Editor: The Leesburg Town Council did not do the residents and businesses of Leesburg any favors by turning a blind eye to zoning ordinances by allowing a bank to operate in a space zoned for office use.
The decision by the Town Council will likely cause increased congestion, parking issues and pedestrian hazards on Harrison Street (across from Tuskies). More concerning to the potential traffic and parking problems created by the Council’s decision, is its willingness to disregard town zoning laws and overstep its bounds.
On Aug. 7, the job of the Town Council was to rule on whether MVB (aka Most Valuable Bank) is or is not a bank. Deciding it is a bank should have made MVB ineligible to operate a branch on Harrison Street because the space is zoned strictly for office use. The developer of the property appealed the zoning administrator’s rejection of the MVB application arguing that the business is not a bank. The appeal was only on the interpretation of the nature of the business.
During the hearing the Town Council conceded that MVB is a bank. Facts such as MVB Bank obtaining a state charter to operate a bank; to accept customer deposits and make withdrawals, and will house an ATM alongside a night deposit box helped to reinforce this decision.
Once establishing that MVB is a bank and would operate at this location as one, the council ruled that the proffers and zoning requirements for 106 Harrison St. were not relevant and granted MVB permission to operate from the location. Therefore, based on an argument about “non-traditional banking” by a developer seeking a personal/business benefit, the Town Council disregarded town zoning law. This decision has now opened the door for others to encourage the Town Council to bypass and override zoning ordinances.
Ignoring town zoning laws and overstepping bounds is a questionable practice regardless. However, watching the hearing via webcast was evident that many members, along with the mayor himself were not knowledgeable about the basic elements of the argument and were not engaged in the discussion. Though it may have been easier for most of the Town Council members to simply ignore town laws and the zoning commission recommendations, the impact of these actions will have negative consequences over the long term.
It is my studied conviction that a pro-business environment is not created by circumventing laws and regulations. Instead, it is achieved by enacting meaningful and well thought-out rules and regulations, reevaluating them when necessary and consistently applying them. When governing bodies override regulations and laws based on a 30-minute argument, an environment of cronyism and favoritism is created. That is what creates an anti-business environment.
Kudos to Katie Hammler and Bruce Gemmil for asking pertinent questions during the hearing and for outing MVB Bank for what it is and what it plans to operate as “a bank branch.” Also, good for them for attempting to uphold town rules and showing respect for the residents, businesses and the zoning commission.
Tony Nerantzis, Leesburg