Mountain Overlay District Committee

Proposed Framework



MOD Committee proposal for protection of Albemarle County Mountain Resources



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





May 10, 2006


ACTION:     X                          INFORMATION:   



  ACTION:                                INFORMATION:   











The Board of Supervisors appointed the original Mountain Protection Committee in 1995.  The Committee's charge was to develop strategies to protect the scenic values and environmental characteristics of the mountains. In 1998, the Committee and the Planning Commission recommended a Comprehensive Plan amendment and Mountain Overlay District zoning text and map amendments.  The Board of Supervisors adopted the Committee's recommended Mountain section into the Comprehensive Plan; however, the zoning text and map amendments that would implement the Comprehensive Plan's policy were tabled until the Rural Areas section of the Comprehensive Plan was further advanced.  A background summary of mountain protection efforts in Albemarle is included as reference (Attachment A).


In 2002, the Board of Supervisors decided to reconsider the 1998 ordinance and appointed the second Mountain Overlay District (MOD) Committee in 2004. Supervisor Sally Thomas and Planning Commissioner Pete Craddock were appointed as liaisons from the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission.  The 'History of the Work of the 2004-2006 MOD Committee is included as reference (Attachment B).




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

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




The eleven members and two liaisons of the Mountain Overlay District Committee represent a diverse cross section of citizens having a common interest in protection of what the Comprehensive Plan identifies as one of Albemarle's most important resources - its mountains.  This group of volunteers recognized it was essential that they produce "a consensus on an acceptable and effective ordinance for adoption" as directed by the Board of Supervisors.  They shared the concern that failure to do so could ultimately result in development on the mountains that would forever impact a most visible feature of Albemarle's sense of place and jeopardize innumerable environmental systems, including the water supply. 


As described in the 'History of the Work of the 2004-06 MOD Committee' (Attachment B), the first phase of the Committee's work was learning from the previous committee's work, various experts, and from each other.  This ultimately enabled the Committee to come to a consensus on a mountain protection framework that describes the importance of protecting the mountain resources, uses the Overlay District boundaries that were adopted into the Comprehensive Plan, and describes measures needed to protect the MOD. On April 21, 2006, eleven members of the MOD Committee unanimously voted to recommend the 'Proposal for Protection of Albemarle County's Mountain Resources' (Attachment C). One member was unable to attend to provide an official vote, but emailed his support of the proposal.  The Committee has offered to be available to assist in answering questions during the further work on its recommendations and would like an opportunity to review the draft ordinance when it is available.  Jon Cannon, a co-chair of the MOD, would like to make a presentation on the Committee’s recommendations at the Board’s upcoming meeting.


The 'Proposal for Protection of Albemarle County's Mountain Resources'  (Attachment C) contains a three-part program: 


1) an outline for a mountain protection ordinance; 2) principles that would require cluster subdivisions; and 3) provisions for the acquisition of property interests through easements and voluntary reduction of development potential.  Many of the recommendations for mountain protection expand upon existing ordinances. 


Part 1.

The MOD ordinance would provide protection for public safety, economic interests, natural, scenic, historic, and cultural resources, important soils, biological diversity, and water resources both within and outside the Mountain Overlay District. 

The MOD boundaries would be the same as the Mountain section of the Comprehensive Plan.  These boundaries were also proposed with the 1998 MOD ordinance.


Outline framework for a Mountain Protection Ordinance:

