STAFF PERSON:                              David Benish, Chief of Planning

                                                            Joan McDowell, Principal Planner Rural Areas                                     

PLANNING COMMISSION:          July 22, 2008


BOARD OF SUPERVISORS:          September 10, 2008


ZTA 2006-01 Country Stores


Amend Sections 3.1, Definitions, 6.4, Nonconforming lots, 10.2.1, By right, 10.2.2, By special use permit, and 10.4, area and bulk regulations, and add Section 5.1.45, Country store and non-country store uses in historic country store buildings, of Chapter 18, Zoning, of the Albemarle County Code.  This ordinance would amend Section 3.1 by defining certain terms related to country stores; Section 6.4 by adding regulations pertaining to country stores on nonconforming lots; Section 10.2.1, by adding Country stores, Class A, as a by right use in the Rural Areas zoning district; Section 10.2.2, by adding Country stores, Class B (replacing “Country stores”), non-country store uses in historic country store buildings, and the sale of gasoline and other fuels in conjunction with a country store, Class A or B, as uses allowed by special use permit; and Section 10.4, by adding an introductory statement.  This ordinance also would add Section 5.1.45 to establish supplementary regulations for country stores, Classes A and B, and non-country store uses in historic country store buildings.


ORIGIN:  The Rural Areas (RA) section of the Comprehensive Plan identifies the protection of historic, archeological and cultural resources as a guiding principle for the Rural Areas.  As a result of the Historic Preservation Committee’s concern that the remaining County stores’ futures were threatened unless the County interceded, the Board of Supervisors prioritized the Rural Areas implementation plan by giving country stores a higher priority.  The Board directed staff to propose ways to improve and preserve Albemarle’s country stores as historic and cultural resources.


PROPOSAL:  Amend the zoning ordinance to provide appropriate standards and regulations with the flexibility that respects their existing conditions, maintains rural character, and encourages a revival of Albemarle’s country stores that are essential to the rural culture and rural economy. 


PUBLIC PURPOSE TO BE SERVED:  The preservation of country stores implements the Comprehensive Plan by helping to protect and enhance the rural quality of life; they also address the needs of existing rural residents without fostering growth and further suburbanization; additionally, they provide a market for local agricultural products. 


Albemarle’s country stores are an important cultural resource of historic buildings and sites to be conserved.  With these recommendations the County could increase the means by which country stores are supported as viable rural businesses, integral components of crossroads communities and other localized rural economies.  Supporting the stores would serve to provide greater opportunities for store owners, increase viability of these rural buildings, and allow for the re-integration of a primary element of the rural landscape back into the fabric of Albemarle County.  In addition to the economic, historic, and cultural benefits of supporting country stores there are positive impacts on natural resource conservation.  The adaptive re-use of buildings is fundamentally sound environmental practice, producing less overall impact on the environment and helping to conserve natural resources.   


BACKGROUND:  In May of 2003 the Historic Preservation Committee presented a Position Statement on Albemarle County’s Historic Country Stores prompting the Board of Supervisors to direct staff to propose ways to improve and preserve Albemarle’s country stores not only as an historic and cultural resource, but as an integral part of Albemarle’s rural crossroads communities.  A strong rural economy is one of the elements of the County’s vision for the Rural Areas; the Rural Areas Guiding Principles encourage the support of localized rural economies and rural land uses providing rural landowners with economic viability. The proposed changes to the Ordinance are intended to ensure the remaining country stores continue to play an essential role in the culture, economy, and historic legacy of Albemarle County.  At this time, 83 country stores have been surveyed, with 49 of those on Entrance Corridors.


In March 2007, interested citizens and store owners met with staff to discuss the proposed ordinance framework.  Much of the input from these stakeholders was incorporated into a draft proposal presented to the Planning Commission on March 20, 2007.  The Commission adopted a Resolution of Intent to direct preparation of a text amendment and also discussed the draft framework proposal (Attachment A).  The Commission has held two work sessions to discuss the proposal.  


