It is a truth universally acknowledged that the real estate tax maps in the county clerk’s office are not laser-like in their precision and accuracy (realtors complain about it all the time), and yet . . .
And yet these very same tax maps form the basis for much official and unofficial business — in actions, transactions and rulings involving both individuals and the county government.
Take, for example, the granting of special-use permits. Notices of a public hearing on the applicant’s requested permit are sent, at minimum, to all adjacent landowners — and often other nearby landowners likely to be affected by the possible change in land use. To identify these affected landowners, the tax maps are used. (Legal notices are also published in this newspaper, the Rappahannock News.)
But if affected landowners don’t happen to see the newspaper’s legal notice or receive individually mailed notices, then their voices are not heard at the public hearing at which their fate is determined.
Full disclosure: I speak from personal experience because I now have a noisy neighbor whose special-use permit was granted unbeknownst to me. Other neighbors and I (actually an adjacent landowner) never received notices because the tax map showed the applicant’s property at least a half mile from where it really is!
But I am not using the unique privilege of this newspaper’s public platform to seek any kind of reverse ruling or redress; I understand that all parties, acting in good faith, made decisions that now cannot reasonably be undone. Rather, I’m simply raising the question:
There’s got to be a better way?
Some other jurisdictions, for example, put the onus on the applicant to prove — through certified letters — that adjacent landowners have all been notified of the required public hearing.
Or maybe it’s finally time to replace the county’s quaint, hand-drawn tax maps (reminiscent of pre-Gutenberg manuscripts) with some digital system from our computerized age. After all, Rappahannock County’s economy, not to mention whole way of life, is based on real estate and land use.