By Julia Glendening & Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Friday, June 5, 2009

In March 2005, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors approved the Rural Areas section of the Comprehensive Plan complete with a set of implementation strategies. At the Board’s meeting on June 3, 2009, David Benish, the County’s Chief of Planning,

presented an update about the progress of the plan

and discussed the results of five priority strategies in detail. In general, the County will fall short of many of its goals due to a lack of funding, including one to place an additional 30,000 acres of land into conservation easement programs by June 30, 2010.


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Rural area of Albemarle County

The top priority called for in the rural area plan was to adopt policies to address the phasing and clustering of development in Albemarle’s rural fields, farms, and forests. In September 2006,

a deadlocked Board of Supervisors failed to enact these ordinances

. Phasing would have required rural lots to be developed in a time-released fashion, whereas clustering would have required more compact development when those lots are developed.

Benish also reminded the Board that the discussion of creating a Mountain Overlay District led to proposals related to protection of critical slopes, an expanded stream buffer ordinance, and extension of waiting periods for family sub-divisions. While the Board also dead-locked on these issues in

October 2007

, amended versions of these strategies were enacted four months later in

February 2008

.

The second priority called for in the rural plan was to protect more parcels of land from development by placing them under conservation easement. The Board adopted a strategic plan goal of protecting an additional 30,000 acres by June 30, 2010.  This goal could be achieved either through the County’s Acquisition of Conservation Easement (ACE) program or through other programs such as the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. Funding for ACE funding initially went up to help the County achieve its goal, but funds were reduced in FY2009 and FY2010 to help the County balance its budget. Benish said a reduced funding will make it difficult to achieve this goal.

The third priority was to create a series of programs to support the rural area including initiatives to support local agriculture. The Board authorized the creation of a staff position, but the County’s hiring freeze has meant the position has never been filled and will not be for the foreseeable future. Benish said support to boost local agriculture will likely rely on community-led initiatives, such as the Piedmont Environmental Council’s Buy Fresh Buy Local program.

The County’s fourth rural protection priority was to establish new guidelines on allowing additional commercial uses in “crossroads communities.” So far, the Board has only adopted one of these provisions – a zoning text amendment to expand the commercial uses allowed in “country stores.” Benish said additional initiatives have been deferred because of a lack of staff resources.

The final priority was to use the County’s fiscal policy to regulate growth by re-examining the County’s land use taxation program. Under this program, landowners who use their property for agricultural purposes, forestry, or open space pay a tax rate that is lower than fair market value. The Board

adopted a land use revalidation program

in October 2008 to make sure that the program is not being abused.

Benish also mentioned several other initiatives that have been implemented in addition to the primary strategies. These categories and their updates include:


After Benish’s presentation, Lee Catlin, Albemarle County’s Community Relations Manager, shared additional details on the Acquisition of Conservation Easement program. At the present, the county has acquired 16,580 acres, meaning that 13,420 acres will be needed to reach the goal.

“Until the economic situation stabilizes and properties regain some of their value, there may be reluctance on people’s parts right now to make a major decision about putting a property in conservation easements,” Catlin said.

Supervisor Sally Thomas (Samuel Miller) commented on how previously people were not able to develop an area because of septic system requirements.  However, the

2009 General Assembly passed legislation that restricts a locality’s ability to prohibit alternative septic systems

. Thomas said this new legislation, coupled with advances in rainwater harvesting, would allow more people to build homes in an areas where traditional wells cannot be drilled.

“That just opens up whole new areas of the county that we haven’t thought were really developable,” Thomas said.

In other feedback, Commissioner Linda Porterfield (Scottsville) said that she believed the interstate interchange development section of the Comprehensive Plan should be looked at in the future for an expansion of the growth area. Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) replied that he would not be interested in opening up the growth area, but he understood the underlying objective.

Benish concluded the presentation by asking the Board of Supervisors for recommendations on future actions that could improve the Rural Areas Plan. The Board suggested that the County focus on a review of uses of land permitted in the rural areas, especially with church and home uses. They also suggested reconsidering the strategy for crossroads communities during the 5 year update of the Rural Areas section of the Comprehensive Plan in 2010. Finally, they pointed out the importance of encouraging conservation easements, as well as monitoring the easements in order to ultimately preserve the rural areas.


TIMELINE FOR PODCAST

00:00 David Benish presents information on Rural Areas Comprehensive Plan

02:25 Thomas asks a question about rate of use of clustering

04:55 Rooker asks question about the contribution from the ACE program

07:53 Mallek asks a question about alternatives

11:10 Slutzky comments on the slowed process

12:25 Thomas asks a question about recent requests from citizens

14:10 Rooker asks question on proposals on farm worker housings

14:20 Lee Catlin update on easement marketing program

22:40 Rooker asks a question about whether tax benefits has been sent out to the public

27:17 Benish outlines recommendations for next steps

28:55 Rooker asks if a uniform set of conditions will be made and about county ordinances for chemicals

37:00 Slutzky introduces discussion about whether the county can hold easements and Open Space classification

57:27 Thomas asks about alternative land use tax program

59:25 Thomas comments on areas of the county that will soon be developable

1:00:00 Porterfield suggests looking at interstate interchange development section

1:06:00 Slutzky introduces discussion on expanding the growth area

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