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Chuck Bird, Planning and Zoning Administrator, is calling it quits

   For some time now there have been rumors circulating about the possible departure of the Colonial Beach Building and Zoning Administrator Chuck Bird.  It was common knowledge that Bird had put his Monroe Bay Avenue home on the market and that it had sold.  It was also well-known that his wife had recently gotten a new job in Norfolk.  But what wasn't known was what Bird himself was going to do.  
As of Monday at 4:00 pm., the Colonial Beach Town Manager Val Foulds had not received anything official from Bird, so she herself said she was still treating word of Bird's possible resignation as a rumor.
   Foulds said she knew, “Mr. Bird has sold his home”.  When asked when she had first heard the rumors of Bird's leaving, she answered, “about 6 months ago”.  Foulds said she had been hearing the rumors for such a long time that the “town asked Mr. Bird for a plan of what he was going to do”.  The request to Bird was sent in a letter.  Foulds explained that Bird had not really made up his mind at the time and so declined to answer.  “He really wasn't comfortable putting it in writing,” she explained.  “He didn't know his own plans”.  
But apparently as Bird went to closing on his home yesterday afternoon, things became crystal clear and this morning the Town of Colonial Beach was presented with an official resignation letter.  Bird's final date of employment has been established as April 3, 2009.  In a telephone interview just prior to press time, Bird said that he was “undecided" about what he was doing to do.  "I've talked with the City of Norfolk and the City of Chesapeake,” he said.  “I've also interviewed with the Corps of Engineers.”  Bird says he is genuinely saddened to be leaving his position with the Town.
   So what does this mean to the Town of Colonial Beach?   
   Is this even a big deal and does it matter?  
   For a great many people there will probably be the questions of,  “What does a Building and Zoning Director do anyway” and “Do we need one”?  But as always the final question will be, “What does this mean to the Town of Colonial Beach”?  
   Chuck Bird was the Director of Building and Zoning in the Town of Colonial Beach for 6 and ½ years.  At the time he was hired he was the fourth Director in 5 years.  By virtue of being Director, the Town Council charged him with the responsibility of interpreting the Town's building and zoning codes as opposed to those of the County's. Council also charged him with the responsibility of enforcement of the state building code.  
   During his tenure Bird has served 28 Town Council members, 2 Mayors, 6 or 7 Town Managers and 3 Public Works Directors.  So one could say that he established a period of continuity with regard to zoning in Colonial Beach.
   His office is tasked with many functions, all of them facets of building and zoning, and in that respect Bird interacted with multiple agencies on a daily basis such as the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the state Fire Marshals, Chesapeake Bay officials, Virginia Marine Resource Commission, Army Corps of Engineers, Colonial Beach Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals just to name a few.
   In addition to holding the title of Director of Building and Zoning, Bird also wore a couple of other hats  in the zoning office.  He is the Certified Flood Plain Manager and the Erosion and Sediment Control Plan Inspector and Reviewer.  Bird says the state mandates that the Town have such an E&I person and that we are now “in compliance with all E&I laws, including having someone certified”.  Bird elaborated that if he weren't filling that role “the Town would have to hire the local soil and conservation board and pay them to administer the plan.”
   The zoning office and its administrator are also responsible for compliance with the Chesapeake Bay Act and Bird gave his assurance that the Town of Colonial Beach is now “completely in compliance” in that category, as well.  “We want to maintain that standing,” he said.  
Bird also acts in the capacity of subdivision agent for the Town of Colonial Beach and is currently in the process of reviewing the latest submission from Potomac Crossing.  There is a window of 60 days in which to take action on these plans which are also currently being reviewed by VDOT.
   A great many of the things that the Zoning Director and his staff attend to have a timeliness with which they must act.  For example, go back to that bit about Bird being a Certified Flood Plain Manager – is that important?  Some might say yes, because the Town is under a deadline to re-write its flood plain ordinances and have them done and submitted by August of this year; along with their maps.  If this is not done, the Town gets dropped from the National Flood Plain Insurance Program and nobody living in a flood plain area is covered until the Town is once again in compliance.   In conjunction with the more regular duties of his job such as reviews of Conditional Use Permits, re-zoning applications, applications for variance and work with subdivision plats, there are also prescribed time lines.
   This is also a particularly lean time for staffing within the zoning office for there is the noticeable absence of R. J. Foster who formerly held the position of Certified Building Official.  A recruitment ad for his position has been run in some local newspapers, and the Town Manager confirms that Foster is no longer employed by the Town, but explains that Bird held the lead position and that Foster worked under his supervision. 
   “Mr. Bird took all the appropriate exams,” Foulds explained.  Both Foulds and Bird confirm that the Town has received a “stack of resumes” with Bird adding that he has had some “phone calls from friends around the area” as well.  Foulds says the former Town Manager had a background in Planning, “but that's not really me”.  Foulds explains, “I need Mr. Bird to look at the technical aspects and I will look at people skills”.
   So again, will the Town need to fill one or both of these positions?  Some individuals have hypothesized that not filling the positions would be a cost saving strategy for the Town.  There is the postulation that it is not necessary for the Town to fill these roles and that the County will pick up the slack.  Bird explains that this might be true up to a point, but in this instance size does matter.  “As long as the Town of Colonial Beach has a population that is less than 3,500 it can elect whether or not it will enforce the state building code”, he explains.  “Once the population passes that mark it is no longer a choice.” 
   However, in either 1993 or 1994 the town made a decision by resolution to enforce the state building codes.  So, if the Town does not have its own enforcement person, if in fact it contracts that work out, any fees associated with building applications won't go to the Town.  They will go to that enforcement entity with whom the Town has a contract; whether it be Westmoreland County, King George or Fredericksburg.
   Bird says that when they adjusted the building permit fees about three years ago they did so with the thought in mind that they would make the building and zoning office at least 75% to 80% self-supporting.  A plan which he says worked until this year when everything slowed down.  Bird says the Zoning Office will never be a money-making entity because it isn't allowed to be.  “We can charge fees to offset the cost of the administration of ordinances”, he explains.
   And if that doesn't seem like enough of a workload, there is also the whole Monroe Point court case still pending while under review with the Circuit Court, the re-write of the Comprehensive Plan and the Land Use Maps, the potential re-zoning along Monroe Bay Avenue, the annexation of the piece of land adjacent to High Tides Restaurant and a host of other items as well. 
   Now Bird says that the Town does not have to have its own Director of Building and Zoning it can literally empower anyone with the ability to interpret the Town's zoning ordinances like the Town Manager or a Town Council Member.  Some might remember that Karen Payne, who currently holds a Council position, once upon a time was the individual responsible for such interpretation and enforcement, but for a council member to be appointed to hold such a position could set the stage for a potential conflict of interest.  It is noteworthy to mention that the interpretations of a zoning administrator cannot be challenged or overturned by a successor.
   Council Member David Coombes, who also sits as Chair of the Planning Commission, said, “I wish Mr. Bird well in whatever he decides to do.”  Coombes admits that he does not know why Bird is resigning his position.  “I hear rumors,” he added, “but you can't hang your hat on rumors."
Coombes says he hasn't had a single concrete conversation with anyone about this but can see the town maybe having to hire a contract temp; someone from the outside.  “But of course,” he says, “that raises a host of other concerns”.  Coombes says he just can't see the Town not having its own person in this role.  “The absence of Mr. Bird will leave us with a gap for a while”. 
   The Planning Commission will hold its regular meeting this month on Thursday, March 5 at the Town Center.

Anne Congdon

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