On August 7, 2007, the

Albemarle County Planning Commission

held a public hearing on

proposed changes to the County’s rural area zoning ordinances

, most notably on issues pertaining to rural area critical slopes and family sub-division rights.  They will continue their review of the proposals at a work session set for August 21, 2007.

Nearly 14,000 notices were mailed to County property owners who would be impacted by the proposed changes.  Of the over 150 people in attendance at the public hearing, thirty-eight spoke during public comment providing feedback to the Commission.  The draft ordinance changes were initiated by unanimous votes of the Board of Supervisors on May 2, 2007 when they passed two resolutions of intent.

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This 30 minute recording has key excerpts from the meeting which are detailed below


According to the staff report by Joan McDowell, Principal Planner for Albemarle County, one set of changes was “based on a need to direct development away from critical slopes to more suitable terrain” in order to protect conserve critical slopes, watersheds, and flood plains.  Development on critical slopes can lead to soil erosion and sedimentation of reservoirs used in the water supply system.  Current zoning allows property owners to place driveways across critical slopes if they will lead to a suitable housing site.  That exemption would be eliminated with the changes proposed by the Board of Supervisors.

The second set of changes related to the County’s sub-division ordinance and the ability of a property owner to create lots for immediate family members.  Current zoning requires any new lots created to be owned for at least two years by a family member before it can be resold.  The proposed ordinance change would extend that holding period for family lots to fifteen years, the maximum allowed by state law, before a lot could be transferred to non-family members..  The County says it is responding to concerns that current zoning allows opportunities for “profit-motivated short-term” transfers to non-family members as opposed to supporting the goal of cohesive family sub-divisions.


Duane Zobrist

(White Hall) got the attention of many audience members when he outlined his view that these ordinance changes were a small price to pay to protect Albemarle’s rural countryside.

“The Board of Supervisors could certainly have made a decision that there would be no family-subdivisions in our county.  And I think it is important that we point out that family sub-divisions are the way that the rural areas and sub-divisions have been being subverted for a number of years… I think that if we all agree that if we want to keep the rural parts of our county rural, then we’ve got to have some trade offs, and this is one of them.  We’ve got plenty of room for development in development areas.  People who want to do family sub-divisions can do them all day long under this [ordinance], nothing is stopping them, they just have to say that’s what it is in fact…I don’t think this is much of a price to pay to stop all the dirt roads that have 5 or 6 big houses back in behind them.”

Kurt Gloeckner makes his point about critical slopes with the help of a visual aid

The vast majority of the audience members who spoke, however, raised concerns about how the proposed ordinances would limit their ability to develop or sub-divide their rural property.  A Stony Point resident since 1972, Shirley McNulty described how her plans to sub-divide her twenty rural acres, creating four new lots for her grandchildren, would be prohibited by the ordinance because driveway access would not be allowed to cross a critical slope.  She also told the Commissioners that a fifteen year holding period was excessive and encouraged then to consider increasing the holding period to five years.

Many speakers in the public hearing shared similar concerns about the specific topography of their property and the potential for the ordinance to render portions of their land unusable for new home sites.

Others argued that carefully deciding where new homes can be built is exactly what needs to happen to protect our natural resources and water supply.  Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center encouraged the Planning Commission to recommend approval of the ordinances.  “The County has been struggling to implement meaningful protections for our rural areas and the valuable natural resources contained therein,” said Butler.  Butler reflected on how the county’s rural area proposals have often run head on into concerns about property rights.  However, he stated, “Tonight’s proposal is about a natural resource and not about property rights.  Critical slopes are among the most fragile resources in our County and disturbances to them can pose serious threats to water quality as well as to public safety.”

Neil Williamson, Executive Director of the Free Enterprise Forum, told the Commission that they should consider a process for administrative waivers to the critical slope provisions such that staff could address those matters on a case-by-case basis looking at clear standards.  This process would be instead of having each waiver request heard by the Planning Commission.  Williamson also said he thought the fifteen year holding period for family sub-divisions was “extreme.”

One of the last speakers of the evening, the Piedmont Environmental Council’s Jeff Werner, sought to clarify the path the ordinances had taken to arrive before the Planning Commission.

“I want to reiterate that what we are looking at tonight wasn’t achieved in a vacuum, “ he said.  He described how a number of the speakers had been involved in citizen committees bringing ideas to the Board of Supervisors which has had numerous work sessions on rural area protection strategies during the past year.  About the concerns raised in the public hearing, Werner said:

“There’s always some good questions about how to clarify things and I think the fundamental thing we focused on on the Mountaintop Protection Committee…is this thing has got to be transparent. People need to understand how this will affect them or how this will not affect them.  Its often when people are not sure that we get into the stressful situation that we are in now.”

“I hope everyone realizes why we are here tonight is because in March of 2005, the Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted the Rural Areas section of the comprehensive plan…Then the Board of Supervisors adopted resolutions which are fairly clear in the instructions to you all, and I think that’s really what is before the Planning Commission…The comp plan, the resolutions from the Board, these [ordinance] recommendations… Do these specifics fulfill what the comp plan and what those directions from the Board of Supervisors say?  I don’t think we should be re-debating the comp plan, unless you all think that’s what we should do.  You are responding to something tonight that has come from a very long process…”

After the public hearing, Planning Commissioner

Bill Edgerton

(Jack Jouett) said he was delighted with the sincere feedback from the speakers.  Edgerton urged his colleagues to consider some adjustments based on the evening’s testimony, but more forward with the ordinance changes.

“I think Jeff Werner made a very very good point this evening.  This is not something that just happened last week.  This has been going on for quite a few years.  And the reason this has been going on for quite a few years is because the overwhelming majority of Albemarle County, which is far more people than are sitting in this room, have asked for this protection.  And staff, and the Commission, and the Board have been trying to respond to that request.  So I for one hope we can move ahead with doing something to protect our rural area…”

After listening to the public for almost and hour and a half, the Commission decided the ordinance changes could use some more work and they scheduled a work session for August 21, 2007.  The Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the ordinance changes on September 19, 2007.

Brian Wheeler

A "T" on a purple circle

Charlottesville Tomorrow

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