Appeals dismissed seven of Dominion’s eleven requests for variance to Nelson’s floodplain ordinance for lack of standing, and granted deferrals for a hearing on the remaining four. “Lack of standing” means that Dominion requested variances on properties it does not own or for which it has no legal right or easements; Virginia law does not permit such requests.

Dominion had requested deferment of the public hearing on all 11 properties through which they propose to route the ACP.  The BZA voted unanimously for both the seven dismissals and the four deferments.

Read Dominion’s January 31, 2018, request to defer the public hearing to a later date. (Note that the letter is addressed to Nelson County’s former Director of Planning, who left the position in spring 2017, not to Sandy Shackelford, the county’s Director of Planning for the past eight months. But we all know that Dominion documents are error-prone.)

There will be no public hearing on February 12, 2018, and at this time no future hearing has been scheduled.

Also at the February 5 meeting, Draper Aden, the engineering firm hired several weeks ago by the BZA to advise them on floodplain matters, admitted it had a conflict of interest after working with Dominion in the past.  At Draper Aden’s suggestion, the BZA retained Maryland-based engineering, consultation, and construction firm KCI Technologies for further engineering and technical review of the variance applications.

Floodplains: Unsung Heroes in Our Communities


Floodplains are unsung heroes in our communities. They are important systems that we need to help our landscapes deal with water, organic matter, filtration, and erosion control. The ACP is asking the Nelson County Board of Zoning Appeals for variances so they can put their 42″ pipeline through our floodplains.

What does #4 on the graphic say?
“When we develop in floodplains we reduce the floodplain’s storage capacity, causing the next flood of equal intensity to crest even higher than the last.”

For further information on the purposes and values of floodplains, see these information sheets from Nature Conservancy and Pennsylvania.

Update on February 5th Meetings


As reported in the Nelson County Times, the Nelson County Board of Zoning Appeals will meet in open session tomorrow evening, February 5, 2018. (See article below.) This meeting is open to the public and those interested in the upcoming Public Hearing currently scheduled for February 12th may wish to attend.

Friends of Nelson will also hold a Floodplain Variance information session on Monday February 5th at the Rockfish Valley Community Center. Feel free to drop by any time between 6pm and 8:30pm. We will have floodplain maps and information for review.

The Nelson Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) February 12, 2018, public hearing on ACP requests for variances to the Flood Plain Ordinance (FPO) will probably be postponed. Stay tuned for a decision on rescheduling.

FPO Hearings May Be Postponed

The Nelson Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) February 12, 2018, public hearing on ACP requests for variances to the Flood Plain Ordinance (FPO) will probably be postponed. Late on February 2, 2018, the Lynchburg News & Advance reported, “In a letter to the county’s planning and zoning department dated Jan. 31, Dominion’s Vice President for Pipeline Construction Leslie Hartz, on behalf of the ACP, requested a deferral of public hearings on variance applications for 11 floodplain crossings in Nelson, currently scheduled for Feb. 12. The deferral request from ACP essentially would put a pause on the Nelson variance process.”

The request must be formally accepted by the BZA, which will address it during their regularly scheduled meeting on Monday February 5. Stay tuned for a decision on rescheduling.

The variances, for 11 floodplain crossings in Nelson County totaling 4.5 miles of floodplain, 3.5 for pipeline and one mile for access roads, are required because, under Nelson’s floodplain ordinance, pipelines qualify as “critical facilities” whose construction is not normally allowed in floodplains. “Critical facilities” are prohibited because even a slight chance of flooding poses too great a threat to public health, safety, and welfare. Critical facilities include “structures that store or transport highly volatile, flammable, explosive, toxic, and/or water-reactive materials,” as well as nursing homes, police stations, and public utilities. The ordinance also lists hazardous materials, including natural gas, which may not be stored in Special Flood Hazard Areas for longer than 30 days because they “would pose an unacceptable risk…during flooding”.

Unprepared: Judge Faults MVP, Highland Planning Comm. Faults ACP


The February 1, 2018, Roanoke Times reports, “With just a few hours remaining until Thursday, the day that Mountain Valley Pipeline had hoped to start work on a natural gas pipeline through Southwest Virginia, a judge put a pause to those plans. The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth Dillon came during a proceeding in which Mountain Valley had sued nearly 300 property owners who refused to surrender their land for the controversial project. Although the laws of eminent domain give Mountain Valley the power to obtain forced easements for its buried pipeline, Dillon ruled, she rejected the company’s request for immediate access to the parcels. Facing a tight deadline to have trees felled along the pipeline’s route by March 31 to meet federal wildlife protections, Mountain Valley executed what’s called a quick-take condemnation. That process might have allowed the company to start work by Thursday on the disputed properties. But first, Mountain Valley was required to demonstrate it could pay the property owners just compensation for the easements — at prices to be determined at trials later, likely well after construction had begun. Such a demonstration would have included paying a bond or deposit with the court. At a hearing earlier this month, Mountain Valley presented appraisals for just nine of the nearly 300 properties, which Dillon said was insufficient information on which to base an appropriate bond amount. ‘Until MVP can provide a more fulsome basis on which the court can assure that just compensation will be paid, the court cannot allow immediate possession at this time to nearly all of the properties,’ Dillon wrote in a 52-page decision released shortly before 6 p.m. Wednesday.”

Read Judge Dillon’s Opinion here and her Order here.

