Council denies townhomes development, allows for bow-hunting of deer

Three deer in a field with a barn
The council amended an ordinance to allow people to hunt deer in the city limits using bows during archery season. (File photo by Bridget Manley)

The Harrisonburg City Council turned down a rezoning request to construct several dozen townhomes off Port Republic Road in a rare 3-2 vote. 

The council also amended an ordinance to grant some leniency to bow hunters who plan to hunt deer and other game within the city limits during archery seasons.

Rezoning request fails

The three dissenting votes came from Mayor Deanna Reed and council members Chris Jones and Monica Robinson. Reed said that while Harrisonburg needs more housing to address an ongoing shortage, the pipeline of housing developments the city council has approved over the past few years is backing up.

“We know that we have approved so much, but what exactly is that and what do we have waiting for us?” Reed asked during the meeting. “Where do we get to a point where too much is too much?”

The housing project, called Weston Park, would have developed four parcels of land spanning nearly twenty acres, with a plan to build a maximum of 128 units. The city planning staff recommended that council deny the request because the project wouldn’t conform with the Low Density Mixed Residential designation in the city’s comprehensive plan, in addition to the fact that city council has approved 584 townhome units in Harrisonburg since 2021.

The staff made the same recommendation to Harrisonburg’s Planning Commission, which ultimately recommended approving the zoning request by a 4-2 vote. Vice Mayor Laura Dent was one of the four members of the planning commission — and one of the two city council members — who voted in favor of the project. She said it would be a good use of space that meets a gap in the city’s housing needs.

Robinson said she and her fellow council members are in a difficult position between approving appropriate developments and meeting Harrisonburg’s housing needs – asking if they may need to step back and consider the needs of the city.

“I feel like we’ve been going since I’ve been on council,” Robinson said. “I came in thinking: ‘housing, housing, housing!’ So whenever there was a development, I very much wanted to try to make sure that I had my eyes and ears open, but then I’m also very concerned about elitist type neighborhoods that still seem to be popping up.”

Bow-hunting in the Friendly City

While there will still be some rules in place, archery hunting in Harrisonburg will be allowed in the city limits during designated archery seasons, and on city-owned property with permission from the city manager. Archery season usually falls in October through mid-November, and late archery season usually covers December to early January. 

City attorney Chris Brown said the idea to change the ordinance started with a request from Public Works employees to hunt deer that were invading the department’s grounds. That request prompted Brown to look into the city’s ordinance, which wouldn’t have allowed the city’s employees to hunt the deer.

While the proposed amendments would have the added benefit of controlling the deer population in Harrisonburg, Brown told city council that a conversation with a local state conservation officer prompted another piece of the amendment.

“He told us: ‘look, if you want to limit hunting in the City of Harrisonburg to archery, you can do that, but you can’t limit the animals you can hunt with archery,’” Brown said. “That’s the state’s prerogative.”

To comply with state regulations, elk and bear – in addition to various nuisance animals – are declared fair game within the city limits per the amended ordinance.

Council members voted unanimously to pass the resolution. While archery hunters will get to enjoy fewer restrictions on hunting in Harrisonburg, hunting with a firearm is still prohibited within the city limits.

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