Albemarle County Planning Commission

January 17, 2006


ZTA-05-05 Temporary Farm Worker Housing – Amend Sections 3.1 ("Definitions"), 5 ("Supplemental Regulations"), and 10 ("Rural Areas") of Chapter 18, Zoning, of the Albemarle County Code.  This ordinance would amend Section 3.1 by adding a definition of "farm"; section 5 by adding supplemental regulations for temporary farm worker housing; and section 10 by adding temporary farm-worker housing facilities for 20 or fewer residents as a by-right use, and temporary farm-worker housing facilities for more than 20 residents as a use requiring a special use permit. (Scott Clark)


Ms. Joseph pointed out that she was the person that appealed the zoning administrator’s determination on the farm worker, which was why this was before the Commission.  The zoning administrator had determined that farm worker housing is not allowed in the rural area.  She noted that appeal is still pending.  Therefore, she would try to sit back and listen.


Mr. Clark summarized the staff report. 


·         In the first paragraph under origin, the words consider the issues and recommended action appear as a series of X’s.  Also, in the future the Commission will receive standard summaries on top of the zoning text amendment staff reports.  As mentioned, there was a determination in April of last year that temporary housing of seasonal farm workers in rural areas is not a specifically permitted use or an accessory use to agriculture use, which is a by right use.  So the effort here between staff with input from other staff, the Farm Bureau and other interested parties was to rectify that situation so that it is possible to have temporary housing for farm workers in the rural areas.  It is something that is already going on.  Since it is not a permitted use, the existing facilities cannot be expanded or changed.  There are some minor exceptions.  But, new facilities cannot be created. Farms in the county that are dependent on seasonal labor, especially new ones, are not able to establish the facilities that they need to house the workers that take care of the labor that they need.  There are two attachments.  One is the resolution of intent to pursue this project.  The second is a proposed set of definitions or regulations to be added to the zoning ordinance. 


·         Staff briefly went through the outline of the proposed ordinance.  There will be three definitions added to Section 18.3 both defining farms and two classifications of farm worker housing, class A and class B.  Class A is for up to 20 residents and Class B is for more than 20 residents.  The difference is that the Class B that allows more than 20 residents requires a special use permit. 


·         Basically, there are three sections to be added to the proposed Section 5.0 Supplementary Regulations for these uses.  The first is a concept plan that is a fairly simple sketch type plan and not an engineered site plan.  It is enough to provide the information that is needed by the reviewing department, such as planning, zoning, and current development and fire/rescue department.  The second part is the section on facilities’ instructions, which addresses setbacks and parking.  The third section outlines the steps that would be needed for the zoning compliance clearance that would allow people to begin this use.  It largely consists of a set of reviews by staff and outside departments to make sure that the facilities basically meet health and safety standards and acceptable impacts on the surroundings.  The fire/rescue review is probably the one that raised the most difficult issue in all of this.  Fire/rescue is in the midst of a real effort to extend the number of dry hydrants in the rural areas.  They see this as a real opportunity to provide a water source for these facilities that could have 20 or more people. They obviously need their own water supply for fire suppression and also to help the surrounding areas.  The opposite perspective is that the landowners feel that they could sufficiently serve their water needs with a well and not be forced to build a pond and the dry hydrant facilities.  The landowners feel that they are bearing the costs of fire protection for their surrounding areas as well as their own facilities.  The other departmental reviews include the Building Official review.  It involves a review to make sure that the buildings on the plan appear to meet the Building Code.  It is almost a service to the applicant to make sure that they know before they go for building permits later that they will have some issues to address. 


Mr. Edgerton stated that agricultural buildings in the rural area are exempt from a lot of regulations.  He feared that they were setting themselves up for a real disaster down the road for these buildings to house up to 20 persons.  He suggested that issue needs to be further explored.


Mr. Clark stated that he did not think that building would receive an exemption because it was inhabited.  But, staff could clarify that issue with the Building Official.


Ms. Joseph stated that the difficulty in this is not creating a dwelling unit or increasing the density in the rural areas.  They want to create a safe place for people to live that is not called a dwelling unit by the standards in the zoning ordinance.  The other complication in this is that enough of the large farms are under conservation easement, which omits the dwelling units.  So this has to be carefully crafted to allow them to remain as farms so that they can hire people during different parts of the growing season and yet not be considered dwelling units so they won’t violate their conservation easements.


