FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL
By. Neil Williamson, President
Imagine you are a college basketball player and in the final tournament game, the officials change the rules – calling fouls that usually would be ignored and ignoring others that would usually be called.
In addition, the basket automatically changes height dependent on which player is shooting and from where. There was no change at the rules committee, there was no open discussion amongst coaches – those charged with making the decisions just changed how they judged things – this is Albemarle County planning philosophy today.
Please let me explain.
Albemarle, in big ways and small, is changing the way they look at property where the Rural Areas and Development Area boundaries meet. The Comprehensive Plan, which is only a guideline, calls for density up to the edge of the development area (see below) but recent actions see that philosophical pillar being eroded.
On the development area side, the Adelaide proposed subdivision on the edge of the Crozet development area provides one example of eroding, or perhaps evolving, planning philosophy.
In the Crozet master plan the land was designated for “3-6 dwelling units an acre” – the Adelaide proposal came in at 5.5 units an acre. (editor’s note the Free Enterprise Forum does not take positions on specific projects only policy thus had no position on this or any other application).
In her defense of her vote in opposition, Supervisor Ann Mallek wrote to the Crozet Gazette:
I stand behind my vote to deny Adelaide to uphold important features of the Crozet master plan … .The primary reasons for my vote were stated in the resolution I read as part of my motion to deny. Three supervisors thought the density was acceptable at the high end of the range. Three thought the density should be at the low end of the range. A 3-3 tie results in denial of the application.
Additional reasons for my vote:
- New density on the edge of the growth area, surrounded by forest and rural uses, should be at the low end of the range suggested in the comprehensive plan and master plan for Crozet. …
- The highest density buildings were placed at the highway, further encroaching on the rural nature of the State Scenic byway. Emphasis added – nw
Regarding the rural side of the line, earlier this year during a discussion of Farm Winery, Brewery and Distillery events, Supervisor Diantha McKeel said:
We’re looking at, in my district, on Hydraulic Road, in the middle of the urban ring.. an event center [winery] essentially an event center surrounded by 25,000 homes. It is in the rural area but in the urban ring. The folks that live in the area are very patient with music from Albemarle High School, they love the band on Friday night – but to have something that brings in this type of traffic and noise and impacts without some restrictions is unnerving and I get that it is a little unusual place.
To prevent having rural enterprises adjacent to the development areas Supervisor Rick Randolph suggested:
Perhaps none of the edges of the winery parcel can be outside of the rural area.
Albemarle County Attorney Greg Kamptner informed Randolph such a provision would be in violation of state law.
All of this discussion took place despite the explicit direction of Albemarle’s Comprehensive plan that calls for clear edges between development and rural areas. Interestingly the very neighborhood McKeel discussed was called out in the plan
8.26 Albemarle Comprehensive Plan Clear Boundaries with the Rural Area
Strategy 2r: Promote use of Development Area land up to the boundary with the Rural Area. Do not require transitional areas between the Rural Area and Development Areas. Part of Albemarle’s beauty and attractiveness for residents and visitors is their ability to clearly see and appreciate the features of both the Rural Area and Development Areas. Discerning the boundary between the designated Rural Area and the Development Areas is important because it affects where and how new development should take place.. . .
Visual clues are also helpful in identifying the Development Areas-Rural Area interface. Land use on both sides of the boundary should be so distinct that residents and visitors know they are in the Development Areas or the Rural Area. Theses visual differences help to define expectations and appreciation for the different areas. Figure 20 clearly shows that the left side of Rio Road is in the Rural Area and the right side is in the Development Areas. . .
Transitions of large-lot subdivisions at the boundary are discouraged, as they are neither rural nor urban.They are too small for agricultural uses and muddy the edge. Emphasis added – nw
One easy solution would be to expand the development areas to encompass what McKeel calls the urban ring. Dependent on the size of the expansion it could create, for a time, a buffer area of non conforming uses.
The larger core question revolves around the duality of two comprehensive plan land types, Development and Rural. A plurality of planners today see the world in a less binary reality. The most popular planning philosophy of the day deals with the concept of “Transects” which is taken from the environmental sciences.
The Center for Applied Transect Studies (CATS) Explains transects this way:
To systemize the analysis and coding of traditional patterns, a prototypical American rural-to-urban transect has been divided into six Transect Zones, or T-zones, for application on zoning maps. Standards were written for the first transect-based codes, eventually to become the SmartCode, which was released in 2003 by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company.
A similar picture appears in Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan. Interesting question – where would you say the development area starts in the image above? T-3? T-4?
Based on recent actions, it is difficult to say where the Supervisors believe the Development areas begin and the rural areas end.
- The question is how does this now shaky planning philosophy pillar impact the community vetted master plans and how does the rural area gain a voice in the discussion since by design they are outside of the master plan areas?
- Should Albemarle consider abandoning its density dogma across the entire development area and seek to create a new comprehensive plan category?
- A further question would be if Albemarle should consider proactively rezoning all the development areas land to make the community supported densities occur rather than the adversarial nature of the current rezoning process.
Once again we have more questions than answers, let March Madness begin.
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.
Photo Credits: Denver Post, Albemarle County, Center for Applied Transect Studies