Credit: Vineyards by Glenna Barlow on Flickr

The Albemarle Planning Commission turned its attention Tuesday to the sections of the Comprehensive Plan that deal with the county’s rural areas and future housing needs.

Commissioners are hoping to wrap up months of discussion fairly soon so the Board of Supervisors can begin its review.
“We have gone through each one of the plan’s nine chapters, but every time we come back together there are new questions that are raised,” said Cal Morris, the commission’s chairman. “I do feel we have to come to closure, and I hope that can happen by the end of this month.”
Since the Comprehensive Plan was last updated in 2008, the Board of Supervisors adopted an economic vitality plan that encourages business development.
As part of that initiative, county staff were directed to streamline policies to allow more activities in the rural area. That includes additional events such as weddings at farms and farm wineries.
“Farm wineries, licensed by the commonwealth to produce fermented beverages from their [grapes], are a growing part of the local agricultural economy and can enable landowners to eventually recoup the large initial investment,” reads the draft plan.
Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center pointed out that marketing materials from the Virginia Wine Board celebrate the Piedmont’s natural beauty, but that too much development could be self-defeating.
“The economic vitality action plan points out that economic development should not compromise environmental safeguards,” Butler said. “So many of the county’s strengths flow from our natural surroundings. We have to be very cautious about opening up our areas to rural development.”
Planning staff also have addressed whether more industrial development should be allowed at rural interstate interchanges.
Landowner John Chavan has been seeking to open a storage facility just outside the county’s growth area near the Shadwell exit of Interstate 64 for several years.
He objected to language in the plan that would allow for agricultural uses at interchanges, but not his desired use.
“The word ‘warehousing’ has been dropped from the interstate policy and I would wish it to be added,” Chavan said. 
Language in the draft plan also calls for more opportunities for lodging in the rural area in existing structures. One commissioner wanted there to be checks and balances.
“I am not in favor of by-right lodging in the rural area,” said Commissioner Richard Randolph. “What are the impacts? What are the cumulative effects on the quality of life if we are to do that?”
The commission also revisited the general philosophy of the Comprehensive Plan.
Five percent of the county’s 726 square miles consists of development areas where growth is encouraged and supported. Ecological resources in the rest of the county are protected by policies 
that discourage residential development and business activities.
“While there are over 18,000 dwellings in the rural area at present, preventing the conversion of the rural area to a suburban or urban development pattern has been a fundamental part of the county’s land-use policy for many decades,” reads the section on rural land use.
The report goes on to state that there is the potential for 45,000 lots to be created in the rural areas.
In 2012, the county had 42,151 housing units, with nearly two-thirds of those being single-family homes. The trend is toward more duplexes and multi-family units due to a decision in 1980 to concentrate development in the growth areas.
The commission also decided to keep language in the plan that would encourage further study of a potential program that allows for development rights in the rural area to be transferred to growth areas.
Commissioner Tom Loach had questioned whether it should be deleted, given the matter has not been discussed. The idea was put on hiatus after a study group failed to reach consensus on how to proceed. However, the commission decided to leave the language in place in case supervisors ever decide to revisit the issue.