Critics call the decision bad precedent

The Whittington subdivision was just outside the jurisdictional area of the Albemarle County Service Authority until the request was granted

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday to allow a proposed 96-home development in the rural area to connect to the public sewer system. This is the first time such a request has been granted.

“We live in changing times, and for us to say that we’re always going to do what we’ve done in the past, I think, is a path not to go down for us,” said Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd before a unanimous vote to approve the request to extend the Albemarle County Service Authority’s jurisdiction area.

The 186-acre Whittington subdivision would be located to the southwest of Charlottesville’s Fry’s Spring neighborhood and just outside the county’s development area. The property was zoned for residential use in 1977, three years before the county adopted limits on residential development in the rural area.

With its original rezoning, the Albemarle County Service Authority authorized public water but not sewer service for the property.

County staff had recommended against granting the request in part because the county’s Comprehensive Plan restricts public utilities to the development areas.

“Provision of utilities to the rural areas can be a catalyst for growth in the future and can allow for certain properties additional development beyond what can be supported by private wells and septic systems,” said David Benish , Albemarle’s chief of planning.

Developer Frank Stoner of Stonehaus said that without the sewer service, he would have to clear about 25 acres to make way for septic fields. He praised the board for being willing to consider his request.

“It’s a sign of leadership on your part that you’re willing to keep an open mind,” Stoner said. “This may be a situation where the growth area boundary might have been drawn incorrectly.”

Stoner has also submitted a request to amend the Comprehensive Plan to move the property into the growth area, something the board also said it would support. He expects construction in the neighborhood to begin next year.

Daniel Bowman, a board member of the group Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population , said granting the exception would be a dangerous precedent.

“There are other rural areas [with] properties near or adjacent to growth area boundaries,” Bowman said. “If you allow this nose to get under the edge of the tent, the developers of those other parcels will certainly argue their camel should follow.”

Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker said he could appreciate Bowman’s concerns but he supported granting the request because it makes environmental sense.

“We’re going to have this development with 96 lots on less than an acre each,” Rooker said. “If they are developed all on septic, there are environmental impacts. … I’m concerned that this development will go in and we’ll have failed septic systems.”

If that happens, the Albemarle County Service Authority could be pressured to expand service at the cost of future homeowners. As it is, Stoner will pay.

Supervisor Duane Snow said he supported the request.

“I have been by the property, and it’s full of hardwoods,” Snow said. “The thought of seeing 25 acres clear cut to make way for something that’s going to happen anyhow … I think we should preserve it.”