At their meeting on November 20, 2007, the

Albemarle County Planning Commission

held a work session to consider proposals for streamlining the development review process.  A series of six recommendations were presented by staff which, if approved, would empower them to administratively review certain issues currently requiring waivers without bringing the requests before the Planning Commission.  According to the staff report, they had “considered which issues may be taking unnecessary agenda time,” and they focused on the goal of “streamlining the review of minor issues in the Development Areas and consequently allowing the Commission to have more time to focus on policy issues.”

In early 2006, Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) initiated the formation of a County task force to review the County’s development process.  The goal at the time was to eliminate obstacles and inefficiencies leading to developer frustration and to facilitate new development inside the designated growth areas instead of in the rural countryside.  The task force recommendations were received by the Board of Supervisors in May 2007 and there was consensus to have staff move forward with the highest priority recommendations to improve the review process in the areas of private roads, critical slopes, and buffers.

Of the six recommendations brought to the Planning Commission, three were proposed by staff and three by the task force.  All apply primarily to development in the designated growth areas.

Administrative waivers under review include the following:

In their presentation, staff took the matter of private road waivers
off the table since it is not an issue generating recurring waiver
requests.  That left five recommendations for consideration by the
commission.

An increase in staff authority to approve waivers means these matters would not be discussed at a public hearing before the Planning Commission.  To address a concern raised by the Board of Supervisors related to this diminished opportunity for public input, staff recommended that adjacent property owners continue to be mailed a written notice that a waiver request for one of these issues was under review.  The public would have an opportunity to provide feedback to staff in advance of their decision, but not in public before the Planning Commission.

Critical slope waivers were the focus of the majority of
the discussion. Albemarle’s zoning ordinance requires Planning Commission approval to disturb critical slopes in the County’s designated growth areas.  Staff recommended codifying the existing practice of allowing man made critical slopes to be disturbed when requested by a developer.  However, they sought additional feedback from the Commission as to how to approach all other critical slope disturbances.


Three critical slope options were suggested

:

A) Remove the prohibition on critical slope disturbances altogether in the growth areas and rely on measures detailed in the water protection ordinance.

B) Allow disturbance of critical slopes within a specified area limit (e.g. not to exceed 10,000 sq.ft.).  Disturbances above that limit would require Commission review.

C)  Develop very specific criteria in new regulations which would be used by staff assessing critical slope disturbance requests and mitigation measures.

In the discussion, Commissioners expressed reservations about the approaches in options A & B and they asked for staff to return with more information about the specific criteria to be used in option C.

Next, staff will prepare a resolution of intent for the commission to consider at an upcoming meeting that puts in motion staff’s work developing new ordinance language for all five of the administrative waiver proposals.  Before ordinance changes receive a public hearing, the commission will hold another work session to review the staff’s final recommendations in a summary form as opposed to in the legal language of a draft ordinance.

Next month the Planning Commission is also expected to receive staff recommendations on improving the submission process for rezoning requests that would set limits on the number of deferrals a developer could receive for each of their projects.  Staff believes the development review process can be improved with clearer guidelines about when a project will be scheduled for a public hearing and when a deferral will be an option.  Today, developers can repeatedly seek a deferral, and avoid having their plan rejected, in an effort to refine their plan after receiving staff, public and Commission feedback. Staff would prefer to use work sessions and a more flexible public hearing schedule to make efficient use of staff resources and to ensure only complete plans which address matters brought up by staff or in a work session reach a public hearing for action.

Brian Wheeler

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Charlottesville Tomorrow

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