Comments on Albemarle County’s Rural Areas Rewrite of the Comprehensive Plan

October 30, 2012

Sunset at Pippen Hill Vineyards - North GardenThe Free Enterprise Forum appreciates the efforts of Albemarle County staff in the rewrite of the rural areas chapter but there is a consistent tension in the document between rural area residential uses and rural area agricultural uses.   On page twelve, the chapter identifies the 1994 recommendations of farm operator that state “County Policies that support farmers regarding nuisance conflicts generated by residential uses in the Rural Areas” later on that same page it discusses ancillary “non-agricultural” to use the comp plan term “can have physical and nuisance impacts on surrounding rural land.”  I am confused which is the nuisance the agricultural use or the residential use.

The Free Enterprise Forum requests that landowner rights be included in those items the plan seeks to protect on Page 7.  It is important to recognize the rural areas are in their current state not because of government action but because of landowner stewardship.  We suggest the words inserting after protect “land owner rights and” the key elements that give the area its character.

The chart for residential uses on page 2 in the rural area is accurate, but misleading.  The rural area units do not compete with the condos and apartments.  A more accurate chart would compare Single Family Detached housing in the rural area vs Single Family Detached in the development area.

Under Conservation easements the Comp Plan notes 18.6 percent of the county is now under conservation easement.  What is the goal? 

If ¼ of the County’s land mass was tied up in perpetuity would that be enough? 

Is Albemarle County spending on such easements a proper metric for success? 

The chapter cites 70 farms in Albemarle County that sell local products to local consumers (Page 4).  I anticipate this number was taken from the Piedmont Environmental Council’s  Eat Local Campaign (Which is a great program).  Later in the document (and on the county’s website) the plan cites 26 wineries (there are 2 that I know of not yet listed) I believe this metric needs to be checked as only 7 Albemarle wineries are included in PEC’s list.  I suggest coordinating with Albemarle County Farm Bureau on this issue.

 We have spoken to staff regarding the objectives on Page 19 as being too broad.  Any new use, beyond a hayfield, would generate more demand on police and fire, will change the character of the area, and based on our understanding of the fractured aquifers and Virginia water law the concept of drawing groundwater from others should be removed.

Considering the fastest growing form of agriculture is farm wineries, we were surprised to see the assertion on page 20 “This situation is complicated by the tendency of winery events (which often include weddings and other gatherings to use their rural surroundings as an attraction without significantly supporting or promoting agricultural production”.  Nothing could be further from reality, as countless winegrowers have testified weddings and events generate new customers, sales and provide economic support for the agricultural uses.   These types of events were deemed as “usual and customary” by the General Assembly in HB 463. We ask this offending language be removed.

 We ask for a minor modification on Page 21 where the comp plan states Additional measures are needed to resolve issues, such as requiring a sound management plan.  We suggest changing to read “Additional measures need to be evaluated …”

 On Page 23, we ask you to drop 3b — the limitation of one or two special use permit events is too limiting.  Each special use permit should be considered on its own merit and conditions.

 We ask you reconsider the groundwater language in strategy 4b

 In Objective 5 we don’t understand why you are expanding some recreational activities while limiting others.  As the County is 95% rural areas we wonder why you would preclude a swim or tennis club in the rural areas to serve those residents as a special use permit.

Again we appreciate staff’s work on this document and hope you bring forward a comprehensive plan chapter that respects landowner rights and preserves rural enterprise economic sustainability.

Respectfully Submitted

Neil Williamson, President


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.

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