Tag Archives: rural areas

Albemarle Rural Special Use Permits For Not So Special Uses

By. Neil Williamson, President

rural outpostTonight (May 8th), the Albemarle County Planning Commission is discussing what is and is not a by-right use on commercially zoned property not served by public water or a central system.  The problem is there are 80 parcels in the rural area zoned as commercial and the powers that be want to significantly limit commercial activity in the rural areas (95% of Albemarle County).

This is how the regulators are seeking to deal with “stale” zoning, create a process that is nearly impossible to gain approval and thus remove the ability for so called ‘noxious’ uses without conducting a controversial and legally challenging downzoning.

We think there is an alternative.  The Free Enterprise Forum believes that objective metrics could be established to have some of the ‘Special Uses’ be by right uses with independently verified performance standards.

Please let me explain.

In zoning parlance, there are three types of uses on a property:

  • By Right (that which you can do without additional government approval)
  • Special use (that which the government may allow you to do on your property) and
  • Prohibited use (that which the government indicates you can’t do on your property)

The fact that the land in question here is currently zoned commercial means that at one time a planner somewhere thought it would be a good idea to have commercial activity in this vicinity.  This more flexible planning philosophy has given way to a much more restrictive vision limiting commercial activity in the rural areas.

Under the new proposal, if  any of the ‘special uses’ [including sporting goods (bait shops?), drug store, food/grocery stores, and many more] proposed on commercial zoned property without water service would be measured against the following Comprehensive Plan criteria:

Criteria for Review of New Uses

As new uses are proposed in the Rural Area,it is essential that they be able to meet the following standards.  New uses should:

relate directly to the Rural Area and need a Rural Area location in order to be successful, (e.g., a farm winery has to be located in the Rural Area and would be unlikely to succeed in the Development Areas);

be compatible with, and have a negligible impact, on natural, cultural, and historic resources;

not conflict with nearby agricultural and forestal uses;

reflect a size and scale that complements the character of the area in which they will be located;

be reversible so that the land can easily return to farming, forestry, conservation, or other preferred rural uses;

be suitable for existing rural roads and result in little discernible difference in traffic patterns;

generate little demand for fire and rescue and police service;

be able to operate without the need for public water and sewer;

be sustainable with available groundwater; and

be consistent with other Rural Area policies.

Can you think of any proposal that could make it through this subjective labyrinth of approval?

Even if a staff recommendation could be acquired, do we anticipate any planning Commission making findings of any activity meeting all of these “standards”?

There has to be a better way.  The Free Enterprise Forum has been impressed with the performance standard models we have reviewed where objective metrics were developed to verify the data points rather than subjectivity reflected above.

The Comprehensive Plan even speaks of creating such performance standards on the same page as this review criteria:

Performance standards will be needed for any new uses to ensure that the size, scale, and location of the new commercial uses recommended for the Rural Area are appropriate.

It is of prime importance that the appearance and function of new uses blend and not detract from the key features of the Rural Area.

New uses should not overwhelm an area in terms of their function or visibility.

We fear this proposal may indirectly and unintentionally create food and gas deserts in the rural areas that will put rural residents even further away from the services they require.

Considering this proposal impacts only 80 properties, we believe this would be an excellent candidate for developing objective performance metrics.  Such an innovative program would protect the rural area AND Rural Property Rights – now would that be a good idea?

Respectfully submitted,


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: Commonplacemagazine.org



Albemarle May Cut Rural Regulatory Red Tape

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.

Virgina had 90 farmers markets in 2005, has 250 in 2017Is 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.

Respectfully Submitted,

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

Sunny Day? Albemarle Prohibits Greens, Endorses ‘Green’

By. Neil Williamson, President

What does Albemarle want for the rural areas (95%+) of the county?

On this and other issues, Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors is putting the fun back into dysfunctional.

Earlier this month, the Supervisors enacted two Rural Area Resolutions of Intent that are as similar as a ten pound bag of gold and a ten pound bag of manure.  Both weigh ten pounds but one is more valuable than the other because the supervisors like it better.