Mr. Clark stated that staff had to address the basic public health and safety concerns that the county has while trying to support this agricultural use without complicating any existing regulations.  There are federal regulations and there are state reviewers who check all of these facilities repeatedly for meeting those federal standards and for being safe.  Staff is trying to create that healthy and safe environment and provide this source of labor, but staff did not want to tangle up a lot of competing definitions with other agencies’ regulations.  Health Department approval does not come in until the facilities are actually in place and the applicants are coming in for their zoning clearance. The Health Department will not review plans because they want to see actual physical improvements before issuing approval.  The last thing is a recorded affidavit.  The applicants are on record as stating that these facilities will not be used as dwelling units and will only be used for temporary seasonal worker housing. That is to ensure that it will not creep over the line into year round housing, which effectively would become more dwelling units in a place that the county does not want them.  Tonight staff is looking for a possible motion on the resolution of intent so that this matter can move forward to the Board of Supervisors with the Planning Commission’s guidance on these regulations.


Ms. Monteith asked what would be the mechanism to ensure that the facilities would only be used for a portion of the year.


Ms. Joseph asked Mr. Shepherd if he wanted to answer that question.


John Shepherd, Manager of the Zoning Administration, stated that part of the temporary aspect of it would be regulated by the Building Official, which will allow the building to be built with a specified amount of insulation and the heating facilities that would be needed.  So if the building was not going to be fully insulated and heated it is reduced to be used during certain months of the year.  That is one factor.  Also, there is no requirement that the workers are limited to live there at particular time periods in the way the ordinance is written now.  There are different growing seasons and seasons of work on the farms that does not lend itself to confining it to a particular time period.  So that is a question for the Planning Commission.


Mr. Clark stated that staff had originally attempted to limit it to a specific set of dates, but that was not at all practical because of the different needs for the various types of agricultural uses such as orchards.  There turned out to be other forms of agriculture that need labor at times that staff had not expected. This includes February for vineyards.  Therefore, it was not practical to limit it in that way.


Mr. Craddock asked if this applied to existing facilities.


Mr. Shepherd stated that it would apply in the event that the existing facility wanted to expand.  Existing facilities are non-conforming and can continue as such. But, to expand the existing facilities would require them to meet these requirements.


Mr. Craddock asked why the applicants could not put in sprinklers as opposed to a dry hydrant.  He noted that when subdivisions are built the county does not require it to be near a dry pond or anything like that.


Mr. Benish noted that sprinklers would still require a central service for a certain pressure to function properly.


Mr. Strucko asked if sprinklers could be used off of wells.


Mr. Benish stated that it can, but it must have the proper pressure, which may end up with similar cost issues.


Mr. Shepherd noted that the regulations are proposed in a way where there is not a requirement that a dry hydrant be constructed for any of these facilities.  That is something that the Fire Marshall would have liked to have had.  What is in front of the Commission is really a compromise that forces a discussion of the possibility of installing a dry hydrant.  In some cases if the pond exists on a property, it might not be particularly expensive and it seems to be a reasonable and doable thing.  Staff wants to make sure that question is always asked and considered in the course of review of this type of facility.


Ms. Joseph stated that the regulations say that the request requires approval by the County Department of Fire and Rescue.  It does not say dry hydrant.  The other question is if that is in the supplemental regulations, is that something that the Commission can modify.


Mr. Kamptner replied yes, that Section 5.0 regulations can be modified by the Commission.


Ms. Joseph asked if Fire and Rescue says that someone has to put in a dry hydrant and the applicant says that they really can’t do that because it is 500 yards away, then the applicant could come to the Commission and request a modification.


Mr. Kamptner stated that the Commission could waive or modify the requirement of Fire/Rescue approval.


Mr. Strucko acknowledged the fire safety concern about 20 plus people living in this type of unit in the rural area. He noted that a dry hydrant would be a pipe going into the water.  If there was an existing pond, he could agree with it.  But, if the applicant had to build the pond and then put the dry hydrant in, then that would be costly.


Ms. Joseph suggested that it was asking that the applicant indicate where there is a dry hydrant in that area.  That was the other thing that the Commission had talked about.


Mr. Edgerton asked if he understood that the way that they would control the occupancy was to limit the insulation.


Mr. Shepherd replied no.  He explained that the Building Code permits the building to be constructed without insulation if the months of usage were limited.  He suggested that the Commission think about the buildings used for a typical summer camp.  It might actually be what they would expect to see for some of these facilities.  It could be permitted, but it is not required.


Mr. Edgerton noted that it could be a camp type of structure.


Ms. Monteith felt that the answer to the question was that it really would come down to the management of the facility.


Mr. Shepherd stated that there would be limits on the number of people that are to reside there.  The conditions would run with the special use permit if there were going to be more than 20 persons.


Mr. Edgerton noted on the bottom of page 7 and the top of page 8 that he felt that the scale of the concept plan of not more than one inch equals 100 feet was very small.  He suggested that the scale be increased a little so that more detail could be included.


Ms. Joseph asked what scale was used for special events, and Mr. Shepherd replied that the scale was not specified.


Mr. Kamptner stated that the cross reference is 32.4.1, which has a requirement for a general layout design of what is proposed on a scale of not smaller than one inch equals 100 feet.  That is under the site plan regulations.


