Albemarle County Planning Commission

April 22, 2008



The Albemarle County Planning Commission held a meeting and public hearing on Tuesday, April 22, 2008, at 6:00 p.m., at the County Office Building, Lane Auditorium, Second Floor, 401 McIntire Road, Charlottesville, Virginia.


Members attending were Marcia Joseph, Bill Edgerton, Eric Strucko, Jon Cannon, Vice-Chairman; Thomas Loach, Linda Porterfield and Calvin Morris, Chairman.  Julia Monteith, AICP, non-voting representative for the University of Virginia was absent. 


Other officials present were Wayne Cilimberg, Planning Director; Elaine Echols, Principal Planner; Summer Frederick, Senior Planner; Bill Fritz, Chief of Current Development; Megan Yaniglos, Senior Planner; Jay Schlothauer, Director of Inspections; Mark Graham, Director of Community Development; Glenn Brooks, County Engineer; Amelia McCulley, Director of Current Development & Zoning and Greg Kamptner, Deputy County Attorney. 


Call to Order and Establish Quorum:


Mr. Morris called the regular meeting to order at 6:00 p.m. and established a quorum.


Public Hearing Items:


ZTA-2007-00001 Zero Lot Line Residences in the R-2 to R-15 Zoning District

Amend Sections 3.1 (Definitions), 4.11.3 (Reduction of building separation and side yards), (Untitled), (Untitled), (Untitled), 14.3 (Area and bulk regulations, 15.3 (Area and bulk regulations), 16.3 (Area and bulk regulations), 17.3 (Area and bulk regulations), 18.3 (Area and bulk regulations).  This ordinance would amend section 3.1 by defining "zero lot line" and "zero lot line development); sections 4.11.3,, and by revising and adding regulations allowing reducing the minimum building separation and side yards for structures where there is adequate fire flow and for dwelling units in zero lot line developments; and sections 14.3, 15.3, 16.3, 17.3 and 18.3 by revising the respective district yard regulations to allow minimum side yards to be reduced to zero feet on one side in qualifying zero lot line developments.  A copy of the full text of the ordinance is on file in the office of the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors and in the Department of Community Development, County Office Building, 401 McIntire Road, Charlottesville, Virginia. (Elaine Echols)


Ms. Echols presented a power-point presentation and summarized the staff report.  (Attachment B – Power-point presentation)   She noted that there was a mistake on the agenda in that it is actually zero lot lines recommended in the residential districts R-2 to R-15.  The applicant asked for zero lot lines in the R-6 district. 


ZTA-2007-01:  Request for Zero Lot Line for Side Yard Setback


ORIGIN:  Application was made in January of 2007 by Frank Cox on behalf of Hunter Craig.  The Planning Commission discussed the proposed amendment on June 12, 2007 and December 14, 2007.  The Commission approved the resolution, asked the staff to check with the Building Official on two items and asked staff to proceed with drafting an ordinance amendment.


PROPOSAL:  The proposed ordinance amendment would change the side yard setback requirement from 10 feet to zero feet, on one side of the lot only, in R-2, R-4, R-6, R10, and R-15 zoning districts under certain conditions.  Definitions are provided for “zero lot line” and “zero lot line development”.  The zero lot line option is only available in a “zero lot line development”. 


Conditions for approval are:

        The proposal must be shown on a subdivision plat that shows all lots in the zero lot line development and delineating the location of each unit

        Buildings must have at least a 10-foot separation

        A 10-foot maintenance easement must be provided on the lot abutting the zero lot line side of the dwelling unit


The amendment also deletes the requirement for a reduction of side yard setback where structures are within a four-mile radius of a responding fire station and the reference that buildings must conform to the Building Code.  (Conformity with the Building Code is already a requirement.)


PUBLIC PURPOSE TO BE SERVED:  The proposal helps to implement the Neighborhood Model by providing more opportunities for compact development within the County’s designated development areas.


BACKGROUND:  After the Neighborhood Model was approved in 2002, the County began a process of amending the subdivision and zoning ordinances to help implement the Neighborhood Model and provide more flexibility in designs to provide greater density in the development areas.  Since that time, the ordinances have been amended to allow for alleys, reduce the amount of required parking spaces, allow for greater flexibility in how parking spaces are provided, allow applicants to apply for a Neighborhood Model (traditional neighborhood development type) zoning district designation, require curb, gutter, sidewalks, and street trees in single-family residential developments in the development areas, and require interconnections in the development areas.


