By Brian Wheeler
Thursday, April 8, 2010
At their meeting Tuesday, the
Albemarle County Planning Commission
agreed to recommend zoning changes that would allow heavy industrial activities to occur on lands currently intended for light industry.
The revised zoning, which still has to be approved by the Board of Supervisors, would allow heavy industry in a greatly expanded area of Albemarle County. Each application would be examined on a case-by-case basis and require a special use permit, something officials can grant or deny on a discretionary basis.
“This is a way to address the shortage of heavy industrial parcels and their poor disbursement around the county,” said Susan Stimart, Albemarle’s Business Development Facilitator. “The Board of Supervisors directed staff to look at how these uses could be allowed by special use permit.”
In January, Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd (Rivanna) received approval for a 2010 “action plan,” a resolution that included a call for increasing county revenue through economic development and an expedited
assessment of the county’s industrial land inventory
“I don’t see a huge number of applications coming in, but it’s an important first step,” said Neil Williamson, executive director of the business advocacy group the Free Enterprise Forum. “I would anticipate significant negative feedback from neighbors, and I am still trying to come up with a [heavy industrial] use that would make its way through the labyrinth of the public hearings required, however…it’s important to recognize that we need to think about the idea of the jobs behind these applications.”
Since 1980, Albemarle has had two separate districts for industrial development. Light industrial districts were intended for industries, offices, and limited commercial uses that would not detract from neighboring properties. Heavy industrial zoning was intended for businesses “which have public nuisance potential and will therefore be subject to intensive review for locational impact on surrounding land uses and environment.”
Stimart presented commissioners with a list of heavy industrial activities that the ordinance change would allow. The uses included brick manufacturing, concrete mixing plants, tire manufacture and recycling, mobile home manufacturing, saw mills, and veterinary hospitals.
According to a
January 2010 industrial inventory
, the county has about 680 acres of occupied industrial land today. In the ‘ready-to-go’ category, the report identified only 44 acres of land available and zoned for heavy industry, as compared to about 200 acres for light industry.
However, the report also found that the overall inventory of vacant industrial land designated in Albemarle’s comprehensive plan was “more than adequate” at over 900 acres. Those parcels typically require a rezoning to make them available to a new business.
“That’s generally a hurdle for the types of businesses looking for industrial land,” said Stimart in an interview. “That’s what has the board looking at whether they would proactively rezone land for industry.”
“My concern is [about] how staff will evaluate this in the future,” said Commissioner Don Franco (Rio). “Past experience would show me that there may be input from the surrounding community and it’s always going to be that there is a negative impact, and without performance standards that are up to date or modernized, I don’t know how you are going to rule positively.”
Staff told the commission that industrial performance standards already in the zoning code would protect neighbors from such issues as noise, dust, glare, air and water pollution.
“We are assessing those regulations to see if they should be modified…to reflect state and current standards and maybe beefed up in other areas,” said Amelia McCulley, the county’s zoning administrator.
Will Crowder lives on Morgantown Road near the Ivy Business Park which has vacant light industrial land. He said in an e-mail message that he supports the County’s efforts to promote business growth, but not at the expense of the public trust.
“Zoning is a contract between the county, business, and the citizens of the Albemarle,” wrote Crowder. “When the county decides to change an allowed use from light industry to heavy industry, it evokes a feeling of violation of that trust.”
“It is a great first step and we are moving forward in a positive manner,” said Franco.
The ordinance was recommended for approval by a vote of 5-0 with commissioners Linda Porterfield and Mac Lafferty absent. The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the zoning changes on June 2, 2010.