In early April 2008, thirty years after the initial rezoning took place, the Albemarle County Planning Commission reluctantly approved a preliminary plat for the first phase of the Clifton Lake development. Since all parts of the County ordinance were satisfied and stale zoning and off-site concerns about traffic safety could not be used as justification for denial, the Commission felt they had no other choice.
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In order to avoid similar situations in the future, on April 22, 2008 the Commission passed a resolution of intent to consider changes to the Planned District (PD) regulations that would require older plans to comply with current regulations rather than those that existed at the time of the rezoning approvals. A July 29, 2008 staff work session was held and then on September 30, 2008 a public roundtable discussion took place so stakeholders could discuss the proposed changes. After the public roundtable, several outstanding issues remained including vesting, signage, architectural requirements and parking.
At their meeting on December 9, 2008 the Planning Commission reviewed staff’s revised recommendations and took further public comment. The revised regulations would require any Planned Development rezoning approved on or before December 10, 1980 (date of the ‘Great Rezoning’ of Albemarle County) to meet current zoning requirements unless a property owner can demonstrate they have vested their zoning rights. Vesting would, in theory, be accomplished with diligent pursuit by the property owner to complete the development approved in the rezoning.
If developers can establish vesting has occurred, they could decide if they will abide by the zoning regulations at the time of rezoning or with current regulations. PDs approved after December 10, 1980, may abide by zoning regulations in place at the time of rezoning, however, requirements for entrance corridors, outdoor lighting, signage, parking and landscaping must meet current zoning regulations unless the developer can show vesting has occurred.
Next, the outstanding issues that remained after the roundtable discussion were addressed. Staff suggested that since the development community felt that the size of signs in Neighborhood Model Developments was too limiting, the issue should be brought separately to the Planning Commission by the Zoning Department.
Staff suggested removing specific architectural style standards from a project’s code of development and instead suggested the regulations should only emphasize several important aspects of the County’s Neighborhood Model which identifies human-scale and pedestrian-oriented development as key goals. Albemarle County Senior Planner Elaine Echols recommended the County should consider features that create pedestrian friendly environments such as form, massing and façade treatments of buildings.
Echols explained that the planning staff does not have the architectural resources to conduct stylistic design review and that should be handled by the architectural review board for projects in the entrance corridors. “Our job is to deal with those elements that make it a pedestrian friendly community,” said Echols.
Staff asked that parking for planned developments should be allowed to be determined at the site plan stage. This change would give the Zoning Administrator ability to reduce parking requirements with greater certainty regarding tenants and opportunity for shared parking. Planning Director for Albemarle County, Wayne Cilimberg said, “We think it is legitimate to delay those parking studies.”
Planning Commissioner Tom Loach (White Hall) asked if architectural requirements were being removed solely because of lack of departmental expertise and questioned how community input would be integrated if design guidelines were removed from a new development’s code of development. Cilimberg responded that while they need to translate what is in the Master Plan to the way building is carried out, it is not the place of zoning to enforce the desires of the community.
Planning Commissioner Jon Cannon (Rio) told staff that he appreciated the removal of architectural style standards from codes of development. “There’s a point at which the community has interests in everything that goes up but those interests have to be balanced against the interest of folks that are putting stuff up and the interests of folks that are potentially customers or occupants of those things,” he said.
Planning Commissioner Linda Porterfield (Scottsville) expressed interest in maintaining consistent styles and concepts to meet neighborhood demands. Planning staff was careful to emphasize that they do not want to remove opportunities for diversity that comply with the goals of pedestrian scale development within the context of what has come before. Echols emphasized that guidance regarding style of development should be laid out in the Master Plan as opposed to zoning regulations or codes of development.
The meeting was well attended by representatives of the development community.
Developer Don Franco of KG Associates commended planning staff for the proposed changes. “Having the ability to commit to massing but not particular design elements will be a help to us,” said Franco.
Franco explained that after master planning, if design elements were to change, the developer would have to find a balance between meeting the preferences of the community and fulfilling their own requirements. He emphasized that in entrance corridors and on the perimeters of PDs the developer could remain consistent to the Master Plan to satisfy the surrounding community while meeting the needs of the purchasers of the homes.
Developer Cliff Fox pointed out to the commission that there are a lot of other components of land development that impact pedestrian orientation, like street design or tree canopy.