  1. Critical slopes - adds restrictions on the construction of roads and driveways on critical slopes after the date the MOD ordinance is adopted and limits the conversion of roads built on critical slopes for agricultural, forestal, or horticultural uses to residential uses. Many lots within the MOD boundaries can only be accessed through critical slopes; therefore, an administrative waiver or modification of the requirements would be available.  (Attachment C. Section f.)
  2. Erosion and Sediment Control Plan - would require that land disturbing activities exceeding 2,500 square feet would require an E & S plan.  Currently, a plan is required for disturbances of 10,000 square feet or more. Upon adoption of an ordinance for a Mountain Overlay District, Section 17-104(24)(b) of the Water Protection Ordinance would automatically require an E & S Plan for land disturbing activities of 2,500 square feet or more for properties located within, in whole or part, the mountain overlay district.
  3. Stream Buffers - Stream buffers would be widened from 100' to 200' within the MOD, as research literature indicates that if a buffer measuring 200-horizontal feet on either side of a stream were preserved, then the resulting 400-foot wide riparian corridor could provide improved habitat for mammals and birds, and could provide improved sediment trapping ability. Headwater streams in the mountainous portions of the County can benefit from these increased buffers because of the steeper terrain within the sub-watersheds which raises the risk of erosion and sediment transport where land disturbing activities would occur.  In addition, the headwater streams do play a critical role in the life cycle of aquatic life.  The benefits of temperature control and leaf litter drop that are provided by a riparian buffer encourage a healthy macroinvertebrate community in the headwater streams and transfers downstream where larger species depend upon these macroinvertebrates as a part of the food chain.
  4. Height Restrictions - The crests (highest points of the mountains in the MOD) would be unbroken by building intrusions as the current 35' height restrictions within the Rural Areas zoning would be measured in consideration of the adjacent crest.    Buildings would be constructed lower than the highest point of a mountain within the MOD.
  5. Safe Access - Access to dwellings would be designed to be accessed by fire and rescue vehicles. 
  6. Waivers or Modifications - Relief from the strict adherence to these regulations could be obtained through administrative waivers or variances if a finding can be made that the alternative would advance the purposes of the ordinance.


Part 2.

Incorporation into a future Rural Area cluster ordinance:

The MOD ridge areas would be incorporated into the Rural Areas cluster ordinance currently under review by the Board of Supervisors.  If the RA Cluster ordinance is not approved, this provision of the MOD framework would require the establishment of a cluster ordinance tailored to the MOD.


Part 3.

Additional protection for the MOD would include the promotion of conservation easements, riparian buffer easements, and voluntary reduction of development potential.  The Committee has recommended several approaches for the Board to include in their considerations. 


Remaining Work: 

In considering the Committee's recommendations, staff believes it is important to note that only a framework has been provided by the Committee and there are other matters that will need to be resolved before ordinance amendments are finalized for the Planning Commission and Board.  The following are examples of matters to be addressed:  


·  Proposed ordinance would rely on the implementation of new Rural Area cluster ordinance provisions which are currently in a similar stage of review as the MOD process. The Board has not yet provided direction to staff on how to proceed with the clustering ordinance.

·  The proposed critical slopes provisions would require the identification of roads existing at the time the ordinance is adopted.  The County may not have records or evidence of all roads constructed for agricultural, forestal, or horticultural purposes.  The current 2002 aerials are scheduled to be updated in 2007 and should be available in January 2008.  The ordinance may need to rely on information from the applicant, unless other methods are found.




Budget impacts would depend on the requirements adopted in the final ordinance and on programs to fund further protection of the MOD (Part 3).  


Property Value:  The MOD framework "is designed to conserve properties and their values both inside and outside the MOD."  The protection of property values was an important consideration of the Committee.  Therefore, the framework suggests ideas for potential funding approaches for properties and resources within the MOD.   Development rights on properties remain theoretical and the MOD ordinance does not offer guarantees that all rights can be exercised.  However, waivers and modifications would be available to moderate the effects of compliance with MOD standards.  A potential for an increase in property value both within and outside of the MOD could result from the protection of mountain resources, including scenic resources.


Applicant Costs:  These changes may result in additional requirements for property owners seeking to develop their property.  Staff does not believe that those costs can be accurately quantified until the ordinance specifics are drafted. At that point, working in cooperation with potential applicants, staff intends to develop estimates of those additional costs for consideration with the ordinance amendment.


County Costs:  These ordinance provisions and other initiatives recommended to protect mountains may require additional staff resources to review applications.  The extent of these additional resource requirements would be established once the ordinance provisions are finalized.  Additional fees or general fund revenues may be needed to fund the additional resources and funding programs.




As this framework represents significant modification of the ordinance that was presented in 1998, staff recommends the following review process:


·    Board of Supervisors notifies property owners in the MOD of the framework proposed by the MOD Committee (Attachment C) and holds a meeting to receive public comment on the MOD framework;

·    After receiving public comment, the Board of Supervisors passes a resolution of intent to amend applicable ordinance sections and refers the framework recommendations to the Planning Commission with direction as to how to proceed;

·    The Planning Commission develops ordinance provisions, holds a public hearing, and makes recommendations to the Board of Supervisors;

·    Retain the Mountain Overlay District Committee to review the draft ordinance and provide input to the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors   




A – Mountain Protection Background

B – History of the Work of the 2004-2006 MOD Committee

C – Proposal for Protection of Albemarle County’s Mountain Resources

Return to regular agenda