Albemarle’s Natural Resources Chapter Rewrite – More Planners, Less Property Rights

Albemarle County has been rewriting their state mandated Comprehensive Plan for over four years.  The Free Enterprise Forum has been an active participant in these conversations.  With the plan now headed to its final public hearing on June 10, we will provide our chapter by chapter review over the next two weeks culminating with our overall analysis prior to the public hearing. 

Today – Chapter 4 Natural Resources

By. Neil Williamson, President

Perhaps no other chapter in the Comprehensive Plan has seen more changes made by the Board of Supervisors than the Natural Resources Chapter.

Even the Goal of the Natural Resources chapter has been altered.

The Planning Commission recommended:

Albemarle’s streams, rivers, and air will be clean.  Rural Area mountains, woodlands, and wetlands will provide large areas of habitat for diversity of flora and fauna.

The newly revised goal is much more expansive and interventionist in its tone:

Albemarle’s ecosystems and natural resources will be thoughtfully protected and managed in both the Rural and Development Areas to safeguard the quality of life of current and future generations.

If there was any question the direction the Chapter is headed, the BOS rewritten chapter declares

Natural resource protection is the County’s highest priority.


Natural Resource Protection is the Highest Priority? 

Over the safety and protection of your citizens? 

Over the education of the children where you currently dedicate 60% of your budget?

The Free Enterprise Forum believes this is philosophical hyperbole and is not supported by the facts (or four supervisors), we hope such inflammatory and incorrect language will be removed from the plan.

The Planner’s Plan Part I – We find it curious when a major strategy for a plan is to do another plan.  This phenomena occurs in multiple places throughout Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan:

Strategy 1c: Develop and implement a comprehensive water resources plan that sets expectations for public water supply, surface water protection and improvement, and groundwater protection.

Many if these elements will be already completed as a part of the state-mandated TMDL Action Plans, why would Albemarle seek to go significantly further than required?  Perhaps they are seeking to justify/spend a new “rain tax” similar to the City of Charlottesville

Strategy 1e: Secure funding for water resource management programs

Funding for water resource management programs is essential to their success.  At present the County is considering a stormwater utility fee to help pay for the higher level of environmental protection required by the State.

This document is building the case for expanded water resource protections (often at the cost of property rights) beyond the State requirements.  To be opposed to this straw man philosophy suggests you are opposed to clean water.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

The Free Enterprise Forum sees the ever expanding Natural Resources Chapter as symptomatic of the current Board’s direction to control more and more landowner activity.  We believe securing such funding is critical to the expansion of government.

The Planner’s Plan Part II – Strategy 4a calls for an “Action Plan for Biodiversity” which we see as a property owner rights reduction plan.

The action plan can be developed from the inventory and analysis.  The plan should contain the map of important landscape features and individual species occurrences that can be included in the County’s Geographic Information System.  When made widely available, County staff and the public can use the information for conservation purposes as well as reviewing requests for legislative approvals. … From that action plan, the Natural Heritage Committee can develop a list of short term conservation targets.

Where are the property owners’ rights in the unelected Natural Heritage Committee’s hit list? 

The curious reader might be asking how will this work be accomplished?  Not to worry, the plan calls for an expansion of government into conservation biology:

Strategy 4d: Asses the need for hiring a County staff member with expertise in conservation biology, and/or training existing County staff in the principles of conservation biology to assist in the development of the action plan and coordination with other County actions.

Mountain Protection – Almost a decade ago, Albemarle County went through a very emotional and divisive process regarding a propose Mountain Protection Ordinance. Rather than letting this be settled, the Comprehensive Plan revives this property rights trampling zombie of an idea.

One of the complaints about the direction of the county at that time was the lack of respect for private property owners, whose stewardship created the beautiful mountain vistas.  This lack of recognition is clear in the preamble of Objective 5: Retain Mountain Resources

Albemarle County’s mountains are the source of important natural functions, such as providing clean water, contributions of healthy air, and habitats for many of the County’s plant and animal species.  The mountains are also the source of many agricultural and forest products and add to the County’s appeal to tourists.  To many residents, the mountains give the County its “sense of place in the State and country.”

Nowhere in the above statement does it speak to the private ownership of the lands being discussed.  It only gleamingly mentions the agricultural and forest uses of the land that have kept the land economically sustainable for generations.

Further evidence of Albemarle’s anti-property rights campaign can be found buried on page 4.37 of the Natural Resources Chapter.  This concept that could significantly reduce the development potential of the majority of the parcels in the county. Interestingly it is not its own strategy or objective just a third paragraph under strategy 7a.

The second step is to prevent building in these areas.  County regulations already require that buildings be located away from streams and rivers.  Expanding those requirements to areas near intermittent streams and the mouths of mountain streams can help prevent debris flow impacts.

To understand the impact of this concept one must understand that an intermittent stream can be defined as A stream that flows seasonally when the water table is high, such as during and after periods of heavy or steady rain.  This means the swale that runs behind my house is an intermittent stream. 

The Natural Resources Chapter as rewritten by the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors is much more a planner employment act that seeks to limit private property property rights than it is about ecosystems development and preservation.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President



20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website



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