Apple Mountain Residents Win Gas Station Battle

On February 10th, the residents of Apple Mountain convinced the Warren County, VA Board of Supervisors to deny approval for the rezoning of agricultural land for a gas station that would have potentially posed a number of threats to area residents.  Apple Mountain Safety and Health Alliance leader Margaret Melberg cited the following as key to their success.  To learn more contact Margaret at melberg.margaret@gmail.com or 703-888-8549.  The February 10th hearing can be viewed at: https://www.warrencountyva.net/bos-meetings-videos.

Social Media

  1. Consider contracting with an organization like the Community Environmental Defense Services to jump start community outreach. CEDS can provide a website with a wealth of relevant information to support the cause in addition to setting up an online survey for obtaining signatures, personal statements, and potential volunteers.
  2. A website enabled us to reach out beyond our HOA to include the entire county, adjoining counties, nearby cities, towns, other HOAs, news outlets, and environmental groups.

Petitions

  1. CEDS experience with setting up online petitions that can withstand scrutiny in a public hearing was instrumental in our success at the public hearing. We categorized the community concerns into 10-12 groups and identified a spokesperson who would speak for 3 minutes on their assigned issue. This avoided repetition which can cause the government representatives to “tune-out”. Each person had a PowerPoint slide to speak from and we practiced ensuring we stayed within the time limit.
  2. Due to COVID-19, attendance was limited to 35 people including the county representatives, applicant, construction company, and residents. Over 147 residents sent in emails and requested that they be read into the record because the number of attendees was so limited, and the selected venue was not large enough to accommodate the hundreds of concerned citizens and community groups.
  3. In addition to the online petition, we staged hard copies at local businesses and collected several hundred additional signatures including a large number of tourists who visit the area frequently for its environmental and historical aesthetic.

Homeowners Association / Planning Commission / Board of Supervisors Meeting Involvement

  1. Attend all meetings (or send a representative) that are open to the public in order to stay up-to-date on any communications with external parties and issues that may affect the community.
  2. Research the bios of the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. Understand their background, their “hot buttons” or if they tend to vote a certain way (consistently) on issues.

Teamwork

  1. Conduct a brainstorming session with the local community to identify all the concerns. Try not to judge individual concerns because what is important to one person may not be as important to another person. The goal is to capture as many reasons as possible for opposing the project.
  2. Form teams around each one of the issues and identify a volunteer to lead each team. We had teams set up for the following issues:
    1. School Bus Stop / Child Safety Impacts
    2. Local Business Team (identify economic impacts to small businesses in the immediate area)
    3. Environmental Team (quantify environmental impacts to air, light, sound pollution, negative impacts to wildlife, flora, and fauna, connect with environmental groups and ask them to write letters on behalf of the community to support our cause
    4. Negative impact to Drinking Water Wells
    5. Health and Safety Team (quantify risks due to Increased crime including but not limited to burglaries, drug traffic, and human trafficking
    6. Traffic Team (quantify negative impact as a result of Increased traffic at the designated intersection, include photos of peak travel times, etc.0
    7. Onsite Communications Team (went door to door to talk to people who did not have access to internet or social media)
    8. External Communications Team (to handle communications with any external party that another team is not comfortable doing such as the County/State Health Department, Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Transportation, County Planning Commission, etc.)
    9. News Media Team (connected with local newspaper, radio stations, TV stations)
    10. First Responder Team (connected with law enforcement, fire department)
    11. School Board Team (to discuss impacts to families with children at the school)
    12. HOA Team (spokesperson to connect with HOA Board of Directors to get questions answered)
    13. Historical Preservation Team (connect with non-profits who are trying to preserve the area as a battlefield study area or native American protected area)
    14. Petition Team (track all signatures, paper and online, to ensure no duplication. Maintain a master spreadsheet)
    15. Neighborhood Team (connect with other HOAs who might be able to share some ideas or lessons learned)
    16. Research Team (volunteers who are good at finding statistics or answers to any questions that the other teams might have)
  3. Identify what skill sets reside within the community. For example:
    1. Permitting Expert (from planning commissions)
    2. Legal expert with public hearing experience
    3. Real Estate Agent for doing records searches.
    4. Teachers for networking with School Boards and Parents Associations
    5. Business Owners
    6. Writers and Desktop Publishing for writing letters and preparing presentations.
    7. Construction Workers who understand the permitting process
    8. Environmentalists who understand environmental laws
    9. Truck Drivers who understand Department of Transportation rules
    10. Current or former Law Enforcement officials who know crime statistics.
    11. Current of former fire fighters/emergency responders who understand risks and possible scenarios that can impact the community.
    12. Fitness Enthusiasts who don’t mind walking door to door to deliver flyers or palm cards.
    13. Philanthropists who want to stay out of the public view but donate money to the cause.
    14. Scientists (Petroleum Engineers, Hydrologists, Chemical Engineers, etc.)

Public Hearing Preparations

Signs were not allowed in a public hearing, so we had an artist who designed a t-shirt that said, “SAVE OUR MOUNTAIN” with the caption “SAY NO TO REZONING”. Everyone who attended the hearing, wore a t-shirt. We made them available in adult and child sizes. We also wore them around town the weeks prior to the hearing. Cost was $11.

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