As reported by the February 1, 2018, Highlander, the Highland County Planning Commission at their January 25, 2018, meeting based their decisions on the many mistakes and unanswered questions in Dominion’s presentation requesting local permits for lay-down yards and crossing easements. This is the first time county planners have been given an opportunity to see what Dominion proposes – including heavy truck traffic for 10 hour/day on 6 and perhaps 7 days a week over steep, narrow, and winding roads, giant equipment traveling more than 10 miles on those roads, permanent access roads on steep mountain slope (with more mileage than the pipeline itself), unsecured construction yards, lack of reliable water sources for dust control, lack of a traffic study requested by Virginia’s Dept. of Transportation. “It was no surprise to anyone, except county staff, that the applications submitted were full of holes and mistakes. Landowners all along the pipeline’s proposed path in three states have found hundreds of errors made by the company over the last few years, from egregious omissions to simple math mistakes.”

“Citing numerous errors and inadequacies, the Highland County Planning Commission on Jan. 25 voted to set one public hearing, but tabled two other land-use applications for Dominion to establish proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction lay-down material storage yards.”

Nelson BZA Public Hearing, February 12, 2018


The Nelson County Board of Zoning Appeals will hold a public hearing on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s request to obtain variances for 11 floodplain crossings in Nelson County totaling 4.5 miles of floodplain, 3.5 for pipeline and one mile for access roads.  The public hearings will be February 12, 2018, 7 p.m., at the Nelson County High School.

Variances are required because, under Nelson’s floodplain ordinance, pipelines qualify as “critical facilities” whose construction is not normally allowed in floodplains. “Critical facilities” are prohibited because even a slight chance of flooding poses too great a threat to public health, safety, and welfare. Critical facilities include “structures that store or transport highly volatile, flammable, explosive, toxic, and/or water-reactive materials,” as well as nursing homes, police stations, and public utilities. The ordinance also lists hazardous materials, including natural gas, which may not be stored in Special Flood Hazard Areas for longer than 30 days because they “would pose an unacceptable risk…during flooding”.

The floodplain ordinance is available online.  It is Article 10 of the Nelson County Zoning Ordinance.

During their January 16 meeting, the BZA adopted procedures for the public hearing: speakers must sign up to speak during the hearings and will be limited to three minutes unless they are representing a group, in which case they have five minutes to speak. The BZA will take up and make decisions on the 11 floodplain crossing applications individually, because they want to provide a “clean record” for each application. Application hearings will be held in the same order as they appear in the application, from the westernmost crossing, S. Rockfish River up near Wintergreen, and ending with the Wingina crossing near the James River.

People who want to speak MUST SIGN UP BEFORE THE MEETING STARTS. If you cannot get there before the hearing starts, you may have someone else sign you up to speak. You (or the person signing up for you) must provide your name and address to ensure that the County has an accurate record of exactly who spoke.

People must sign up separately for each crossing they wish to comment on and will have 3 minutes to speak at each. (5 minutes if they represent a group). You may only sign up once for any one specific variance hearing.

If you have “general” comments that would apply to more than one crossing, you may specify during your comments that you want them to be applied to all eleven crossings (or to three of them or whatever). This will help avoid unnecessary repetition of the same testimony from a single speaker. You may request that your comments be entered into the other hearing records regardless of which hearing you choose to speak at. Or you may speak specifically about a particular variance, e.g. Muddy Creek or South Fork Rockfish River 1.

Nine of the eleven variances requested are in Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA). Such zones are determined based on events (determined by the American Society of Civil Engineers) that may occur in them, and Nelson County has 6 of the 8 determining factors: mudslides, flash floods, high velocity flow, erosion, alluvial fans, and winter ice jams. Nelson County’s flood plain ordinance includes what are called Higher Standards prohibiting Critical Facilities & Hazardous Materials in floodplains (e.g. pipelines carrying natural gas at high pressure).

People may submit written comments and any supporting documents for the public record online by e-mailing them to: bza@nelsoncounty.org.  You can also submit larger files directly to a dropbox they have set up at
https://www.dropbox.com/request/qtVOeYvsfrUoWefgCvki

If the submissions are made by Tuesday or Wednesday (February 6 or 7) before the public hearing, they will be included in the BZA packet that is distributed and posted online before the meeting. However, since it is highly unlikely that the BZA will make its decision that night, written comments may be submitted after the meeting as well and still “count”. Submissions that are not included in the BZA packet will be made available to the general public, but it may take several days for the County to post them to the website for public access. We recommend that anyone speaking at the meeting also provide the BZA with a written copy of their comments.

The county will be making audio and video recordings of the meeting, but they will not be uploaded to a website. They will be made available to people on request, however. Attendees are also welcome to tape/videotape the hearing themselves, as long as the equipment is not disruptive (e.g. blocks access to the podium, etc.)

If the meeting goes on for too long (it has not been defined what “too long” means), the BZA will continue it at a later date to be announced.

Some suggestions for what to include in your comments (at the hearing or submitted in writing):

  • Why the existing ordinance is wise to prohibit the placement of infrastructure such as natural gas pipelines in the floodplain
  • Why the BZA is obligated to uphold the intent of the ordinance
  • How granting a Variance in this case runs counter to the description in the official Standard for BZA Review of Variances
  • What specific dangers exist at specific crossings

Learn more! Come to Rockfish Valley Community Center on February 5, 2018, between 6:00 and 8:30. Get educated about the importance of floodplains in our county and why we need to protect them from Dominion’s ACP. We’ll answer questions and provide “talking points” for the upcoming BZA meeting.

Most importantly, we urge everyone to attend the hearing, even if you do not plan to speak. Ask the BZA to PROTECT our floodplains and DENY DOMINION’S REQUEST to cross floodplains so that our safety as well as our water quality and water supplies are preserved!