Rural Areas (RA) Comprehensive Plan Implementation Joint Work Session



Review alternatives for advancing RA implementation priorities



Tucker, Foley, Kamptner, Graham, Cilimberg, Benish, McDowell





September 14, 2005


ACTION:       X                      INFORMATION:   



  ACTION:                              INFORMATION:   











On March 2, 2005, the Board established implementation priorities for the Rural Areas (RA) section of the Comprehensive Plan.  The phasing zoning text amendment (ZTA) was to be done first (to be sent to the Planning Commission for review  by April 2006), followed by a ZTA to mandate the clustering of all new lots in the RA (ZTA work to begin after completion of the phasing amendments-April 2006-and sent to the Planning Commission for review by April 2007).  The timing for undertaking and completing these text amendments was based on available staff resources, existing and anticipated workload, and assumed that the normal public input for ordinance amendment procedures would be followed.  The Board has since expressed a desire to accelerate the phasing and clustering zoning text amendments. 


On July 6, 2005, the Board reviewed alternatives for advancing the Rural Areas implementation of the Comprehensive Plan.  At this meeting, the Board considered three proposals to expedite the RA implementation zoning text amendment process:  1) contract with a consultant to work on specific projects; 2) contract for temporary staff; or 3) hire additional full-time staff.  The assumption in those proposals was that staff would continue to work on the phasing provisions, while additional assistance/support would allow the clustering ZTA to begin sooner. However, staff suggested that, before any decision was made on hiring additional support, staff would provide the Board information on the scope of each text amendment. Staff suggested that more information on the key issues in each amendment and on the key public input procedures would provide a better idea of the time needed to bring a draft ordinance forward to the Planning Commission for review. 


On July 6th, the Board directed staff to schedule a joint meeting with the Planning Commission in September, in order for the Board and Commission to provide direction to staff.  The intent of this direction is to assist staff in determining how best to expedite the review of these implementation priorities.  



Goal 2.1:  Protect and/or preserve the County's rural character.

Goal 2.2:  Protect and/or preserve the County's natural resources.



Staff has broken down the discussion into five major areas, which will help the Board provide direction to staff in undertaking these ZTAs.  These areas are: A) technical issues/focus points regarding each ZTA (information); B) reconfirmation of implementation priorities (Board direction); C) implications of undertaking the phasing and clustering separately (Board direction); D) the desired public input process (Board direction); and E) consultant or contract assistance with work (Board direction).


A.  Technical Issues/Focus Points Regarding Each ZTA:

Staff has researched phasing and clustering provisions of other localities.  Many of the potential provisions for phasing and clustering in Albemarle County attached to this report have origins in other localities (Attachments A, B, and C).  However, Albemarle is embarking on new territory by "mandating" clustering and combining it with phasing.  To the best of staff's knowledge, mixing these two implementation strategies together has not been done by any other county in Virginia.  This combining of phasing and mandated clustering, together with the way density was allocated in 1980 (5 development rights and 21-acre divisions of the residue, rather than simple minimum-lot-size zoning) presents challenges unique to Albemarle.


The key provisions and components of both ZTAs contained in the attachments are intended to be for information only, at this time, to provide the Board with a sense for the complexity of issues that will need to be addressed in the ZTA review. However, in an effort to expedite the amendment process, the Board may wish to 1) give guidance to staff and the Commission regarding the amendments, as they have been presented here; and/or 2) forward the text amendment information (Attachments A, B and C) to the Planning Commission without delay, for the Commission to give staff direction and also for the Commission to be able to determine the appropriate number and the appropriate type of public meetings.  It should be cautioned that the information concerning the clustering text amendment (Attachment C) is the result of initial discussions and research and should not be considered complete.  This guidance/direction would be beneficial to staff in evaluating the review process and schedule, particularly if the Board has significant concerns with some aspect or direction of the ordinance outline to date.  If the Board determines that additional work sessions need to be held for the Board to further the review of the phasing and clustering information, additional time should be allocated to the schedule.


Any Board comment is welcome at this time.  In lieu of Board comment at this work session, Staff's opinion is that forwarding the phasing and clustering text amendment outline/information that has been developed to date to the Planning Commission now would provide an opportunity for the Commission to give initial guidance on finalizing a draft ordinance for Commission and public review.


