By. Neil Williamson, President
Even a casual reader of the Free Enterprise Forum blog knows the last six to eight months in Fluvanna County have been eventful. In addition to new Board of Supervisors members and significant staff turnover, Fluvanna’s budget cycle was filled with emotion.
Perhaps it is because of these “other” issues, we have failed to focus in on the sweeping Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) scheduled for public hearing on Wednesday June 20th.
During the year that the ZTA has moved through the Planning Commission, there was little engagement from the development community. At the April meeting of the Planning Commission, not one person spoke at the public hearing (The May minutes are not yet posted).
The majority of the blame for this lack of engagement falls directly on the members of the development community (and the Free Enterprise Forum). However, it is important to note in any ZTA process, County staff strongly encourages the applicant to be proactive in reaching out to impacted parties.
In this case the applicant is Fluvanna County, should the rules be different?
Make no mistake, we find many good things in the proposed ZTA including better definitions, improved flexibility and revised parking requirements.
We are however very concerned with the dramatic change in the stream buffer policy and how this may negatively impact Fluvanna’s economic development objectives.
The USDA Forest Service defines a riparian buffer as follows:
“the aquatic ecosystem and the portions of the adjacent terrestrial ecosystem that directly affect or are affected by the aquatic environment. This includes streams, rivers, lakes, and bays and their adjacent side channels, floodplain, and wetlands. In specific cases, the riparian buffer may also include a portion of the hillslope that directly serves as streamside habitats for wildlife.”
As we read the ZTA, intermittent streams shall be provided a fifty foot wide buffer along both sides; this buffer grows to seventy five feet on both sides of perennial streams and a hundred foot buffer on each side of the Hardware River, James River, and Rivanna River. These stream buffers are not influenced by zoning or comprehensive plan designations.
Consider for example Hunters Branch which is classified by the U.S. Geological Survey as a perennial stream. This stream runs through a number of developed and undeveloped portions of the industrially designated land in Zion Crossroads.
- How much land will become undevelopable when the ZTA mandates a 150 foot swath surrounding the stream?
- Have all impacted landowners been made aware of this potentiality?
- How does this balance with Fluvanna’s economic development objectives for Zion Crossroads?
- Could the same ecological benefit be achieved by another means?
- Could the stream impacts be mitigated differently (and buffers reduced) in the Industrial zoning and large buffers maintained in the Agricultural zones?
We do not believe the community has a firm understanding of the stream buffer issue (or the majority of the ZTA). We ask that Fluvanna’s Board of Supervisors hold their public hearing on June 20th then put off the vote for 90 days and direct staff to proactively reach out to the community. Such a meeting would outline the costs and benefits of the proposed changes. As the BOS would have already held the public hearing, the vote could be held without additional advertisement as a part of their regular October meeting agenda.
Such a delay is not required by law but would go a long way in gaining the buy in from the community and building their trust and understanding of government.
Ninety days seems like a small price to pay for such a rich citizen benefit.
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org
Photo Credit: United States Department of Agricuture