Albemarle County is considering a change to its zoning ordinance that would eliminate swim and tennis clubs, golf courses and similar recreational facilities as acceptable land uses for a special-use permit in the county’s rural areas.
“This is sort of a carryover debate from what we had during the Comprehensive Plan review several years ago,” said Ann H. Mallek, who represents the White Hall district on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.
Approximately 95 percent of the county lies in the rural areas, with the other 5 percent specifically designated for growth and development.
Athletic facilities are currently only allowed in the rural areas with a special-use permit, which requires the approval of the Board of Supervisors.
During the last update to the county’s Comprehensive Plan — which is a document that guides future land use — the board discussed the extent to which such facilities should be allowed in the rural areas. The Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2015 ultimately called for a review of zoning regulations “to see whether updates are needed to better reflect rural recreational activities that should be available by special-use permit in the rural area.”
The plan specifically takes note of swim, golf and tennis facilities, which it notes are often located in or close to the development areas.
“Consideration should be given to removing these uses from the list of available special uses in the rural area,” the Comprehensive Plan reads.
In April, supervisors approved a resolution of intent that would allow them to consider removing “swim, golf, tennis or similar athletic facilities” as land uses allowed with a special-use permit in the rural areas. Existing facilities would be grandfathered in and could continue operating.
At their meeting this past Wednesday, supervisors received an update on the process. According to the board materials, county staff members plan to hold an open house to receive public feedback on the potential zoning text amendment by Aug. 31. A work session and a public hearing also would be held with the Planning Commission before supervisors make any final decision on the amendment.
Supervisor Rick Randolph, who represents the Scottsville district, said that the process of considering the amendment is part of finding a balance between economic development opportunities and protecting the character of the rural area.
“It’s just wise for us as stewards of the future of this county to be thinking about the kind of facilities that are going to be operating in the rural area and try to mitigate as much as possible the negative effects, impacts [and] consequences of facilities that could come in and pose a clear danger to the customary usage and practices of people living in the rural area,” Randolph said. “It’s all in an effort to provide a balance.”
He noted the changing environment of the rural area over the years, which has seen the development of numerous farm wineries and breweries. The board approved new regulations for farm wineries, breweries and distilleries earlier this year.
Neil Williamson, the president and executive director of the Free Enterprise Forum, opposes the proposed amendment and said that the special-use permit process allows the county to address potential negative impacts of recreational facilities.
“A special-use permit allows the county to set conditions to mitigate impacts,” Williamson said. “I have trouble believing that there wouldn’t be any golf, swim or tennis club that could mitigate the impacts of their existence at all.”
“A golf course, specifically, takes a great deal of land,” he added. “If this is enacted as elimination, the only place a golf course could go would be in the development area, and that is completely against good planning principles when they are trying to densify the development area.”
If the Board of Supervisors adopts the zoning text amendment, it could prevent the future development of the Trump National Golf Club in Albemarle. Eric Trump, a son of President Donald Trump, has previously proposed building the golf course on the former estate of Patricia Kluge. The course would be located near the existing Trump Winery.
The proposed course also would have required a special-use permit.
The plans were submitted in 2013, but the proposal is currently listed as withdrawn in county records.
In a 2015 article in Washingtonian magazine, however, Eric Trump was quoted as saying, “at the right time, I think [a golf course] would be a great complement to that property.”