By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

City planning staff have received direction from the

Charlottesville Planning Commission

on how the city’s critical slopes ordinance should be rewritten.

“The direction of the staff over the next month will be to primarily work on the process for a slope review,” Haluska said.


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The various phases of the Brookwood development required critical slopes waivers in order to be constructed.


Currently, any construction activity that will disturb any hillside with a grade of 25% or more must be approved by the Planning Commission in the form of a critical slopes waiver. The ordinance is being rewritten to address complaints by groups such as the

Southern Environmental Law Center

that the existing criteria on which waivers are granted are too vague.

“Staff in the next couple months wants to nail down where the bars are between those various categories,” said city planner Brian Haluska. “We got broad consensus around some sort of category of slopes where a public purpose is the rationale for a waiver.”

Chairman

Jason Pearson

said there are benefits to an undisturbed slope which can be quantified. These include erosion control, groundwater recharge, reduced stormwater velocity, adding to the city’s tree canopy, and providing habitat for wildlife.

“You put all those on one side, and you weigh those, and then we decide as a commission if there is some other public purpose that the applicant brings forward that outweighs all those benefits,” Pearson said. “You’d have to mitigate above and beyond what was already there in order for us to allow that waiver to occur.”

The challenge for staff will be to define the thresholds in such a way that the process is transparent and objective. Another question is what waiver requests would be decided by staff, and what should be decided by the commission.

“Depending on where you set the bar, this ordinance may actually get tighter,” Haluska said. “We may move away from 25% to some other holistic standard to find out what sites meet which,” Haluska said.

Commissioner

Genevieve Keller

, an architectural historian, said she was concerned that staff lacked the expertise to determine the aesthetic or cultural values of certain slopes.

“I’m worried about that component missing,” Keller said. “I’m not sure what we as a commission or a community can do to make sure those values are represented in a staff review.”

The Commission will give further direction to staff during the commission’s work session in August.  They’ve requested further visual aids to help them better understand the critical slopes concept. The rewritten ordinance will come before the Planning Commission for a public hearing as early as October.

At the same meeting, the Commission considered two waiver requests under the existing rules. They voted to approve a request that would allow the Kroger on Hydraulic Road to expand its fuel center.

However, they deferred a request from developer

Richard Spurzem

to allow a 61-home development on Longwood Drive. In that case, the commission said the application was incomplete and did not give them enough information to make a decision.

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