Panhandler Jobs

A homeless man, panhandles for change in Portland, Ore.

The Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors has approved a rezoning that could spawn a town center in Thornburg, and changed the county’s approach to how it deals with panhandling.

The board held a pair of public hearings on each issue Tuesday night before voting unanimously to approve them.

The rezoning addressed a technical issue with a 10.27-acre parcel off Mudd Tavern Road, converting it from agricultural to commercial, according to the staff report. The change puts the parcel in accord with zoning for other surrounding properties and the county’s future plans for the area.

The parcel is part of a chunk of land along Mudd Tavern Road and U.S. 1 where development is expected.

The future land-use designation is commercial for the portion of the property fronting Mudd Tavern Road and U.S. 1. The rest of the parcel is within the area designated for “employment center” land use.

Employment centers include offices and industrial uses, “with a focus on larger scale office complexes, industrial users, and business parks,” according to the staff report.

The applicant aims to build the Thornburg Towne Centre along U.S. 1 and Mudd Tavern Road, a changing area near the county’s southernmost exit to Interstate 95. The development could be a mix of commercial, office and industrial space.

Bill Vakos, the property owner, told the board he is “hoping to bring a big employment center to the county.” He did not provide specifics Tuesday, but told the Planning Commission more earlier this month before it recommended approval of the rezoning.

He said his company has in the past tried to entice big “employment centers” such as the FBI and the Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic to build on the more than 100 acres it owns around the intersection. The plan was to continue pursuing similar office complexes, along with retail.

County staff recommended approval of the rezoning, saying in a report that it would make the property “consistent with the surrounding zoning and the Comprehensive Plan.”

Vakos was the only person to speak during the hearing before the board approved the rezoning.

The second public hearing addressed a proposal to repeal an ordinance and replace it with others to restrict activities or gathering on county roads or medians.

The existing ordinance restricts those activities, which include panhandling.

But in some areas of the country, including Henrico County, constitutional challenges have upended such ordinances, according to a report from county staff. Other similar codes and laws aimed at restricting activities on or around roads have been found to be in violation of the First Amendment, the staff report states.

County staff noted several options to replace the ordinance, but ultimately suggested the use of “No Loitering” signs at intersections deemed high-crash areas.

County Attorney Karl Holsten stressed that the ordinance is aimed at keeping people from gathering at unsafe intersections and has “nothing to do with your speech.”

He made the comment after Supervisor Gary Skinner said he wanted to have the signs put up at intersections where he said panhandlers are known to gather. Supervisor David Ross has also said he wanted an ordinance to deal with panhandlers on State Route 3.

No one spoke during the public hearing.

The county will determine where to place the signs, but the Virginia Department of Transportation would have to approve them.

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Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436 sshenk@freelancestar.com