Debate continues on city slopes ordinance revision

By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Monday, November 1, 2010

The chair of Charlottesville’s

planning commission

wants to leave it up to

City Council

to determine the extent of a revision of the city’s critical slopes ordinance.

“My experience of why this is taking so long is that on a periodic basis, there’s an effort to come up with the right language to forward to council, and when we try to do that, we get a hung jury,” said commission chair

Jason Pearson

at a work session last week.

Listen using player above or download the podcast:

Download 20101026-CPC-Critical-Slopes

Currently any development project that disturbs slopes that exceed a 25% grade must receive a waiver before it can proceed. The planning commission can approve a waiver for a variety of reasons, but many have argued that the criteria are too vague.

“I think that the criteria are very subjective,” said former planning commissioner

Cheri Lewis

. Lewis called for a revision of the ordinance to specify why slopes should be protected. The review has now been underway for a year.

On the other hand, environmental groups such as the

Southern Environmental Law Center

have  pushed for an ordinance that protects more slopes.

“The ordinance was passed in a way that seemed to indicate that people wanted to stop development on slopes of 25% or greater,” said city planner Brian Haluska. “In practice, the ordinance was not doing that. In practice, the ordinance was [just] providing an additional layer of review for [those] developments.”

Download Brian Haluska’s October 24, 2010 memo and draft ordinance

Pearson said he wants city council to make the decision on whether the revision will be broad or narrow because the commission has not reached a consensus.

A critical slopes waiver was granted for the Brookwood subdivision, which was built on a hillside.

“The commission was experiencing intense frustration at being presented with critical slope waiver applications in which the language and the code that we would use for the criteria for a waiver was so ambiguous that each discussion focused more on what does the code mean, and not on ‘should we grant the waiver?’” Pearson said.

The commission has instructed staff to provide options that will give Council choices on how to proceed.

“We’re split, and it may not be something that we as appointed officials should decide,” Pearson said.

One commissioner wants the debate to be informed by real-life examples.

“The proof will be in the pudding,” said Commissioner

Dan Rosensweig

. “It will be really nice for us, whatever we come up with provisionally, to run it through the filter of a few actual applications and see what would we be denying, what would we be approving.”

The discussion will resume at the

commission’s meeting on November 9

. If they manage to reach consensus on a revised ordinance to send to council, a public hearing will be held in December.