Please let me explain.

First up on April 5th, buried on their consent agenda as attachment “T”, the supervisors decided they don’t like golf, swim and tennis clubs in the rural areas:

WHEREAS, it is desired to implement the Rural Area Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan by removing “swim, golf, tennis, or similar athletic facilities” as a use permitted by special use permit in the Rural Areas zoning district because those uses are no longer consistent with the County’s policies and objectives for the Rural Area

During the Comprehensive Plan discussion (which reads such regulation should be considered) many of the folks opposed to such recreational activities in the rural area have suggested they generate too much traffic and take up too much land mass.  Interestingly, this would effectively ban new golf courses in Albemarle County as we wrote in a piece earlier this month (A Tradition Like No Other–Albemarle Again Seeks to Ban Golf).

So imagine our surprise when the same Board of Supervisors later on the same day used climate change as the justification for changing their regulations regarding rural solar farms.

To be cost effective, these farms will take a large amount of acreage and require significant additional infrastructure.

The sunny view on solar is different than that of swim, golf and tennis clubs.

WHEREAS, the Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan (hereinafter “the Plan”), Chapter Four, Natural Resources, Objective Eight states the County shall, “Recognize changes occurring to the earth’s climate to anticipate and mitigate impacts to the County.”; and

WHEREAS, the County, the City of Charlottesville, and the University of Virginia formed the Local Climate Action Planning Process Steering Committee (hereinafter “LCAPP Committee”) in 2010, which recommended that all three entities integrate the role of energy and carbon emissions in projects and planning and that the entities identify and promote actions that enable the community to reap the health, economic and environmental benefits that accompany sound energy-based decisions; and

WHEREAS, the Board accepted the LCAPP Committee’s recommendations on September 7, 2011; and

WHEREAS, the Plan, Chapter Twelve, Community Facilities, Objective Ten, Strategy 10(a) provides that the County will, “Continue to ensure the adequate provision of electricity, telephone, fiber optics, and natural gas services to support existing and anticipated development in the County through coordination with utility companies”; and

WHEREAS, permitting the siting, development, construction, operation, integration, and decommissioning of large-scale solar energy systems may assist the County’s efforts to achieve the aforementioned objectives in the Plan as well as the LCAPP Committee’s recommendations;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT for purposes of public necessity, convenience, general welfare, and good zoning practices, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors hereby adopts a resolution of intent to consider amending the Albemarle County Zoning Ordinance to achieve the purposes described herein;

So, despite the Comprehensive Plan’s discouragement of commercial activity in the rural areas, it is OK if they like your product or service provided.  As property rights advocates, we believe both uses should be permitted in the rural areas. 

We even agree that a special use permit is an appropriate route to make sure swim golf and tennis clubs as well as solar farms have adequate protections in place to remain harmonious with the surrounding rural areas.

We do not understand how the Board of Supervisors can call for a ban on rural area recreation the same day as they endorse the concept of a commercial field of glass that will require regular maintenance, transmission lines and have equal if not greater significant neighborhood impacts.

Perhaps there are some politics involved in such in-congruent decisions.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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: Sigora Solar via Facebook

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 Comp Plan Agritourism Fertilizer or Rural Regulatory Roadblocks?

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.

By. Neil Williamson, President

As of 2009, most of the geographic area of Albemarle is in the rural areas (95%+) yet, by design, the population majority is in the development areas (53%).  This population/area inversion means as a community we are becoming increasingly less connected to the agricultural enterprises that make the rural areas economically sustainable.

The Rural Areas chapter of the Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan is vastly improved over previous iterations.  Some of the concepts such as adaptable reuse of historic crossroads buildings and embracing the diversity of Albemarle’s agricultural products is refreshing and could be used to grow agribusiness; other portions seem to be regulatory overreach that seems to want to stunt such growth before it begins.

As an example in considering new uses for the Rural Area, the Comprehensive Plan has set forth criteria that will be incredibly difficult to meet, including:

  • relate directly to the Rural Areas and need a Rural Area location in order to be successful
  • be suitable for existing rural roads and result in little discernible difference in traffic patterns.