County staff had been working with the Commission on modifying front yards, setbacks, and buffers in all zoning districts but RA and VR.  The applicant asked that the Commission advance this zero lot line proposal ahead of the other setback changes.  Staff and the Commission broadened the zero lot line proposal to make it available in all districts but RA and VR in the development areas and simplified the applicant’s proposed amendment. 


At their December 4, 2007 meeting, the Commission asked staff to ask whether the Building Code would allow for a pool within a 10’ side yard.   Staff has ascertained that the area would be available for a pool as long as it was fenced.  The Commission also asked staff to modify wording related to wall/fences that create an atrium. 


STAFF COMMENT:  In addition to providing the option for zero lot line development, the attached amendment removed confusing language from the last draft seen by the Commission that related to walls and fences that create an atrium.  As previously stated, the amendment also deletes the requirement for a reduction of side yard setback only where structures are within a four-mile radius of a responding fire station and the reference to the need for conformity with the Building Code.  The requirement for conformity with the Building Code exists elsewhere in the County Code and the Building Code covers the construction elements necessary for building separation of only 10 feet.  For these reasons, the section of the ordinance being deleted is not necessary.


Staff believes that the proposed amendment reflects all of the changes requested by the Commission and also meets the needs of the applicant who requested the zoning text amendment.


Administration / Review Process:  This process will not be changed by the ZTA other than creating an additional side yard setback option that, when utilized, will have to be measured differently.


Housing Affordability:  The proposed changes should not have an impact on housing affordability except to allow an additional design option to the mix of designs already available for affordable housing.


Implications to Staffing / Staffing Costs:  The addition of the option for zero lot line development should not increase staff time or costs to applicants.  The proposed change alters the way in which setback measurements take place; however, it did not increase the amount of work involved.


STAFF RECOMMENDATION:  Staff recommends adoption of the draft ordinance found in Attachment A of the staff report.


In regards to questions staff received by email:



Jay Schlothauer, Building Official for Albemarle County, replied that as buildings get closer to property lines the fire safety regulations increase.  The wall gets a higher fire rating.  Openings, such as windows and doors, disappear.  If five feet or greater from a property line, not another building, there is no restriction on the wall facing the property line.  If less than five feet all of a sudden the wall facing the property line has to have a fire resistance or rating of one hour for a fire either coming from inside or outside of the house.  At that same time there is a restriction on openings such as windows, doors, soffit vents, etc. where they can only be 25 percent of the wall area of the wall facing the property line.  It cannot exceed 25 percent of that wall area as openings.  If less than three feet the one hour wall is still there with fire ratings from both sides and there are no openings.  The Code also goes into things such as an eave overhang and what happens when it gets close to a property line.  It has to be rated for fire from underneath from the outside.  The simple answer to the question posed is yes, the Code does increase the fire resistance of the building as it gets closer to property lines. 


Mr. Loach asked what the requirement is at ten feet from one house to the other.


Mr. Schlothauer replied that the Code is not written in terms of building to building.  It is written in terms of building to property line. If the buildings have to be ten feet apart and are both five feet from the property line there is no restriction on the wall or the openings of either house. 


Mr. Loach asked if he was familiar with the NIST study that was done.  A study was done by the National Institute of Standards that showed that it took less than 80 seconds for a flame existing from a simulated house with a combustible exterior walls and a window to ignite a similar house six feet away.  That is 80 seconds once the fire blew through the window to start the second house on fire. 


Mr. Schlothauer replied that he was not familiar with it.


Mr. Loach noted that his concern with the ten foot separation was if there was a fire in one house would two houses be lost instead of one.  If there is ten feet between two houses with a three-story structure  and they had to throw a 35’ ladder that means that ladder has to be situated between seven and eight foot from the house.  That means that there is only two feet to work with manning the equipment and hose.  Therefore, he has some problems if there were five feet and five feet between structures and there is no increase in the Code.  This appears to be problematic.  Therefore, he would like to get some explanation from the Fire Service of their view of being able to work within these confines to fight fires considering that he might be one of them.


Mr. Schlothauer said that he was citing from the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code.


Mr. Loach noted that he realized that there was a problem in getting any kind of standard.  But, he did have some concerns that the ten foot would be too close if there was no fire rating for the wall to increase fire protection.


Mr. Schlothauer noted that they are using the 2003 International Residential Code. 


Mr. Loach pointed out that according to the study if they get one house on fire that they are going to lose two within a short period of mind.


Mr. Schlothauer noted that they should bear in mind that they have been building townhouses for years and they touch, which is the ultimate zero lot line.  He questioned if the townhouses caught on fire if the townhouses would burn each other and noted perhaps.


Ms. Porterfield noted that the way the regulations read currently is it requires five feet from the lot line so that there is a ten foot separation.  It is five and five on each side.