B.  Reconfirmation of Implementation Priorities:

When the RA section of the Comprehensive Plan was adopted in March of this year, the Board determined that phasing of development and rural preservation development (clustering), in that order, would be the primary priority implementation tasks. The Board's intention for placing the phasing as the top priority was its desire to try to control the rate of subdivision taking place in the Rural Areas.  The phasing text amendment was perceived to be comparatively simple and quick to complete, while the clustering amendment was considered to be more complex and more time consuming to draft (in part, because by State law it must be an administrative review process and, thereby, should include the design standards for reviewing clusters).  If the clustering amendment was developed first, additional time would pass before the County would be able to implement measures (phasing) which would try to address the rate of subdivision occurring in the Rural Areas.


Staff has assumed that the rate of subdivision in the Rural Areas (addressed by phasing) remains the Board's top issue to address in the Rural Areas, and the form of subdivision (addressed by clustering) to be addressed second. The following section discusses both advantages and disadvantages of separate reviews. 


C.  Implications of Undertaking Phasing ZTA and Clustering ZTA Separately:

As discussed in the previous section, the phasing ZTA was considered the highest priority and phasing has been scheduled to be completed first.  Addressing phasing first also includes the following advantages:

·  potentially slowing the rate of subdivision through phasing would provide time to carry out other RA   Comprehensive Plan strategies, such as agricultural support initiatives and easement purchases, which would also serve to slow subdivisions;

·  addressing each of these text amendments separately would provide an opportunity for a more focused public input on each text amendment (phasing first, then clustering). 


Continuing the separate review of phasing and clustering should also include consideration of the following potential disadvantages:

·  would allow the continuation of large-lot subdivisions that may not protect natural, historic, and scenic resources and would result in further reduction of agricultural and forestal land;

·  may require later adjustments to the phasing regulations, in order for the two ordinances to be in concert;

· would not provide an opportunity to understand how the two amendments will work together when the phasing ordinance is completed;

·  would require that more time overall on public input processes, as each ZTA would require separate roundtable meetings and/or public hearings;

·  to carry out a major change to regulations in the RA zoning district for phasing, and then some time later present another complex ZTA for clustering, may lead to more frustration for RA residents and landowners than a single comprehensive ZTA that includes both phasing and clustering.


Staff's opinion is that, on balance, taking on the phasing ZTA concurrently with the clustering ZTA will be more efficient in the long run, although it will likely extend the adoption of the phasing ZTA.  Understanding that the Board's highest priority is to address the rate of subdivision in the Rural Areas, is concurrent review of both ZTAs a desirable change in course to take or is it still the Board's preference to adopt phasing amendments first?


D.  Desired Public Input Process:

The standard process for developing zoning text amendments includes public input at several points.  Specifically, there are four points in time where the public can be involved in the ZTA process  and  three of these points allow the opportunity for public comment. These points are: 1) review of draft ordinances by staff with focus groups (roundtables) representing affected parties or groups, such as farmers and surveyors or engineers; 2) work sessions of the Planning Commission (public comment typically is not taken at work sessions); 3) Planning Commission public hearing; and 4) Board public hearing. 


The focus group discussions with the impacted public (roundtables) are intended to help bring forward a proposed ordinance to the Planning Commission, which has anticipated issues the public might have and has "debugged" the ordinance of technical issues that typical users of the ordinance might find difficult to use.  For example, farmers from time-to-time have to subdivide their property for financing/business purposes other than for the sale of and/or development of the land.  How will phasing (and clustering), as drafted by staff, affect this aspect of agri-business?  This information can be obtained from focus group discussions prior to developing a final draft for Planning Commission and public review. 


The focus group discussion part of the ZTA process typically adds two or more months to the process.  This time is used to identify affected parties; notify individuals/groups; distribute proposed drafts; allow time for invitees to review the draft; hold the roundtable meeting(s) and follow-up meetings, as necessary; allow 1-2 weeks for follow-up written comments; and staff review of comments (that may include follow-up contacts, depending on comments received).  Focus group discussions account for a total of 6 months of total review process for both the phasing and clustering amendment schedules.


Each ZTA (phasing and clustering), if done separately, will also require two public hearings (Planning Commission and Board).  Staff anticipated the possibility of the need for additional time for advanced public notice and response to extensive questions from the public prior to public hearings, due to the significance and complexity of the amendments  that may be perceived by the general public.  The need for an "open house" meeting may also be necessary to better explain/educate the public about each ordinance.  The public hearing processes account for an additional two months to the total review schedule for completing both ordinances, if the ZTAs are done separately.  If the ZTAs were combined, only one public review process would be necessary, and two months could be saved in the schedule.  


The following options may be considered by the Board and the Commission in order to expedite the text amendment process:


·     eliminate early roundtable reviews/discussions and forward the draft text amendment to the Commission for work sessions and public hearings. (However, it is important to add a note of caution that this time could be lost later in the review process, if major issues are missed and additional work sessions and public hearings are necessary).  This option would allow the ZTAs to be brought forward to the Commission sooner.

