Proposed Monticello Scenic Protection Area Credit: Credit: Albemarle County staff report

The Albemarle Planning Commission reviewed written goals in several chapters of the county’s draft comprehensive plan at a work session Tuesday.

While a discussion of the county’s rural character was proposed to be put off to a future meeting, the commissioners gave area farms, fields and forests a lot of their attention.

Planner Elaine Echols stressed the community’s longstanding goal of protecting rural areas from new development.

“We’re not trying to subsidize rural development for residential uses,” Echols said.

However, Commissioner Richard Randolph questioned the plan’s use of the word “discourage” with respect to new homes being built outside the designated growth areas.

“Maybe I’m being overly technical, but I think people can read this and misinterpret it,” Randolph said. “It becomes ammunition for the point of view that the heavy hand of government is trying to influence our constitutional rights.”

“It is a nuance, but recent rhetoric makes it okay,” said Commissioner Thomas Loach. “During a joint meeting we had with the city about half of the discussion from the audience revolved around property rights.”

“There’s a little bit of a challenge there,” Echols responded. “We have an awful lot of development rights that exist [by-right] in the rural area, so many that if they were all exercised, the rural areas would not look like the rural areas any longer.”

The commission came to agreement that the phrase “to discourage but not prevent” residential development in the rural areas would be more suitable.

County resident John Chavan suggested that the plan needed a new definition of ‘rural area,’ preferably one that would exclude his property.

“What was rural yesterday may not be rural today,” Chavan said.

In 2008, the Board of Supervisors denied Chavan’s request to rezone his property, which lies just outside of the Pantops growth area, from Rural Areas to Highway Commercial.

Chavan argued that the character of these border areas, particularly along highways like U.S. 250, have changed significantly in recent years.

However, Albemarle’s elected officials have typically frowned upon requests to move what they would like to be a hard edge between growth areas and the countryside, in part because the former comes with an expectation of community infrastructure like road improvements and public water.

Discussing the comprehensive plan’s sustainability goals, staff defined the challenge as having “the capacity for endurance over the long term.”

Specifically, staff recommended retaining the sustainability goals from the current comprehensive plan, which were adopted from the 1998 Sustainability Accords.

“What we’re trying to do is to make sure that future populations have the opportunity to enjoy the things that we have right now,” Echols said.

Thomas Olivier, Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club

Thomas Olivier, chair of the Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club, stressed the importance of thinking about next steps in the movement toward a sustainable community.

“We can’t just think broadly about it,” Olivier said. “One of the steps toward becoming sustainable is that we start identifying and incorporating into the plan indicators or measures that help us identify just how we’re doing.”

With respect to the Historic Preservation chapter, staff suggested a greater emphasis on protecting Monticello’s viewshed. For many years, Monticello has worked with area developers to mitigate the visual impact of new buildings visible from Thomas Jefferson’s home.

“The Thomas Jefferson Foundation has asked us to adopt the guidelines [from their maps] into our comprehensive plan, and we recommend that anyone developing in the Monticello viewshed, use the Monticello guidelines,” Echols said.

While looking at a map depicting a proposed “scenic protection area” expanded to reference vantage points beyond the home itself, some commissioners worried about what might happen if Monticello further expanded its property holdings.

“I think [the definition of Monticello’s viewshed is] getting awful broad,” said Commissioner Ed Smith.

“If the Foundation buys up more land, does their viewshed increase?” Commissioner Mac Lafferty asked.

The Piedmont Environmental Council’s Jeff Werner encouraged the adoption of Monticello’s request.

“All I’ve heard about for the last couple of years is ‘economic development,’ and preserving that viewshed is economic development,” Werner emphasized. “This is an experience that people come here to see.”

Additional chapters of the plan will be presented to the commission in November before a complete document is finalized in December. The Albemarle Board of Supervisors will review the plan early next year.

The public input process will continue with sessions facilitated by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission throughout October. More information is available at