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A River Runs to It
Changes to critical slope rules questioned by Albemarle Supervisors
Map depicting critical slopes on Pantop as defined under ordinance changes
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This map depicts critical slopes on Pantop as defined under the proposed ordinance changes
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by Sean Tubbs | Wednesday, November 07, 2012 at 10:50 p.m.

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors wants more information on the cost-effectiveness of a revision to the county’s critical slopes ordinance before committing staff time to further research. 

“I want to make sure we’re not spending a dollar to save a dime,” said Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker
 
Currently, developers must get a waiver to build on hillsides that have a grade of 25 percent or higher. Supervisors decided in 2009 to adjust the critical slopes ordinance to make the process less subjective. 
 
“We believe this will provide a predictable outcome for both the development community and for the residents,” said Bill Fritz, the county's chief of current planning. “This would eliminate waivers. What we’re proposing is that we do all the work on waivers up-front.”
 
Under the proposed rules, two classifications of slopes would be created through a new zoning overlay district that would apply in the county’s growth area
 
Development would be prohibited in “preserved” slopes, but disturbance of “managed” slopes could occur as long as the developer met certain performance standards. 
 
Examples of “preserved” slopes could include those close to water, those considered significant to entrance corridors, and those identified as open space.
 
Examples of “managed” slopes could include man-made slopes, previously disturbed slopes, and those within single-family residential lots. 
 
“Managed slopes could be disturbed by-right,” Fritz said. “You wouldn’t need to do anything other than your normal building permit, site plan and subdivision process. What we’re proposing is that there would be applicable performance standards.”
 
Certain activities could be exempt, such as construction of roads and utilities. A landowner could also go to the Board of Zoning Appeals for a variance to allow development on a preserved slope. 
 
Staff had asked for permission to go forward with development of the performance standards and to create the overlay district. Rooker said he was concerned that further study might not be worth the effort.
 
“[I want] to better understand whose time this will save on the back end,” Rooker said. “If you have to go in and do work on 2,000 parcels because over the next five years you may have applications on 75 of those, I’m not sure you’ve saved any time or money or effort for anybody.” 
 
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said she was concerned there were too many potential exceptions. 
 
“If somebody wants to put a garage or a shed way down at the bottom of a hill, they’re going to have to create a road to get there and it seems like we’re setting ourselves up for a terrible trap,” Mallek said. 
 
County Executive Thomas Foley said staff would perform a cost-benefit analysis and return before the board next month.
 
“The board just wanted to take a step back,” Foley said. “There’s a question about whether all of the process and work that’s involved to make these changes is really going to have the benefit we hope for.” 
 
One member of the environmental community supported the decision to wait. 
 
“The general approach seems reasonable for the Development Areas, but I agree with the concerns Supervisors expressed about the number and reach of the possible exemptions,” said Morgan Butler, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center
 
However, Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum said he was disappointed in the decision. 
 
“The idea of making development easier in the development area seemed to fall on deaf ears at the Board of Supervisors this afternoon,” Williamson said in an email. “Rather than endorsing or amending the public engagement plan staff brought forward, Mr. Rooker chose to delay progress on this issue.” 
 
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