Attorney Valerie Long, who represents a number of large planned developments, expressed concerns about having to prove vesting. She explained that vesting code in VA law leaves a lot to subjective analysis and there are few precedents on which to base these decisions. Furthermore, she says, application plans are very detailed and specific, basically almost complete site plans, so if a project is found to be not yet vested, developers could stand to lose a lot of money resubmitting revised plans.
Planning Commissioner Bill Edgerton (Jack Jouett) suggested that perhaps developers would prefer no zoning and as much freedom as possible, similar to what he believes takes place in Houston, TX. However, Franco said, “We’re protected by the zoning around us. I personally support zoning because I think it helps us.” He said that some local developers appreciate the guidelines set forth by the Planning Commission.
The Commission agreed to postpone the decision on signage and approve the staff’s recommendations for parameters of vesting and the cutoff date for abiding by current zoning requirements. The Commission reached consensus to remove architectural style from codes of development but maintain requirements regarding massing, scale and façade treatments. The Commission also agreed to staff recommendations to allow the parking study for a PD to occur with rezoning or at the site plan level. Staff will prepare a final set of regulations for a future public hearing before final approval before both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.
TIMELINE FOR PODCAST
01:30 Elaine Echols presents staff report for ZTA 08-02
03:00 Echols discusses Signage, Planned Developments and Vesting, Architectural Requirements, Parking Standards
09:00 Echols reviews summary slide of Form, Massing and façade requirements
Echols explains they would like for developers to deal with design through their own architectural review boards. Echols discusses including parking study at the site plan rather than the rezoning stage
17:00 Loach asks if they you want to do away with the code of development because staff has no architectural review expertise and why the master plan wouldn’t provide adequate architectural guidelines. 18:30 Cilimberg says they are trying to achieve a level of review to reflect the desires of the community
19:30 Edgerton clarifies that the zoning ordinance is a law while master plan is a guide.
21:45 Porterfield asks how can neighborhood concepts and styles be included.
23:30 Echols reminds commission that staff recommends architectural styles be consistent in infill developments.
24 :45 Porterfield wants community concept to be maintained
26:00 Echols describes Downtown Mall as an example of pedestrian scale development
27:30 Loach explains the paradox being faced by the Crozet library, where they are not mandating a style, but want it to reflect design elements of the community.
28:15 Cilimberg explains that design should really be designated by developer.
29:30 Cannon warns that community interests have to balanced against stakeholders
31:30 Loach expresses concern that neighborhood desires be met
32:30 Echols says that Master Planning provides guidance for codes of development.
33:30 Don Franco says, “Having the ability to commit to massing but not particular design elements will be a help to us”
35:45 Porterfield asks if developer decided to change styles, would they go back to community for consultation.
39:00 Franco explains that if the perimeter design were to change he would go back
41:15 Cliff Fox says that pedestrian orientation not only based on massing and design.
43:00 Valerie Long raises issues of developers
47:15 Porterfield asks how much of a burden this would really be on developers
51:15 Strucko asks if it is a risk in timing for a developer delay when plans are approved because community preferences may change
55:30 Strucko asks if a standard that impacts public safety would be considered
56:15 Kamptner says in issues of public safety, they recognize rights will vest
58:00 Edgerton recognizes that staff has identified a good timeline
1:00:00 Edgerton says that he doesn’t want to specify an architectural style
1:01:30 Porterfield asks about phasing.
1:02:00 Kamptner responds that the action that determines vesting is the rezoning.
1:03:00 Neil Williamson mentions concerns about signage and vesting and critiques Edgerton’s statement that developers dislike zoning.
1:05:30 Don Franco comments on zoning, signs, parking and entrance corridors
1:08:30 Kamptner responds to questions by Neil Williamson.
1:14:00 Echols asks which issues the commission had reached consensus for.
1:15:30 Strucko says that he thinks exceptions identified plus public safety matters should be included.
1:16:30 Echols says that landscaping is included because not too onerous to address.
1:18:30 Loach would like some more specificity regarding architectural restrictions.
1:19:15 Edgerton says he likes staff recommendation and focus on massing and scale.
1:20:00 Porterfield wants consideration of inclusion of “community’s design concepts.”
1:20:15 Cilimberg explains that Master Plans have not defined architectural styles.
1:20:45 Cilimberg says they are removing the specification of a style in the code of development.
1:27:00 Cannon says he likes the way it is framed, would avoid homogeneity.
1:28:30 Porterfield says she is trying to get direction in Village of Rivanna Master Plan.