Tag Archives: Development Areas

March Madness–Albemarle’s Planning Philosophy


By. Neil Williamson, President

Oregon_St_Utah_Basketball.JPG_t1140Imagine 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 Rural Area Edgeboth 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.

Respectfully submitted,


Neil Williamson

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


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 www.freeenterpriseforum.org



Do Jobs Fit in Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Rather than asking if they aspire to be Austin or Aspen, the real question for Albemarle County is a choice between fostering job growth or becoming a land of newlyweds and nearly deads?

After giving Monticello “viewshed veto” power over development and banning golf, swim and tennis clubs in the rural areas, Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors Comprehensive Plan review now turns to the Development Areas.

dev area croppedThis chapter of the state mandated plan attempts to focus the vast majority of Albemarle’s economic development and housing into 5% of their land mass. In seeking a goal of a wide variety of housing and employment options, it seems counter intuitive to use the urban development boundary, first established in the late 1970s, to create a government induced land scarcity and push (or keep) many employers out.

In many respects, Albemarle’s current Board majority seeks to return to the not so distant past when certain affluent arrogance was palpable in their development policies and procedures. Businesses were regularly told they should consider themselves lucky to be permitted to locate in Albemarle.

The economic impact of Albemarle’s arrogance may very well now be coming home to roost. The latest Jobs Report from the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce reported significant job growth across the region. If you look back 10 years, Albemarle’s private employment has grown by over 21% but dig a little deeper and you will find private sector employment in Albemarle County is 3.4% lower today than it was in 2007.

Is Albemarle headed in the wrong direction?

Former Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen famously said, “Continuing economic growth requires both recruitment of new companies and expansion of existing businesses.” As Albemarle contemplates its comprehensive plan it needs to revisit and reform many of their growth control policies to the meet the market realities of the 21st century.

It is unclear how many Board members fully understand the import of the Development Areas chapter – it is about so much more than merely land use – it will help determine if future jobs come to Albemarle or not. More than the aspirational platitudes in the Economic Development chapter, if there is not buildable land for jobs they will go elsewhere.

Despite the Comprehensive Plan statement that there is enough land for commercial and industrial growth in recent times, we have witnessed several high profile commercial/industrial defections from Albemarle County specifically due to lack of appropriately zoned property for expansion.

· Patriot Aluminum (to Louisa County)

· Faulconer Construction (to Louisa County)

· Boss Medical Equipment (to Louisa County)

· Ashbury International (to Greene County)

Not only are businesses leaving some are simply choosing not to come at all. We have learned that four “Top Ten” microbreweries all looked at Albemarle for a new location and all four decided to go elsewhere. Why, in a town that loves beer and wine, did we lose?

Albemarle’s growth management policies hurt existing “edge” businesses that cannot physically expand due to development area boundaries; some of these include UPS Shipment Hub, The Food Hub as well as thAvionicse Crown Orchard distribution hub.

Due to the drawing of a few lines on a map in the early 1980s, many vibrant former employment centers now find themselves in the rural areas and unable to obtain the public water and sewer now required allowing for expansion or repurposing. Properties impacted include:

· Earlysville Business Park

· Avionics

· Ivy Business Park

· Yancey Lumber Mill

· Hunter’s Way

What if Albemarle County permitted water and sewer to be extended to such historic employment centers and created economic enterprise zones around them? Why shouldn’t rural citizens have the opportunity to work close to home?

Recently I met with a landscaping business owner looking to expand into Albemarle County. Already successful in two other Virginia localities, he was dismayed at the lack of properly zoned property his Realtor could identify in Albemarle. He explained his business expansion plan might have to be abandoned; due to increased fuel costs (and environmental impacts) if he can’t find appropriate land to locate within his targeted service area.

Current Albemarle policy is opposed to commercial development, including hotels, along the interstate preferring to locate such businesses in the development areas. Only there is a market based problem – the guests, and the banks that finance such projects, want hotels near the interstate.

A recent attempt to place a hotel in the Crozet development area failed due to a lack of financing. How do you think banks would react to a more traditional hotel proposal located near the intersection of I-64 and US 250?

Charlottesville-military-wedding at Keswick VineyardsWe are aware of a number of weddings that have not been held in Albemarle due to the lack of hotel room availability. We regularly see venues in western Albemarle recommending Waynesboro hotels to their wedding guests. Is this an intended or unintended consequence of Albemarle’s growth control policies?