The first provision seems to be an impossible challenge; how to define “need”. There are successful urban wineries but, all of Albemarle’s  have proven success in the Rural Areas.  The second perverse provision reminds me of a former Albemarle County Supervisor who famously once said

 “I love the wineries, it’s their customers I could do without”.

While the disconnect with the business demands of a rural enterprise may be predictable due to our population centers shifting to the development areas, it is no less troubling.  For that reason, we were happy to read the very specific language in the Chapter regarding conflicts between agricultural enterprises and residential uses.image

Livestock produces odors and noises.  Application of fertilizer, especially manure, on crops can produce smells that are offensive to non-farming residents, especially when those residents are entertaining outdoors.

This recognition of rural enterprises as the primary function of the Rural Areas is refreshing.

Regulatory Round-up

Interestingly, on page 7.41 the Rural Area Chapter references recent legislation that limit locality regulatory power:

On July 1, 2014 State legislation became effective that expanded the opportunities for events at farms with bona fide agricultural operations and also for farm breweries.  Localities are only able to to regulate events that have a “substantial impact” on public health, safety and welfare – which the State does not define.

Albemarle has decided a significant impact is a party of 200 people:

Strategy 6a: Continue to require special permission for events at farm wineries, farm breweries, and bona fide agricultural operations for over 200 persons and for other events in the Rural Areas for over 150 persons.  These special events should promote or support agricultural production or a unique rural activity, such as a County fair, and should be limited to once or twice per year.

Not content to just limit the number of people gathered in the Rural Areas, the Comprehensive Plan is also seeking to determine what outdoor recreational activities one is allowed to do in the country.

Banning Golf, Swim and Tennis

While some on the planning commission were looking to be more permissive suggesting uses such as commercial mountain biking, cyclocross, zip lines and rock climbing activities, the tenor is much more restrictive regarding other recreational uses in the rural areas:

Clubs for swim, golf, and tennis have many suburban characteristics and typically are located in or adjacent to the development areas.  A Development Area location is more accessible to and compatible with nearby residential uses where sidewalks and road improvements are expected.  Expectations from patrons can be very different from those of nearby farmers.  Consideration should be given to removing these uses from the list of available special uses in the Rural Area.

To be clear, currently these uses require a special use permit that provides the locality the mechanism to develop conditions that mitigate impacts on the community.

Example 1: The Old Trail Golf Course in Crozet is located in the Ruraloldtrail golf Area.  This serves as an amenity to the Old Trail Community and provides a buffer between the dense residential area and the rural area.  As apart of their special use permit Old Trail and Albemarle agreed to agreed to 18 conditions that covered many important considerations including water usage and source, public accessibility to the course, the use of native plants throughout the course, minimal grading plan, extensive stream buffering system and much more.

Example 2: The Blue Ridge Swim Club.  According to their website:

The Pool at Blue Ridge Swim Club is a historic treasure. Built in 1913 by R. Warner Wood, the Blue Ridge Pool was the centerpiece of Blue Ridge Camp, established in 1909. The camp was founded by Wood, a University of Virginia graduate with a Master’s degree in Greek and History and a firm believer in developing both mind and body. According to his 1918 brochure, Blue Ridge Camp offered “symmetrical, physical, mental, moral and social development in boys, along with plenty of healthful, natural fun.” Boys slept in tents on the property and activities included swimming, calisthenics, boxing, wrestling, baseball, football and track.


Wood and his friends chose a spot where a spring fed the stream to build the pool. He is said to have hired an engineer who had worked on the Panama Canal to design the water flow system, which brings water from the stream into a nearby settling tank, where the silt separates from the water. The same system continues to supply water to the Pool today.

In 2010, about 100 years after its founding, The Blue Ridge Swim Club wanted to return to its roots offering summer camp activities similar (but updated) to those offered in 1910, the centerpiece being the pool.

