The James City County Planning Commission voted Wednesday to recommend residential proffers be reintroduced to the county’s zoning ordinance.
The proposal, which would make residential proffers available to rezoning applicants again after the proffers had been prohibited since 2016, will now go before the Board of Supervisors for final approval.
A proffer is an binding agreement between the county and a rezoning applicant in which the applicant provides something to offset anticipated impacts of the rezoning, such as money or an agreement to perform some type of action.
As such, the return of residential proffers, being essentially incentives, could make such projects more appealing to county officials as they consider approval of applications in the future.
The Planning Commission voted 4-2 in favor of recommending a resolution that would strike out the language that prohibits the use of residential proffers from the county zoning ordinance. Commission member Julia Leverenz wasn’t present at the meeting.
Among the majority, commission member Richard Krapf said proffers are a more straightforward development tool than the “workarounds” the county came up with since proffers were taken off the table.
“I look at this strike through on the proposed ordinance to allow proffers as something that is cleaner and more effective than coming up with easements or other workarounds,” Krapf said.
Tim O’Connor also spoke in support of the amendment, saying proffers bolstered the rights of property owners.
“I think proffers are a property right of a landowner and by not accepting proffers we’re taking a right away from somebody to develop their property and mitigate the development,” he said.
Commission members Frank Polster and Jack Haldeman voted against the amendment.
“I’m very much opposed to amending the county code to permit proffers at this time,” Haldeman said, adding that he thought the new legislation doesn’t do enough to address the issues it posed and should be totally repealed.
No members of the public spoke during the public hearing that preceded the vote. Another public hearing will be held when the Board of Supervisors considers the amendment, possibly in July.
In 2016, James City County stopped accepting residential proffers because of changes to state law that introduced restrictions the county decided made it too great a burden and liability to accept them. Among those restrictions is a prohibition on localities requiring, requesting or suggesting, or accepting “unreasonable” proffers.
On-site proffers are considered unreasonable unless they mitigate impacts directly attributable to new residential development. Off-site proffers are considered unreasonable unless they specifically address the project’s impacts on public facilities and project benefits directly from those proffers.
But in 2019, the legislation was tweaked with language that is clearer and, in county officials’ eyes, poses less liability for municipalities. The new law takes effect July 1.
“Upon review, the adopted changes in state code appear to address many of the concerns stated by the board when it adopted that 2016 amendment,” Planning Director Paul Holt said.
County staff has spent recent weeks exploring how the changes to state law may affect the county’s acceptance of residential proffers.
Right now, the amendment to the zoning ordinance language is the only change on deck. County staff is also looking into the finer details of how the changed legislation will affect specific proffer programs the county once allowed.
“It doesn’t mean everything goes back to the way it was,” Holt said. “We’re going to have some additional work to do.”
Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007, firstname.lastname@example.org, @jajacobs_