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Departing W’md Planning Commissioner Brick Thomas will share insight on Bay Act enforcement

The Westmoreland Planning Commission meeting scheduled to begin next Monday at 1:30 p.m. will be a last for District 4 Commissioner Brick Thomas. The senior Planning Commission member made it known last month that he will retire from his duties following sixteen years of uninterrupted service as the representative from District 4.
At a meeting earlier in November, District 4 Supervisor Woody Hynson praised Thomas’s contributions to Westmoreland County and declined to suggest a successor at that time. Thomas’s appointment expires on December 31.
The Commission convened a routine monthly work session this Monday. Work sessions ordinarily lack the formality of the action sessions whose agendas include advertised public hearings on land use applications.
This week’s Planning Commission work session dispensed with formalities. While Thomas found occasion to engage in playful banter with Commissioner Richard Moncure from neighboring District 5, the departing veteran also exhibited a serious side when he obtained a spot at the bottom of next week’s agenda in order to deliver departing comments about the manner in which the Bay Act is enforced.
In Westmoreland County it is the Planning Commission that is tasked with deciding the fate of Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act exceptions that cannot be administratively approved.
Since taking force during 1990 in Westmoreland, developers of waterfront lots that were platted after the Act’s 1988 adoption are expected to maintain a 100-foot protected buffer between the water and property’s new construction.
Local ordinance allows building activity to encroach into the protected areas when the impermeable surfaces resulting from new development can be mitigated by appropriate storm water management practices.
Thomas’s 1992 appointment to the Commission occurred during the county’s third year of enforcement of the Act. Westmoreland was and is the only Virginia jurisdiction that tasks its Planning Commission with deciding when construction activity can encroach into the seaward 50-feet of the Act’s protected area.
Over the years Thomas has consistently questioned the appropriateness of that Commission tasking, maintaining a strong desire to help improve the water quality of the Chesapeake and its tributaries.
Throughout his years of service, Thomas has expressed profound reluctance to allow building to occur within the most sensitive 50-feet of a waterfront property’s protected buffer.
As on previous occasions, Thomas found occasion this Monday to express strong disappointment that more has not been done to improve the water quality of the local waterways.
A staunch proponent of land owner rights when development of interior properties poses no immediate threat to a flowing body of water, Thomas’s “no” votes to so many Bay Act exception questions made the long-time Commissioner well known in many of the county’s waterfront communities.
This Monday Thomas freely spoke of his frustration.
“Thank God this will be my last one,” he said of the Commission meeting scheduled for December 1. “Next Monday is it! I have been on this Commission for sixteen years and I can’t stand it any more.”
A member of the Commission asked the departing colleague how he came to be known by everyone as Brick instead of Charles.
Thomas laughed.
“If you really want to know,” he then responded, “I ran into a wall at Oak Grove High School when I was playing basketball in the gym. I hurt my head. When I started rubbing it, somebody said, ‘That fool’s got a head just like a brick.’ I guess it stuck.”
About next Monday’s placement on the agenda, Thomas told colleagues, “I’ll be making as strong a recommendation as I can on how to handle these Bay Act exceptions. I think you need to really look at the condition of the bay!”
Retired educator Thomas additionally advised the Commissioners that he expected to share some of the wisdom he had learned from John Locke, Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry.
When told that Supervisor Hynson had not yet selected Thomas’s successor and that the veteran might be needed to serve as far into the future as the Commission’s January 5 regular meeting, the veteran was unrelenting.
“Next Monday will be my last one,” Thomas stated for a final time.

Betsy Ficklin

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