In order to accomplish this task, a Special Use Permit was required which included 10 conditions that served to provide the community with a set of expectations regarding camp operation.  Those conditions included:

SP-2010-00041 Blue Ridge Swim Club subject to the following conditions:

1. Development of the SP-2010-00041 uses use shall be in general accord with the conceptual plan titled “Blue Ridge Swim Club “ prepared by Kelly Strickland and dated December 20, 2010 and revised February 2, 2011 (Attachment A) (hereafter “Conceptual Plan”), as determined by the Director of Planning and the Zoning Administrator.

To be in accord with the Conceptual Plan, development shall reflect the following major elements within the development essential to the design of the development:
• Limits of disturbance
• Location and size of pavilion building
• Location of parking areas
• Minimum clearing possible may be allowed to locate well, septic line and drainfields, parking and pavilion
as shown on the Blue Ridge Swim Club concept plan.
Minor modifications to the plan which do not conflict with the elements above may be made to ensure compliance with the Zoning Ordinance.

2. The hours of operation for SP-2010-00041 Blue Ridge Swim Club shall not begin earlier than 12:00 PM (noon) and shall end not later than 8:00 P.M., each day, seven days per week, Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.

3. All outdoor lighting shall be only full cut-off fixtures and shielded to reflect light away from all abutting properties. A lighting plan limiting light levels at all property lines to no greater than 0.3 foot candles shall be submitted to the Zoning Administrator or their designee for approval.

4. Food prepared off-site may be sold from a concession stand that is depicted on the Conceptual Plan.

5. Approval of the Health Department for the well, septic and food concession shall be required prior to approval of a site plan.

6. Approval by the Virginia Department of Transportation for the entrance shall be required prior to approval of site plan.

7. Prior approval by the Fire Department shall be required prior to all outdoor cooking and/or campfires.

8. No amplification of sound shall be permitted, with the exception of a megaphone used on Fridays during each season (Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend) during field games, radios, and electronic sound producing or reproducing devices, provided that any such amplified sound shall comply with the applicable noise regulations.

9. Parking on Owensville Road by attendees or staff of the Blue Ridge Swim Club or the Camp shall not be permitted.

10. No more than 200 people shall be on the property for any purpose at any time.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes that if the Comprehensive Plan is enacted as drafted neither of these two entities would be permitted to be constructed in the Rural Area (to be clear they would be grandfathered and permitted to continue current operations).

In Late February we queried Albemarle’s Deputy County Attorney Greg Kamptner regarding the impact of this change in language in the Comprehensive Plan on future applications.  While acknowledging he could not envision all possible applications, he was kind enough to opine on three possible outcomes:

In one example, a swim club SP application is received in the months right after the comp plan is adopted. Staff’s analysis would undoubtedly consider the language in the comp plan, note that it states that the County should consider that this type of use should no longer be located in the Rural Area, and likely conclude that the application is inconsistent with the comp plan. Even though the comp plan refers to “considering” the issue, staff’s conclusion could be reached because the application generated the very concerns that the comp plan was seeking to address – the proposed use would be suburban in nature and generally incompatible with the Rural Area.

In a second example, staff could note that the comp plan language provides that removing this type of use be considered for removal from the Rural Area, note that the issue has not yet been considered, evaluate the application based on what is proposed and the general context of the comp plan’s concern – swim clubs and similar recreational uses are generally suburban, not rural, in nature, identify the potential impacts on the district and adjoining properties, but then focus its analysis on the qualities of the particular application and make a recommendation accordingly.

In a third example, a swim club SP application is received a couple of years after the comp plan was adopted. During that time, the Board has considered and rejected the idea of doing away with swim clubs in the Rural Area in their entirety but has, instead, adopted a zoning text amendment that creates performance standards for Rural Area-type swim clubs (and different standards for suburban swim clubs). The comp plan language remains because its review cycle has not begun. The staff analysis for the SP likely would acknowledge the language in the comp plan, note that the County considered the issue, and decided to address it as it did in the zoning text amendment.

Because the comp plan is a policy document created to guide decision-making, it is different from an ordinance and does not compel a particular result.

