Avoiding the Crowd: Immigrants and Zoning in Culpeper, VA

Culpeper, VA has become the latest community in the greater D.C. Metro area to amend its zoning laws in order to flush out Latino residents who may be undocumented. According to the Washington Post, Culpeper’s town council has voted to hire a full-time enforcement officer to inspect local homes and ensure that no more than five non-related persons are living in any one house.

Culpeper, like many other rural communities beyond the outer ring suburbs, has experienced significant growth in recent years. Today’s population of some 14,000 is an increase from 10,000 in 2000; the town’s total Latino population is estimated at 1,000 to 1,500.

It is not surprising that Culpeper is experiencing real growing pains. Much of the growth there can be attributed to suburban expansion as Washingtonians, ever seeking more affordable places to live, continue to move away from the city and inner ring suburbs. Town Councilman F. Steve Jenkins explained why Latinos are being singled out as the cause of the growth problem, saying, “ the demographics have changed the complexion of Culpeper, and I haven’t been pleased with that.”

That just about says it all.

Like many of Culpeper’s residents, I hate to see rural towns engulfed in suburban expansion, but I find his position disingenuous. Culpeper’s Mayor Rimeikis also noted that “[f]or the people who have lived here all their lives, the growth itself is very frustrating,” he said. “We have a lot more traffic than we did before. There is overcrowding in the schools and just more people all over the place, and a lot of negative aspects that people notice with that growth.”

The problems that Jenkins and Rimeikis attribute to Latinos is clearly misdirected. What about the 3,000 (presumably Anglo) residents who have moved into town? Do they not drive cars and send their kids to Culpeper schools? Do they not also strain local infrastructure?

If Culpeper’s residents want to “save” their community, they would be better served addressing the problem of sprawl in Culpeper County. Suburban development, not Latino settlement, is the culprit here. They should also be mindful of the fact that development also CREATES a need for immigrant labor (someone has to care for lawns and clean those McMansions while their owners are commuting 2-3 hours each day).

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