For nearly 40 years, Albemarle County government has attempted to shape growth and development guided by its Comprehensive Plan. Voters approved the County’s first zoning ordinance in 1969, and the Board of Supervisors adopted the first Comprehensive Plan two years later. Since then, the Comprehensive Plan continues to shape decisions about where development should be located and in what form.
The current Albemarle County Planning Commission got a history lesson at their retreat on December 16, 2008. David Benish, the County’s Chief Planner, traced the evolution of the Comprehensive Plan. Benish said the County’s current growth management policy stems from the adoption of the first plan in 1971. The goals of the policy are:
- Promote the efficient utilization of County resources through a combination of Designated Development Areas and Rural Areas
- Direct growth into Designated Development Areas
- Protect Natural Scenic and Historic Resources
- Discourage rural residential development other than dwellings related to a bona fide agricultural/forestal use
- Strongly support and effectively implement the County’s growth management priorities in the planning and provision of transportation, and public facilities and utilities
In his 30 minute presentation, Benish explained the reasons for the various updates that have been conducted over the years. For instance, the Plan was updated in 1977 in part to address the rapid siltation that was occurring at the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. That was followed in 1980 by the “great rezoning” that further refined the County’s urban zoning districts and downzoned the rural countryside. Though the downzoning of the rural area was challenged in Court, the County eventually prevailed. In 1982, the growth area boundaries were adjusted to follow the water supply watershed, except in Crozet, Ivy and Earlysville.
While various parts of the Comprehensive Plan come up for renewal and revisions on a periodic basis, the County is currently operating under the 1996-2016 Comprehensive Plan, which identified infill development as one of the County’s planning goals. In 1996, according to Benish, a divided Planning Commission recommended a slight expansion of the growth area. However, the Board of Supervisors did not support the expansion and instead directed staff to find ways to encourage more efficient development in the designated growth areas. That request would eventually lead to the adoption of the Neighborhood Model District, which allows for denser residential development.
Daniel Nairn and Sean Tubbs