Considering the unique conditions the Special Use permit provides and the unclear outcomes of such Comprehensive Plan language change, the Free Enterprise Forum recommends changing the Comprehensive Plan language to be less specific and simply recommend evaluating ALL recreational uses in the Rural Areas and their impacts.

Restricting Rural Interstate Interchange Development

Within the Comprehensive Plan Albemarle suggests development at rural interchanges is acceptable as long as it is the right kind of commercial development:

Strategy 7d: Permit uses at rural interstate interchanges that support agriculture and forestry.

So considering the above, the county is OK with rural interchange intersection development but needs to have a nexus to the agricultural community.

Albemarle County speaks at length about their desire for tourism and economic development in other chapters of the Comprehensive Plan.  Albemarle often touts that it is the #2 locality in the state in number of Farm Wineries.


From Late April through Late October, each and every Saturday, Albemarle also watches as thousands of winery tourists (and their transient tax dollars)  go over the mountain to Waynesboro to find a hotel room.  Part of the reason, the Rural Interstate Development Restrictions.

As tourism is important to the success of many rural agricultural enterprises, the Free Enterprise Forum believes allowing hotels located near rural interstate interchanges would be supportive of agriculture.  We suggest adding language to the plan that would “consider” under what performance based standards hotels might be allowed by special use permit at rural interstate intersection.

Albemarle County would be wise to allow more rather than less activity in the rural area and provide enforceable special use permit conditions to ensure that the 95% of the county that is designated as Rural Area remains economically viable.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

TOMORROW: Albemarle Development Area Report Card 3 “D”s – DENSITY, DESIGN, DELUSIONS AND DECAY


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: Albemarle County, Old Trail Golf Club, Blue Ridge Swim Club

Recognizing Rural Realities and Opportunities

By Neil Williamson, President

Adapted from remarks to the Albemarle Board of Supervisors Comprehensive Plan Work session July 9 2014

The Free Enterprise Forum applauds much of what is in the revised Rural Area Chapter of Albemarle County’s Comprehensive plan.

On the one hand, the chapter considers allowing some new uses and enterprises in the rural areas that will help keep the land economically and environmentally sustainable. On the other hand, we have identified very real challenges to the potential rural enterprises ever getting established.

We have had very positive discussions with several supervisors regarding the philosophically offensive (and likely illegal) language that was inserted on page 7.34 (and in Attachment H)

While new golf courses should not be prohibited, they should only be allowed when a significant unmet need can be established for more of this type of use.

The concept that the government will only permit businesses to exist that serve a government identified unmet need is beyond the pale even for Albemarle County.  The Free Enterprise Forum hopes Supervisors will direct staff to strike this paragraph from the document.

In a much more subtle attack, the Planning Commission has also proposed new criteria for potential new uses in the rural areas.  This criteria, enumerated in the staff report but not yet placed in the comprehensive plan, virtually guarantee that no new uses will be approved in the rural areas:

be compatible with and have a negligible impact on natural, cultural, and historic resources;

not conflict with nearby agricultural and forestal uses;

complement the character of the area in which they will be located;

result in little discernible difference in traffic patterns;

Depending on the interpretation, this criteria could prevent most if not all of the identified rural enterprises form occurring.  The concept of resulting in little discernible difference in traffic patterns reminds me of a former supervisor who once famously said

We love all the wineries, we just don’t like the customers

The rural areas makes up 95% of Albemarle County, certainly rural enterprises are bigger than just weddings and wineries.  These criteria (and to a lesser extent this chapter) need to be revised to recognize the rural realities and the need for additional economic opportunity in the rural areas.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

clip_image0024_thumb.pngNeil Williamson is the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local government public policy organization located in Charlottesville. www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credit: Albemarle County

Greene Planning Commission – Cell Tower vs. Rural Views?

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Greene County Planning Commission’s November meeting was dominated by a wireless facilities application.  AT&T’s representative, Cheryl Taylor from Velocitel, Inc. requested a Special Use Permit (SUP 13-006)  to construct a cell tower in western rural Greene County.