Mr. Schlothauer relied that was correct. 


Ms. Porterfield said that is exactly what they were creating here, but they have one house on the lot line and the other one has to bump over to the ten foot.  She was wondering whether that is going to cause builders to come in and want a variance because they are meeting what Mr. Schlothauer referred to.  But, the units would only be placed on the lots differently. 


Mr. Schlothauer noted that what would happen in that predicament is that the house that is on the lot line will have no windows with a one-hour fire wall and the other house can be 1,000 feet away.  That will still pertain to the house that is on the property line.  The intent of the Code is not to penalize the other guy just because one house got built first.  Their regulation might restrict that, but the Code does not.


Ms. Porterfield reiterated that he was saying regardless the unit that is built on the lot line would have to meet the regulations as far as the fire resistance as well as having no openings.


Mr. Schlothauer replied that was correct.


Ms. Porterfield questioned what the maximum height was.


Ms. Echols replied that the maximum height in the residential district was 35 feet and that there may be an additional setback.  Staff will have to check to see if there is an additional step back on the side yard. 


Mr. Morris asked if the Code requires any bedroom to have a window.


Mr. Schlothauer replied that was correct and that it had to be a certain size, which was called an emergency egress.


Mr. Morris said that in other words if he was on the lot line there could be no bedroom on that side, and Mr. Schlothauer replied that was correct.


Mr. Cilimberg noted that if there was a bedroom it would have to be to the front or back.


Mr. Edgerton asked Mr. Kamptner if, as Mr. Schlothauer points out, that the Building Code applies regardless of what any study says and they have no authority to adjust that without enabling legislation.


Mr. Kamptner replied that was correct that they were preempted from adopting our own materials and methods of construction.


Mr. Loach asked if the ten foot separation was implemented could they institute a new higher fire rating. .


Mr. Kamptner replied no since that would fall under altering a method of construction, which is pre-exempted by legislation.


Ms. Echols asked to correct something she told Ms. Porterfield.  The definition of zero lot line only applies to single-family detached dwelling units.  Therefore, an apartment complex would not be involved.  It would be extremely unlikely to have a zero lot line single-family home that is 65 feet tall.   Single-family homes rarely get up to 35 feet. 


Ms. Porterfield asked if it said 65 feet tall because they were dealing with apartment complexes.


Ms. Echols replied that was correct.  Currently in a conventional zoning district there is a minimum 15’ side yard setback, which ends up being 40’ between buildings in a conventional district.  So an apartment would have that kind of separation for a side yard setback.  This would not apply to that.  The single family has the same minimum 15’ side yard setback, which is a 30’ separation.  What they are talking about is bringing that down from 30’ to 10’ in a zero lot line situation.  Regarding the next question, they would not want to limit doors and windows in section 4.11.2.b.4 because it would be covered in the Building Code.  Regarding the next question, section 4.11.3.b.3 would not prohibit plantings in the side yard.  She noted that a rain garden would not be a structure and would be allowed.  Swimming pools would be allowed in the side yard if located 6’ from the property line.  Ms. Joseph brought up the question about lap pools and if they could be allowed closer than 6’ to the side property line.  Right now swimming pools are not allowed in any side yard.  She suggested that if the Commission wants to allow pools closer then 6’ to the side yard line that it is brought up in the overall zoning text amendments rather than with the zero lot line situations.  The Planning Commission may decide to change that, but that the wording of the proposed ordinance would have to change.  But, right now the way it is written the pool is considered a structure and would have to be located 6’ off the property line. 



Mr. Edgerton questioned if the pool had to be fenced how that could not encroach in the emergency access way required.  He asked if that should be considered. 


Ms. Porterfield suggested that they not allow pools in the side yard in the zero lot line. She asked how a ladder would be put up to fight a fire next door. 


Ms. Echols reiterated that staff’s recommendation was to bring this issue up with other ordinance amendments and not zero lot line.  In regards to Mr. Loach’s question she noted that there are two aspects of the fire protection that they are dealing with here.  One is the Building Code and the other is the fire flows.  The Fire Department establishes what the fire flow or what the water pressure needs to be for water available to put out a fire for the setbacks that are shown.   Staff wants to make sure that they have good references in the regulations to both the Fire Code and Building Codes.  The fire flows are in the zoning ordinance, which deals with the ISO standards that establishes the type of flows needed for the type of setbacks.  She invited questions from the Commission.


Mr. Edgerton noted that section C on page 3 references back to section 8, which they are trying to change.  He suggested that it be taken out.


