By Sean Tubbs
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Charlottesville Planning Commission
spent three hours last week further refining a revision of the city’s critical slopes ordinance. Members of the environmental community have sought key amendments to the law in order to protect sites on which development would harm area water quality.
“We want to promote compact development and density in the city because of the environmental and social goals that kind of development offers,” said Morgan Butler of the
Southern Environmental Law Center
during the commission’s work session last week. “But at the same time we also want to preserve the environment and the environmental features that define Charlottesville.”
Commissioners went line by line through the language of the proposed ordinance reviewing its proposed scope and impacts. Commission Chair
asked each commissioner to vote up or down on each aspect of the ordinance. After the balloting, the commission spent another hour modifying the ordinance’s language.
Pearson said the long period of review was essentially to getting the public policy correct.
“Because Charlottesville is a city that has developed over a period of time and over time certain sites get left undeveloped because they’re harder to develop. As you get to full build-out, what you’re left with is scraps of land that haven’t yet been developed because they were technically too difficult to develop,” Pearson said.
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A majority of the group appeared to favor a broad interpretation of the ordinance, which would increase the number of slopes that would be protected from development.
“It all but makes most sites undevelopable unless you propose an economically unfeasible plan of development,” said Rosensweig. He was also opposed to the use of the words “natural beauty” and “aesthetics” in the purpose and intent section of the ordinance because they would allow for subjective decisions based on taste.
“I think that’s so incredibly broad that our commission, or future commissions or future city councils could look at that and cherry-pick pretty much anything they want on a site [to justify denying a waiver],” Rosensweig said.
However, commissioner Genevieve Keller said the ordinance revision would not stop new developments, especially if applicants could still apply for a waiver on the grounds that the development serves a public purpose.
“I don’t see that as precluding development, I just see it as… raising the bar on the kind of development that we get,” Keller said.
Butler said the ordinance needed to balance environmental interests with the city’s need for land to grow.
“Where you have a close case in the balancing of the public interest versus the purposes of the ordinance, I think the tie should go to protecting the critical slopes,” Butler said. “There should be a presumption against the granting of modification of waivers.”
The positions of individual commissioners will be incorporated into the ordinance, and further discussion will be held at the commission’s next meeting in December.
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