Bart Svoboda explained that the requested location is off Route 810 near the town of Geer on the property of John and Barbara Hayes. The SUP is for a tower with a height of 199 feet, just below the 200 foot level that requires lighting be included. The proposed location is 40 feet into the woods and the proposal is for either a silver or brown pole. Below is an applicant generated photo representation from Route 810 as to what the appearance of the tower would be. Svoboda explained that the smaller picture in the lower left hand corner is the view from the road. The larger picture is a magnification of the same picture in order to show the tower.

clip_image002Taylor addressed the Planning Commission explaining their company (Velocitel, Inc) has been contracted by AT&T to find a location where coverage is currently missing (a radius of .5 mile is diameter). Currently Route 810 is not a scenic highway  although the process is underway for it to be considered one.

Comments from the public were adamant against the cell tower in the specific location proposed by Velocitel. Nine speakers commented on the SUP, all opposing the request for a variety of reasons. Several speakers, including Pastor Gordon Merryweather of the Mount Vernon United Methodist Church , spoke in opposition stating that the tower would be directly in the view from their church. He further explained that the church is constructing a meditation area that looks directly at the area where the tower is proposed and asked that the view be maintained as it is.

Beth Lane, whose house is in the lower right corner of the picture above, is not against improving cell reception in the area, but asked that other locations away from the neighborhood and church be looked at before a decision is made. Another speaker noted that Albemarle County approves shorter towers and that may help the issue. A final citizen proposed that the tower be located further up the mountain, therefore requiring less of the tower to be exposed in order to get the height being requested.

The Planning Commission discussed several options such as moving the tower up the mountain. This however would require a roadway to be cut out and a level pad be created which would be more visible. The option of having the tower shorter prohibits other cell providers from attaching to the tower and therefore may generate more request for towers from other providers and the need for more towers since a shorter tower provides a smaller range of service.

Chairman Jay Willer  suggested that Taylor meet with the church members and others that live in the Geer area to see if an agreement could be reached that would be satisfactory to both parties. With that agreement made, the Commission voted unanimously to defer the SUP until 2/19/14, leaving enough time for the two parties to meet and hopefully come to an agreement.


Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.

The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.

Comments on Albemarle County’s Rural Areas Rewrite of the Comprehensive Plan

October 30, 2012

Sunset at Pippen Hill Vineyards - North GardenThe Free Enterprise Forum appreciates the efforts of Albemarle County staff in the rewrite of the rural areas chapter but there is a consistent tension in the document between rural area residential uses and rural area agricultural uses.   On page twelve, the chapter identifies the 1994 recommendations of farm operator that state “County Policies that support farmers regarding nuisance conflicts generated by residential uses in the Rural Areas” later on that same page it discusses ancillary “non-agricultural” to use the comp plan term “can have physical and nuisance impacts on surrounding rural land.”  I am confused which is the nuisance the agricultural use or the residential use.

The Free Enterprise Forum requests that landowner rights be included in those items the plan seeks to protect on Page 7.  It is important to recognize the rural areas are in their current state not because of government action but because of landowner stewardship.  We suggest the words inserting after protect “land owner rights and” the key elements that give the area its character.

The chart for residential uses on page 2 in the rural area is accurate, but misleading.  The rural area units do not compete with the condos and apartments.  A more accurate chart would compare Single Family Detached housing in the rural area vs Single Family Detached in the development area.

Under Conservation easements the Comp Plan notes 18.6 percent of the county is now under conservation easement.  What is the goal? 

If ¼ of the County’s land mass was tied up in perpetuity would that be enough? 

Is Albemarle County spending on such easements a proper metric for success? 

The chapter cites 70 farms in Albemarle County that sell local products to local consumers (Page 4).  I anticipate this number was taken from the Piedmont Environmental Council’s  Eat Local Campaign (Which is a great program).  Later in the document (and on the county’s website) the plan cites 26 wineries (there are 2 that I know of not yet listed) I believe this metric needs to be checked as only 7 Albemarle wineries are included in PEC’s list.  I suggest coordinating with Albemarle County Farm Bureau on this issue.

