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.
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.
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 Rural 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.
Neil Williamson, President
TOMORROW: Albemarle Development Area Report Card 3 “D”s – DENSITY, DESIGN, DELUSIONS AND DECAY
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
By Neil Williamson, President
Adapted from remarks to the Albemarle Board of Supervisors Comprehensive Plan Work session July 9 2014
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.
Neil 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
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.
Taylor 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.
October 30, 2012
The 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.
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.
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.