Albemarle’s Development Area Shrinkage

Adapted from comments made to the Albemarle County Planning Commission June 21, 2015

By. Neil Williamson, President

lily Tomlin

Lily Tomlin as Incredible Shrinking Woman

Good Evening, I am Neil Williamson and I serve as President of the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization focused on local government.

A review of Albemarle County’s Development Area designation and implementation reminds me a great deal of Lily Tomlin’s 1981 masterpiece, The Incredible Shrinking Woman.

According to the online records, Albemarle County’s development area was first ordained in 1971.   The map below suggests the land mass that was then considered the development areas. In that initial map 37,000 acres (~58 square miles) were in the development areas and there were an additional fourteen villages identified for development.Slideshow-compplan

In the 1977 Comprehensive Plan the Development Area was reduced to about 25,000 acres (~39 square miles).

In 1982, the number of villages dedicated for development dropped from fourteen to four.  The early 1990s saw a number of Comprehensive Plan amendments approved for expansion of the development areas including Rivanna Village, North Fork Research Park Expansion, Towers Land Trust (Northpointe) and Piney Mountain.  These totaled over 2,400 acres.

Then in the 1995 Comprehensive Plan, a divided Planning Commission sent a small expansion of the Development Areas to the Board of Supervisors who refused their recommendation. Instead, Albemarle launched the Development Initiative Steering Committee (DISC) designed to increase the efficiency of the land available in the Development Areas.  The Neighborhood Model was the eventual output from this, and other efforts.

Fast forwarding to the 2000s and we find the manner in which development areas are reduced is no longer by moving the lines and reducing the land mass.  Instead, well meaning environmental restrictions were passed to reduce the amount of land available for development in the development areas.

Preserved slopes are hillsides of 25% or greater that the County has determined are not to be disturbed (with some minor exceptions).  This reduced the developable acreage by 2,271 acres (~3.5 Square miles).

Stream buffers also reduce the amount of developable amount of land available as does the flood plain.  Many of these parcels may also be counted in the preserved slope number so, to be conservative, we opted not to count those in Albemarle’s “shrinkage”.

Last week, I told the Commission that I did not recall having the opportunity to speak at the Comprehensive Plan Amendment that removed Biscuit Run State Park from the Development Area.  As my good friend Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) reminded me, Biscuit Run is still in the Development Area.  Chalk up another 800 undevelopable Development Area acres for Biscuit Run.  You can also deduct 138 acres for the County’s Development Area Parks. Therefore parks reduce the developable acreage by 938 acres (~1.5 square miles).

Land dedicated to schools and other community infrastructure (Airport = 610 acres) further limits the amount of developable land in the development area.

In addition, Albemarle’s Neighborhood Model Development policies dictate most new developments have 15% open space as a part of their development plan, this coupled with street design regulations may reduce the true developable acreage by an additional 17% 3,808 acres (~6 square miles).

Combined these decisions and policies have reduced the developable acreage by 7,017 acres (~11 square miles).

At a time when your so called “peer” communities have dedicated 20% or greater of their land mass to development areas, The Free Enterprise Forum hopes tonight’s work session will include a discussion of how you plan to fully restore the developable land in the development area to 5% of the land mass of Albemarle County.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


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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