 We have spoken to staff regarding the objectives on Page 19 as being too broad.  Any new use, beyond a hayfield, would generate more demand on police and fire, will change the character of the area, and based on our understanding of the fractured aquifers and Virginia water law the concept of drawing groundwater from others should be removed.

Considering the fastest growing form of agriculture is farm wineries, we were surprised to see the assertion on page 20 “This situation is complicated by the tendency of winery events (which often include weddings and other gatherings to use their rural surroundings as an attraction without significantly supporting or promoting agricultural production”.  Nothing could be further from reality, as countless winegrowers have testified weddings and events generate new customers, sales and provide economic support for the agricultural uses.   These types of events were deemed as “usual and customary” by the General Assembly in HB 463. We ask this offending language be removed.

 We ask for a minor modification on Page 21 where the comp plan states Additional measures are needed to resolve issues, such as requiring a sound management plan.  We suggest changing to read “Additional measures need to be evaluated …”

 On Page 23, we ask you to drop 3b — the limitation of one or two special use permit events is too limiting.  Each special use permit should be considered on its own merit and conditions.

 We ask you reconsider the groundwater language in strategy 4b

 In Objective 5 we don’t understand why you are expanding some recreational activities while limiting others.  As the County is 95% rural areas we wonder why you would preclude a swim or tennis club in the rural areas to serve those residents as a special use permit.

Again we appreciate staff’s work on this document and hope you bring forward a comprehensive plan chapter that respects landowner rights and preserves rural enterprise economic sustainability.

Respectfully Submitted

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.

The Higher Bar for Land Use

Albemarle County Board of Supervisors had an unusually full house earlier this week when they discussed their land use tax relief policy.  Under the policy, land that is in agricultural production or forestry is taxed at a lower rate than the standard rate.  As several supervisors took pains to point out, the property owner is paying the full rate on their residence and the two acres that surrounds it.

The Supervisors agreed to review and likely implement a self certification program to make sure all those land owners receiving land use taxation are using the property according to the rules.  The specifics of the certification program have not yet been worked out but The Free Enterprise Forum believes any such program must be user friendly and not require outside assistance to fill out.

In the more heated discussion, Albemarle County Supervisors decided to take a look at, as Supervisor Dennis Rooker put it, “raising the bar” on the land use program.  To be fair, not one supervisor indicated a desire to completely eliminate the program but Supervisor David Slutzky seemed to be the most adamant about changing the participation parameters. 

One option Mr. Slutzky mentioned was providing land use taxation only to those parcels under conservation easement.  This option failed to receive support of the Board.  In the end the Board of Supervisors agreed to hear back from staff regarding “Option 2” which would require land owners to enter into a contractual agreement with Albemarle County that they would not develop their land for a period of time between 4 and 10 years.  The motion passed 4-2 with Chairman Ken Boyd and Supervisor Lindsey Dorrier in the minority.  

Staff indicated the re-validation discussion would move forward in June and the discussion of possible changes to the land use participation parameters would follow shortly thereafter.

While The Free Enterprise Forum is in support of a reasonable re-validation program, we believes the proposed participation parameter change will unintentionally accelerate the conversion of farm land to residential.  Example:  Farmer John Smith has 150 acres of land in land use with 8 development rights on the parcel.  If he runs into a tough year, major medical issue, or other financial hardship, he can split off a section of his parcel and sell that section to make ends meet.  If he had signed the proposed participation agreement (that like a conservation easement would go with the land) he would be forbidden to sell a small portion and could be forced to sell the farm.  It would be likely the purchaser of the farm land would calculate the carrying costs of the land until the agreement lapsed and the cost of 5 years of back taxes and reduce the amount available to Farmer Smith.  This is a bad policy.

Currently, when land moves out of land use the landowner is responsible for the current year and five years of back taxes at the prevailing rate.  The proposed participation parameters amount to local government looking to gain more control over land.  With over 60% of Albemarle County in Land Use (not including those in conservation easements) we believe the program is working. 

“Raising the Bar” will generate great distrust with little or no benefit to Albemarle County residents.