Ms. Joseph asked if that was for a preliminary plan.


Mr. Kamptner stated that this is for the concept plan that is filed for the preliminary conference for a site plan.


Mr. Edgerton acknowledged that the intent was to minimize the up front expense, but at the same time he felt that it would be beneficial to increase the scale of the concept plan.  Because it was providing housing for a large number of people, he felt that they need a little more information.  He suggested using one inch equals 40 feet.


Ms. Joseph noted that the staff report mentions assisting someone who comes in with the information that the county already has on file.  Therefore, the county could charge them for those services to make the maps, etc., but they can make it any scale.


Mr. Edgerton asked that the scale of the drawing be increased to one inch equals 40 feet.  He asked how much demand there is for this.


Ms. Joseph noted that there are probably people who do this that don’t know that there are regulations.  This person happened to ask her, and therefore she asked staff. That is how this came about.  The applicant is doing an organic farming operation and needs a lot of people during certain times of the year to pick bugs off the plants.


Mr. Edgerton acknowledged that the vineyards need a lot of help like this.


Mr. Craddock noted that the facilities living quarters may include shelter areas for sleeping, eating, food preparation, bathing as well as toilets. 


Ms. Joseph pointed out that it may be there is a separate eating place, sleeping place and area for hygiene.


Mr. Clark stated that it was walking that line between providing what people need for a healthy living situation without creating a dwelling unit.  It specifies that those things can be provided in the facility overall even if it is not located all in one structure.


Mr. Edgerton noted that the down side of this proposal was that some would use this regulation to build more on their property, which gets back to the enforcement.  He asked Mr. Shepherd if he had any concerns about the enforcement of this regulation.


Mr. Shepherd stated that left unregulated that if large substantial buildings that could house lots of people were built on farms that a situation could evolve that the use of them for migrant work that the workers would no longer be viable and there would be a lot of pressure on the county to allow those buildings to be used for something much more intensive along the lines of corporate retreats, etc. So the answer to that in our proposal here is the requirement that the applicant sign an affidavit that is recorded which states that the buildings will not be used for those purposes.  The buildings must be only used as accessory to other uses on the place.  That is staff’s way to address the potential problems.


Motion:  Mr. Morris moved, Mr. Edgerton seconded, to approve the resolution of intent in Attachment A for ZTA-05-05, Temporary Farm Worker Housing.


                                                          “RESOLUTION OF INTENT


            WHEREAS, the Rural Areas chapter of the Comprehensive plan includes a goal to “[p]rotect Albemarle County’s agricultural lands as a resource base for its agricultural industries and for related benefits they contribute towards the County’s rural character, scenic quality, natural environment, and fiscal health”; and


            WHEREAS, the planning objective accompanying the foregoing goal is “[t]o support agricultural land uses and to create additional markets for agricultural products through creative economic and land use strategies”; and 


            WHEREAS, ensuring the availability of farm-worker housing would help ensure viability for existing agricultural operations and encourage the development of new farm ventures; and


WHEREAS, it is desired to amend the Albemarle County Zoning Ordinance to allow farm-worker housing on farms for the reasons stated herein.


 NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT for purposes of public necessity, convenience, general welfare and good zoning practices, the Albemarle County Planning Commission hereby adopts a resolution of intent to amend Section 3.1, Definitions, Section 5, Supplementary Regulations, and Section 10.2, Permitted Uses (Rural Areas), and any other regulations of the Zoning Ordinance deemed appropriate to achieve the purposes described herein.


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Planning Commission shall hold a public hearing on the zoning text amendment proposed by this resolution of intent, and make its recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, at the earliest possible date.”

* * * * *

The motion passed by a vote of 4:0.  (Commissioner Joseph abstained.) (Commissioners Higgins and Cannon were absent.)


Mr. Edgerton suggested that the proposed scale for the required concept plan was too small (1 to 100).  It was suggested that a scale of 1 to 40 would be more appropriate. He asked that language be included that the applicant would have to meet the egress requirements in the structure.  He pointed out that he had done some work on farms where he had been told by the Inspections Department that no permit is required as long it was an agricultural building.  He just wanted to make sure that people are aware that there might be as many as 20 plus people staying in a place like this.


Ms. Joseph agreed with Mr. Edgerton.  She asked if staff could get Jay Schlothauer to come to the next meeting and talk about that.


Ms. Benish stated that during the public hearing they could receive public comment and Mr. Schlothauer could come and explain the inspections and approval process.  If the Commission has any concerns, they don’t have to act after that public hearing.


Mr. Edgerton noted that was a good plan.


Ms. Joseph stated that resolution of intent for ZTA-05-05, Temporary Farm Worker Housing, was approved.  She stated that since there was no further discussion that the Commission would move on to the next item.


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