Gov. Ralph Northam recently signed a bill to change James City County’s charter to allow the locality greater power to regulate inoperative vehicles.
Senate Bill 1408 amends the county’s charter to allow it to forbid residents from storing inoperable vehicles within view on properties that are 2 acres or smaller and zoned for residential, commercial or agricultural proposes. The restriction applies to trailers and semitrailers but doesn’t apply to vehicles “shielded or screened from view,” according to the bill’s summary.
Thanks to the charter change, James City joins about 20 other localities that are allowed to regulate inoperative vehicles according to a section of state code that allows a locality to deem a vehicle inoperative if the vehicle is without a valid inspection sticker or has invalid license plates or is not operational. The section doesn’t apply to licensed junkyards, car dealers or scrap processors.
“We’re definitely excited,” said Jason Purse, assistant county administrator, in an interview Wednesday. “It provides a little more flexibility (for enforcement) … we do get a lot of complaints.”
Previously, the county’s power to regulate junk vehicles was subject to another state code section. That section requires both inspection stickers and license plates be invalid, or the vehicle be broken down or disassembled, in order to be considered inoperative.
With the charter change approved, James City County officials now look to amend the county ordinance to reflect the change. Since the bill was signed on Monday, there isn’t a timeline on when that process will start. Ultimately, the Board of Supervisors will have to approve a change to the county ordinance, Purse said.
The county doesn’t actively hunt for inoperative vehicles. The system is complaint-based, meaning a neighbor has to contact the county with concerns about an inoperative vehicle. If contacted, county employees take a look to determine whether the vehicle is legally inoperative, Purse said.
If a vehicle is found to be inoperative and the owner fails to move the vehicle or otherwise address the issue, the county can give notice to reach a resolution through the courts, Purse said.
The bill sailed through the General Assembly. The Senate voted 38-0 to approve the bill on Jan. 28. The House of Delegates voted 99-0 to pass the bill on Feb. 19, according to the General Assembly’s online legislative system. Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, sponsored the legislation.
Mason has said the bill was born of the concerns of “two or three” James City neighborhoods that lack homeowners associations but want help in regulating junk cars in their communities.
Such a change had been desired by county officials for several years. In 2018, a bid to give James City the regulating power over inoperative vehicles it sought was defeated in the House. Del. Brenda Pogge, R-Norge, voted against the legislation owing to fear of how it might affect farmers. The 2019 iteration of the proposal added a property size maximum to address that concern.
Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007, firstname.lastname@example.org, @jajacobs_