Ms. Joseph and Ms. Porterfield agreed with Mr. Edgerton to leave out that reference to section 8.


Ms. Joseph questioned why they added section A3 that to this that unless constructed to a common wall no structure shall be less than 6’ to any lot line. The Commission talked about this and decided that it makes no difference.  She questioned why it is in here.


Ms. Echols replied that it is repeating what was formerly in here.  What she was talking about was a global change and applied to all zoning districts.  She did not think they were ready for all of those changes.  She was just trying to get the zero lot line things through.  She was going to bring back the whole issue about accessory structures.  At the July meeting there was a lot of little issues that the Commission was not settled on. That is why that was not included.  She hopes to get back to the Commission on that issue soon in the next set of amendments. Staff wants to make to make it clear that section A does not apply to zero lot lines.  Therefore, she suggested instead of having “or” put “and” between adequate flows and the Building Code.  Secondly, in order to make sure that people understand that the fire flows are important include “if the structure is located in an area where available fire flows are adequate under Insurance Service Offices standards to allow the reduction.”  Staff recommends approval of the ordinance with these two changes.


Mr. Morris invited public comment.  There being none, the public hearing was closed and the matter before the Planning Commission.


Ms. Joseph recommended striking C. 


Mr. Edgerton asked if there is some reference to pools in the side yards.


Ms. Echols replied no that it was in a separate section of the ordinance because the accessory structure section of the ordinance would apply here. 


Ms. Joseph agreed that they delete section B2 as being unnecessary and let the Building Code deal with it.


Mr. Cannon supported Ms. Echols suggested changes to the language in A and B.


Mr.  Loach expressed concern about the 10’ separation.  It is one thing to have adequate fire flow, which means that there is pressure in the hose, but another thing with that 10’ exposure to keep the fire from spreading.  He noted that the study confirms what would happen if there is a fire under this situation.


He would like to hear from the fire service and review their operational analysis on whether they can operate within a 10’ frame and not just the fire rating of the wall.   The article’s name was “Is your house a fire trap?” 


Ms. Echols said that staff has shared this information with the fire people, but did not ask that question.  She asked if the Commission how they wanted to handle it.


Mr. Morris noted that if the Commission moves this on that it would be advantageous to make sure that copies of the study are given to the Board as well as the Fire Marshall be present at the Board meeting.


Mr. Cilimberg pointed out that the Commission can make a recommendation that separation be addressed by the fire official before the Board considers this.


Ms. Joseph said that she understood Mr. Loach’s frustration, but was also listening to the Building Official.  She felt that the only way to address it would be to decide that it needs to be 15’ or 20’ between buildings.


Mr. Loach said that he would have no problem if the side to the 10’ has an adequate fire rating.  He felt that setting up this situation puts fire fighters in jeopardy.  He just wanted to hear from fire services.  He would be fine to pass this on to the Board with the proviso that fire services make a recommendation they can operate safely in that environment. 


Mr. Cilimberg noted that currently under the ordinance they have separations of 10’ that are already occurring.   It is not changing that potential.



Motion: Mr. Cannon moved, Mr. Strucko seconded to recommend approval of the adoption of the draft ordinance for ZTA-2007-01, Zero Lot Line Residences in the R-2 to R-15 Zoning District as submitted by staff with the following caveats and changes:


  1. When the ordinance is presented to the Board of Supervisors the Fire Marshal or other expert official needs to be available to address any concerns with the 10’ separation as raised by Mr. Loach.
  2. The staff recommended changes in the language as shown below for sections A and B be included. 

A.        Reductions for structures except in zero lot line development, with adequate fire flows and which are constructed in accordance with the building code.  The minimum building separation or side yards for primary structures may be reduced if the structure is located in an area where available fire flows are adequate under Insurance Service Offices standards to allow the reduction.  Each primary structure for which the minimum building separation or side yard has been reduced as provided in this subsection shall be subject to the following:

B.        Reductions for dwelling units in zero lot line developments.  The minimum building separation or side yards for detached dwelling units may be reduced to zero (0) feet on one side for each dwelling unit in a zero lot line development if the structure is located in an area where available fire flows are adequate under Insurance Service Offices standards to allow the reduction.  Each zero lot line development shall be subject to the following:

  1. Section B2 be removed as unnecessary.
  2. Section C be removed since it is inconsistent with the concerns intended to be addressed by the resolution of intent approved earlier in the evening.


The motion passed by a vote of 7:0.   


Mr. Morris said that ZTA-2007-01 would go to the Board of Supervisors with a recommendation for approval at a date to be determined.


The Planning Commission took a break at 7:12 p.m.


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