·   reduce the total number of public hearings and possibly work sessions by the Commission by consolidating the two text amendments.


Staff’s work on the phasing ZTA is slightly ahead of schedule (roughly 1-2 months ahead of schedule).  If the focus group roundtables are eliminated from the ZTA process, staff could begin working on the clustering ordinance within the next 1-2 months


Consolidating the text amendments would reduce the number of public hearings and work sessions.  Eliminating the early roundtable discussions also would expedite the text amendment process.  Staff estimates time savings of up to 8 months with these two measures.  Does the Board want to consider a condensed public input process?


E.  Consultant or Contract Assistance

The purpose of this work session is to receive information/guidance from the Board and the Commission on the key issues in each amendment and on the public input process to provide a better idea of the time needed to bring the ordinances to the Commission for review.  Once staff has an understanding of these points, it can better determine how beneficial consultant services would be in advancing the projects.  Staff's caution on advising on the benefit of consultant services is that it is difficult to predict the true benefit of contractual support, particularly consultant services.  Staff has estimated that consultant support could theoretically advance the project by approximately six months.  However, the following should be noted:


·     It may be difficult to find qualified consultants that are familiar with the state code and County regulations/ policies and processes.

·   Procurement of consultant services is time consuming, requiring development of a scope of work and request for proposal, advertisement time, interviews, and contract negotiations.  Procurement can take 2-5 months to complete.

·   Staff time would still be required to manage the contract and work of the consultant, which can reduce the overall benefit, in terms of time gained, to the project.


Staff’s experience with using consultants for ordinance amendments is very limited.  All text amendments in the recent past have been developed by County staff.  Therefore, staff’s estimate of time savings is not based on a significant amount of experience with using consultants for this purpose.


One aspect of amendment work where it may be beneficial to have consultant support would be in drafting the development standards for the clustering provisions.  The benefit of the consultant to the project would be in providing additional design expertise and adding review hours to the project (potentially reducing the schedule). The scope of this work and cost would be more limited than previously estimated (approximately $50,000). Staff would not recommend funding of a consultant at this time until staff has fully developed an outline of the clustering ordinance that has been reviewed with, and supported by, the Commission.  At that time staff will have a better understanding for need for additional support   


Staff's opinion is that there are several approaches which have been suggested to reduce the schedule for the ZTA’s and that those should be pursued first to advance the ZTAs using existing staff. The need for consultant support will be reconsidered as staff completes work on the clustering ordinance outline



Taking into consideration staff's preliminary work on the clustering amendment and the expedited outline for the phasing ordinance, it is staff's opinion that consultant services are not required at this time.  However, should the Board determine that a consultant should be hired,  the budget impact for consultant/temporary staff services would depend on the scope of work remaining for him/her to accomplish. However, the estimated cost would be approximately $50,000, less than the amount of the projected $60,000 to $120,000 noted in the July 6th report.


There would not be any budget impact for the other options listed in staff's recommendations.



Staff believes that the advantages of combining the phasing and clustering amendments processes would provide a greater opportunity to expedite the text amendment process and, ultimately, would provide for a more efficient and effective review with the public.  Staff also believes it can advance the delivery of a draft ordinance to the Planning Commission by reducing the public input part of the ZTA process.  Any additional public input processes would be determined by the Planning Commission, as part of its review of the draft ordinance.  These changes to the process would reduce the schedule for completing both phasing and cluster provisions by 8 months, from April 2007 (for clustering) to July 2006.   Therefore, staff recommends:    


·                  Forward the phasing amendment information (Attachments A and B) and the work done to date on the cluster amendment (Attachment C) to the Planning Commission for  a work session in October (without the roundtables and the time needed to draft an ordinance) for initial review and direction; 


·                  After the October Commission meeting, staff will begin more detailed work on developing the cluster ordinance, with delivery of an outline for clustering provisions presented to the Planning Commission for review and direction by May of 2006;


·                  Based on direction from the Commission in February, proceed with development of a draft ordinance for both phasing and clustering to be delivered to the Planning Commission by July 2006.


The above recommendations would expedite the text amendment process as follows:


October 2005     Phasing and clustering information to Planning Commission for guidance.

May 2006          Clustering amendment outline/information to Planning Commission (and any proposed adjustments

                         to the phasing component).

July 2006           Draft phasing and clustering ordinance based on Planning Commission direction.



A          Phasing

B          Examples of Subdivision Phasing

C          Rural Cluster Subdivisions

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