At the last Board of Supervisor’s meeting on Valentine’s evening, Barrel Oaks Winery was given a legislative bouquet that was much better than the 18 fresh cut, long stem roses offered by flowers.com. They were given back their rights to free enterprise stolen from them in what one lifetime resident at the Valentine’s Day public hearing called “The worst ordinance ever passed in Fauquier County”. Madge Eicher’s comment that evening was greeted with thunderous applause and stomping from the overflow crowd that attended the meeting. It even prompted Supervisor Sherbeyn to warn the multitude of boisterous supporters to be careful; they were in a very old building.
It is, however, the opinion of this writer that it is Martha Boneta, the Paris farmer, who should be receiving the bouquet of flowers from Sharon and Brian Roeder, owners of Barrel Oaks Winery. Our Board of Supervisors (BOS) has been excoriated by the public fight brought on when Ms. Boneta had had enough and took a stand against an overbearing Zoning Administrator who was, in turn, backed up by the Board of Zoning Appeals and her employer, the BOS.
You see, the Fauquier BOS has been taking a public relations smack-down that this county has never seen the likes of. What originated as a post in Right Side News and Fauquier Now quickly became national news; then came the first pitchfork protest that brought over a hundred protestors to the second BZA hearing which found against Boneta and for the over-bearing Zoning Administrator, Kimberley Johnson. The protest was covered by several nationwide publications including The Drudge Report, Mary Katharine Ham on Hot Air, the editorial staff at The Washington Examiner, Fox News, The American Thinker, and a myriad of local and national blog sites, all taking their turns at revealing the apparently poor policy decisions of the county leaders.
Then, to make matters worse for the already beleaguered BOS here in Fauquier, the 2013 Virginia state legislative session began with two Delegates taking action to thwart the kind of activities being undertaken by Fauquier County officials.
Delegate Bob Marshall introduced language in the Virginia Budget to 1) prevent citations without an on-site investigation of the purported offending property, to 2) require a county to investigate zoning violations only with full-time local employees in the locality and to 3) prohibit localities of imposing fines for selling products, or hosting specific events on land zoned for agriculture if attended by fewer than 100 people.
Delegate Lingamfelter introduced HB 1430, which broadened the scope of the Right to Farm Act and went against the kind of restrictive zoning ordinances that have been enacted here in Fauquier County. HB 1430 passed overwhelmingly in the House of Delegates by a 77-22 margin, even with our Supervisors and their lobbyist working in Richmond against it. It was killed in the Senate Committee, but not before getting statewide attention.
The very popular bill tracker Richmond Sunlight, which is following all of the over 2500 bills filed this session, featured over one hundred posts from farmers and farm customers alike on what Richmond Sunlight hailed as their most interesting bill for the entire time it was active. It is still number two.
Here is a sampling of some of the comments posted on the HB 1430 site:
“I am ashamed that any county in the great Commonwealth of Virginia would ever deprive an American citizen of their rights like they have done in Fauquier with the wineries and the farmers – it scares me and it scares our citizens all over Virginia.”
“We are in tough times now and the worst is coming. I have grown children with college educations that can’t find jobs. They are hardworking and would do anything to make a living. If we still had our family farm, my children would be employed and contributing to Virginia’s #1 income producing trade – AGRICULTURE.”
“I BEG the Delegates on behalf of my family, our small family farmers and all Virginia citizens to PLEASE PLEASE pass this Bill. Please give us hope in our future and faith in our government to do the right thing for the people.”
“I know there are special interest groups like the Piedmont Environmental Council that continues to disgrace our great state, but I beg you to not let these wolves in sheep’s clothing continue to deprive the Commonwealth of Virginia of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
“We must emancipate the small family farmers and free them from the chains of enslavement by local county over reaching governments.”
“To see neighbors trying to control what their neighbors can do to make a living is the most repugnant thing I have ever witnessed in this state. And, using public servants to hold power over your neighbors is despicable.”
“Public servants that have stripped farmers and property owners of their rights need to go! Pass HB 1430!”
“This is about not just the farmers, but also about the consumers. I have a right to go to my local farms and buy not only what they produce but the byproduct of their crops. Why can’t I buy herb tea from a farmer that grows herbs? Why can’t my children take a workshop to learn how to make goat’s soap without the hardworking farmers having to get permitted and pay fees?”
Also on the Richmond Sunlight site was a Poll that asked should this bill pass. Of the 1,235 votes cast, 94% voted YES.
Fauquier’s ordinances are too restrictive: 206 (81%)
Fauquier’s ordinances are appropriate: 38 (15%)
I’m undecided: 9 (4%)
Then, on the morning the Senate Committee was to vote on HB 1430, the Richmond Times Dispatch came out with their editorial that stated “Boneta’s experience provides a real-world example of the harm that can result when local officials think farmers should be accountable to them, but not vice versa. The assembly should disabuse them of that notion by sending the Boneta Bill to the governor’s desk for signing.”
So as you can see, the BOS was desperately searching for a positive story they could use to change the tide that has been rising against them ever since they crossed with Ms. Boneta. They had their chance with the BOW Special Exception vote. They finally went against the powerful sway of the PEC and came up with a popularly acclaimed decision.
One can only hope that Ms. Boneta is at the top of the Roeders’ Christmas gift list and they slip her a very special sealed envelope, as they did their other supporters after their win.