By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

After months of discussion over how to amend Charlottesville’s critical slopes ordinance, the

Planning Commission

decided Tuesday to direct staff to study the issue. Draft language will return before the commission this fall.

“It’s my hope that we’ll end up with a code that is clear and relatively simple and I think that is possible,” commission Chairman

Jason Pearson

said. “One reason we delayed intentionally was to guarantee that we heard from the public on this issue.”

Under the existing ordinance, any hill that slopes at a grade of 25 percent or more is considered to be critical. If a building site plan proposes the disturbance of the hill, a developer must seek a waiver.

Groups such as the

Southern Environmental Law Center

have claimed that the existing waiver criteria are too vague. They also claim the ordinance’s purpose does not include a provision that a slope should be protected for aesthetic reasons.

“Most of the people who speak to me say they are supportive of a broader ordinance with broader purposes that will be more protective of the environment,” said SELC attorney

Kay Slaughter

. Slaughter, a former city mayor, has argued that waivers are almost always granted.

City Planner Brian Haluska explains the critical slopes ordinance to membersof the commission

While the precise language of the ordinance change was not before the commission Tuesday night, city planner Brian Haluska said in an interview said there will likely be a tiered system where site plans that require major disturbances of slopes would require greater scrutiny. Over the next few months, staff will work out specific details.

In June, the SELC and the

Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club

called for a total ban on building on slopes greater than 40 percent. However, at a work session later that month, the commission agreed that property owners should always have the right to ask for waiver.

Even though the ordinance is to be rewritten, the commission was set to consider two requests for critical slopes waivers later in the same meeting.

One would allow a developer to build a 61-home development on Longwood Drive. Staff had recommended denial of that request because none of four categories under which it could be granted had been met.

“We didn’t see that the applicant had made a compelling case,” Haluska said. He said further revision to the site plan could result in a favorable recommendation.

The other would allow the Kroger on Hydraulic Road to expand its on-site gas station. In that case, city planner Nick Rogers recommended the commission adopt the waiver because a retaining wall that would replace the slope contains a unique filtration that would treat stormwater.

“It would protect the hillside, and it addresses the increased potential for erosion, sedimentation and water pollution,” Rogers said.

Commission members had not taken action on these two requests at press time, and they did not provide guidance to staff on how to proceed with writing the ordinance.

In other news at the meeting, the commission recommended the City Council approval a special-use permit that would allow the University of Virginia’s

new children’s hospital

to stand 90 feet tall on

West Main Street


A "T" on a purple circle

Charlottesville Tomorrow

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