The City of Charlottesville adopted a stream buffer ordinance in September 2004 as the first step to strengthen the City’s watershed protection measures. Two and a half years later, the City is still weighing what the next steps should be to add additional protections.

At their work session on January 22, 2008, the

Charlottesville Planning Commission

discussed three options for how the City might proceed.  Commissioners Hosea Mitchell and Michael Osteen were not present at this meeting.


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The 2004 ordinance was adopted as part of the effort to reduce pollution and sediment in waters that flow into the Chesapeake Bay.  Any City property that borders the Rivanna River, Moore’s Creek or Meadow Creek is subject to a 100 foot wide buffer in which construction activity is limited.

Kristel Riddelvold, the City’s Environmental Administrator, said there has been much discussion about what could be done to strengthen water protection measures along other streams in the City.

“We’ve got an opportunity to protect habitat along streams that we don’t currently have any protections for,” Riddervold said. During the meeting, she said expanding the ordinance could protect up to almost 20 additional miles of streams that are currently not protected.  A majority of those streams have intact buffers where development has not yet occurred.

“Stream buffers provide a service, but they don’t solve the entire problem of pollutants that run across surfaces into the streams,” she said. Riddervold added that different kinds of buffers can accomplish different goals. That would require changes to the ordinance to allow flexibility.

“Some of the literature points at 25 to 30 feet being a good width if your primary goal is stabilizing stream banks, and it’s largely at 50 feet and beyond up to 200 and 300 feet where some of the other potential benefits, such as holding back some sediment  or dealing with  other pollutants that move through overland flow,” Riddervold said. The larger the buffer, the more properties would be affected.

Staff has presented the Commission with three options to consider. First, the City could simply expand the existing stream buffer ordinance to additional streams, most notably Schenk’s Branch along McIntire Road and the proposed Meadowcreek Parkway. Other funds would be spent to scientifically identify an appropriate buffer for other streams. Assuming a 100 foot buffer, this would affect 1,894 parcels of City land. Authority to impose the buffer would come from the Chesapeake Bay Protection Act (CBPA).

Second, a zoning overlay could be initiated that would impose a 50-foot buffer. The staff report shows this would affect 1,472 parcels of land, and would give city zoning staff the authority to administratively review any proposals to disturb land in those areas. However staff is concerned there are not currently enough employees to perform the necessary review and inspections. Authority to impose the overlay would also come from CBPA.

Third, a voluntary campaign could be initiated to educate the public on the environmental benefits. The City could consider tax incentives to discourage development in the buffer zones.

The Commission will take this matter up later on in the year.  In the meantime, staff will collect additional data on what other communities are doing.

Sean Tubbs

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