As Albemarle ponders their Comprehensive Plan and the best fit for an Economic Development Director, Supervisors must determine if they want to grow the private sector and provide room for such growth. The market will be molded only so far before economic pressures expand beyond Albemarle’s restrictive constraints resulting in an exodus of enterprises (and jobs).

Albemarle taxpayers will then be left with a burst balloon of high expectations — and likely higher property taxes to replace the underappreciated, revenue positive businesses that have long since fled to friendlier lands.

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 www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits: Daily Progress, Cvillepedia.org Keswick Vineyards

Albemarle’s Cool Hand Luke Development Areas Plan


By. Neil Williamson, President

As the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors prepare to review the “Development Areas” chapter of their comprehensive plan, many are wondering what exactly would trigger a revision of the development area boundfailure-to-communicatearies?

Instead of considering a revision of their development area boundaries Albemarle’s Draft Comprehensive Plan chooses to change consumer behavior.

Our independent analysis of the proposed Comprehensive Plan exposes a clear “Albemarle Arrogance” regarding consumer desires.  The draft Comprehensive Plan considers the market demands to be, as the prison Captain in Cool Hand Luke would say, really a “failure to communicate”

It is natural for residents to fear the effects of change as the County makes efforts to create more dense and urban neighborhoods in the Development Areas. However, when residents understand the relationship between density and preservation of rural areas and the goals of the Neighborhood Model, they seem to find more acceptance of density. Conveying the benefits of density, such as neighborhood schools, parks, sidewalks, and bicycle paths is also important. Understanding that the Development Areas can be great places to live can help residents embrace density in the Development Areas. Emphasis added-nw

So if only consumers were properly educated, they would “understand” and no longer choose to live in single family homes with yards for their children to play in and would embrace Albemarle’s mandated “Dream of Density”.

imagePlease let me explain what we “understand”.

A significant portion of the development area chapter is dedicated to promoting efficient land use and the new urbanist designs that are embodied in the Neighborhood Model.

Despite our opposition, over the last ten years many of these Neighborhood Model “guidelines” have been codified to make them no longer options but requirements (i.e. street trees, open space, curb, gutter, relegated parking etc.).

Well intentioned environmental regulations have significantly reduced the area available for development in the development areas (stream buffers, wetlands, intermittent stream protection).

Since the last comprehensive plan we have also seen the Commonwealth of Virginia decide the most efficient use of 1,200 acres of Albemarle’s Development Area is a state park (Biscuit Run).image

Yet the Comprehensive Plan Draft seems to feel that the development area boundaries, originally drawn in 1979, continue to provide enough land for twenty years of residential and commercial  development. image

To review, the growth control philosophy implemented in Albemarle County is to focus dense human activity (housing, employment, recreation) in the development areas and retain the rural areas for less intensive agricultural and forestal uses.

To maximize density, the draft Comprehensive Plan would likely force  more residents to live in less space.  But is this what the market wants?

In a recent letter to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors the Blue Ridge Home Builders Association (BRHBA) raised several questions about the development area and asked if staff had appropriately calculated the “Marketable Density”

The proposed Comprehensive Plan speaks of low and high capacity of units in the development areas. From multifamily apartment buildings to townhomes to single family homes, BRHBA members build all types of homes to serve all types of citizens. Each of our members proudly builds with the end user in mind – the occupant. As such, the reality capacity is likely significantly lower than the high end proposed in figure 5 of the Development Area chapter.

While there is a market for dense new urbanist style development, and our members serve that market, the vast majority of the new home buyers in Albemarle County are looking to live in single family detached housing. We are curious if based on the current market mix of housing, would those numbers multiplied by the dwelling unit demand would result in a different calculation of required land area? [emphasis added-nw]

With well over ten years of “understanding” of neighborhood model implementation, the Draft Comprehensive Plan discussion provides the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors an opportunity to discuss if they are comfortable with the high density being pushed into the development areas despite lack of consumer demand AND if they will put their money where their mouth is to provide concurrent infrastructure investment to support their “density dreams”.

If Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan fails to radically change consumer demand, the twenty year anticipated growth will exceed the capacity of the allocated development area pushing lot prices significantly higher and pushing many out of the Albemarle’s designated growth area. Some of this displaced demand may be answered by those who choose to build their homes in the rural areas by right; the majority of new housing starts [and commercial activity] will move into the outlying counties where the regulations and staff are more receptive to market driven design – perhaps we are starting to really understand that maybe this was the “plan” all along?

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 www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits: Warner Brothers/Seven Arts, Albemarle County