Planners support proposed changes to aquaculture regulations
The Mathews County Planning Commission expressed support Tuesday night for zoning amendments to define and set guidelines for aquaculture operations in the county.
After a joint public hearing with the Mathews County Board of Supervisors, commission members voted unanimously to recommend approval of the proposed changes to Section 2.2 of the zoning ordinance. No one spoke during the public comment period.
Supervisors are expected to consider the recommendation at 1 p.m. Tuesday.
During discussion of the issue, Planning and Zoning Director John Shaw explained that the proposed regulatory changes were an outgrowth of several years’ worth of efforts, both locally and regionally, to promote aquaculture while at the same time protecting private property rights and minimizing the effects of aquaculture operations on adjacent property owners.
Shaw said that the current definition of aquaculture in the zoning ordinance refers only to “fish farming” on land and doesn’t address water-based shellfish aquaculture. In addition, the only references to aquaculture in the current ordinance permit it as a by-right use in the waterfront business district, as a by-right use with only certain structures allowed in the conservation district, and as a conditional use in the rural district.
There are currently no defined guidelines for aquaculture in the remaining districts. The proposed changes would more broadly define aquaculture to include shellfish and water-based operations, would allow shellfish operations in the waterfront residential district either as a by-right or conditional use, and would change aquaculture from a conditional use to a by-right use in the rural district to bring the local zoning ordinance into compliance with state code.
Three levels of intensity would be allowed in the waterfront residential district. The lowest level of intensity would permit non-commercial shellfish aquaculture, commonly known as oyster gardening.