By. Neil Williamson, President
“Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness.”- Thomas Jefferson
Considering Albemarle County is 95% rural areas, it is perhaps appropriate that the Comprehensive Plan’s Rural Area Chapter has as Objective 1 “Support a strong agricultural and forestal economy”.
It seems completely counter intuitive the hoops farmers must go through to sell their agricultural products in Albemarle. In 2010, the Board of Supervisors made Farmer’s Markets a Special Use Permit (SUP) AND required a site plan. This is a most involved process.
On Tuesday (7/11) evening the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing to discuss what, if any, regulatory reforms they wish to recommend to the Board of Supervisors.
For those unfamiliar with the SUP process it is as bureaucratic as it sounds.
From the staff report:
Currently, the applicant must submit a site plan. This plan may propose to contain less detailed information then required by the site plan chapter. When the plan is submitted it is referred to the Site Review Committee. The members of the Committee may request additional information or they may recommend approval. The plan is then processed along with the special use permit and presented to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. The Board of Supervisors must then act on the site plan to authorize the reduced level of detail. . .
. . . the current ordinance requires the plan to be distributed to the full site plan committee. This means that the Albemarle County Service Authority and Architectural Review Board receive the plan even if their review is not required. The Health Department also receives the plan twice, once during the plan review and again prior to clearance. This double review is not necessary as the Health Department’s only comment during the plan review is that it will need to review the site plan prior to issuance of a clearance.
Is it any wonder that there have only been four applications for farmer’s markets since 2010. This is in direct opposition to the statewide trend.
Staff is right in recommending a so called ‘Sketch Plan’ be sufficient for this use. The Free Enterprise Forum was surprised when the North Garden Farmer’s market came before the Board of Supervisors, an engineer had volunteered to assist with the application. Absent that professional support, it is not clear the application would have reached the Board.
While the Free Enterprise Forum applauds the lower regulatory hurdle of the ‘sketch’ plan over the site plan – the larger question is shouldn’t this be a “By Right” use.
For over thirty years, Albemarle’s comprehensive plan has discussed supporting agricultural enterprises – are these just words? From the Comprehensive Plan:
Strategy 1d: Continue to assist Rural Area property owners to diversify agricultural activities, including helping to connect local farms with local consumers
We respectfully request Farmer’s Markets become a by right use that requires a zoning clearance (>$100) that can be processed administratively.
Only then will Albemarle be living up to their Comprehensive Plan goal:
Objective 1: Support a strong agricultural and forestal economy.
Please join me in asking the Albemarle County Planning Commission to cut the red tape and make Farmers’ Markets a by right use in the rural areas.
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.
Photo Credit: Virginia Farm Bureau