At the last work session in May 2008, the Commission gave direction on three issues.  A copy of the action minutes is attached as reference (Attachment D).


The proposed ordinance has incorporated the following Commission direction (summary in italics):

1)      Alternative septic disposal

      A three-tired level of review for the alternative systems has been added; alternative disposal system can be considered only if the country store use within an historic country store building necessitates an alternative system.  Accessory uses within the building may also use the system once it is in place; the Zoning Administrator may require that the applicant maintain the system, as recommended by the Health Department or required by law.


2)      Mixed uses

      Accessory uses, including a residence and office, would be permitted within the country store building provided that the country store would occupy a minimum of 51% of the gross square footage of the building. 


3)      Expeditious review

            The Commission supported staff’s recommendation to provide an expeditious processing, provided that a special use permit for new country store buildings would continue to be required.  The Commission also suggested that staff consider merging two of the initially proposed classes of country store uses (Class C and Class D), as they would both be required to obtain a special use permit.  Consideration of the need to provide an expeditious review for existing country stores and protecting historic country stores, staff further refined the proposed ordinance into two categories:  Class A and Class B.  Additional discussion of these two classes is contained below in the Staff Comment section of this report.



The proposed text amendment has incorporated three of the Historic Preservation Committee recommendations:

1)      Eliminates the current two-year window in which a vacant country store loses its non-conforming and exceptional status as a commercial property;

2)      Revises the requirements for parking to allow exceptions to accepted practice when the confines or limits of the property of one of the historic stores do not allow for the standard requirement; 

3)      Allows for multiple uses in country stores.


The Historic Preservation Committee also recommended implementing tax credits for rehabilitation of country stores. Since tax initiatives are not contained in the zoning ordinance, this recommendation has not been included in the text amendment.


In addition to the recommendations by the Historic Preservation Commission, the draft ordinance includes components derived from discussions with the Planning Commission and with owners of country store properties. 


Historic County Store Building.  Based on the Secretary of Interior standards, a building is considered historic when it is 50 years old or older.  Protection of Albemarle’s existing historic country store buildings was the guiding framework for this ordinance.   If approved by the Board of Supervisors at their public hearing scheduled for September 10, 2008, country stores buildings constructed on or before September 10, 1958, would meet this standard and be considered a Class A country store use in a Country Store Building, Historic.  Stores constructed after the approval date would not be considered historic and would be classified in Class B category.  Although the 50 year historic standard is a constantly shifting date, this ordinance specifically targets the county’s existing older country store buildings as a unique historic resource and in need of protection.  It has not been determined how many stores still in existence would meet the 50 year standard.


Since 1969, Albemarle has required a special use permit for country stores, called then General Store, Country.  The definition in 1969 allowed a maximum of 4,000 square feet for the ground floor level.  Gasoline could be sold as a secondary activity with no more than three gasoline pumps.  Current regulations allow 4,000 square foot country stores by special use permit.  However, gasoline pumps are not allowed in the Rural Areas District under current regulations.


In general, this ordinance classifies country stores into two categories:


Class A Country Store.  In a historic country store building, a country store use or other permitted use in the RA would be by-right, requiring administrative approval only.  Also, in recognition that most historic country stores would not meet today’s regulations including setbacks, parking, and landscaping, Class A country stores would be exempt from those requirements.  If a store is not in operation for two years or more, it would no longer be considered non-conforming.


Non-conventional sewage disposal systems would be considered for the country store use, as many of the existing stores are located on lots that may not accommodate a two-drain field conventional system.  The system would be considered under a three-tiered evaluation, as recommended by the Planning Commission:  1) for country store use only; 2) drainfields cannot be located on-site or on an adjacent parcel; and approved by the Health Department.  According to the Health Department, the state health department will have an operation and maintenance program taking effect July 1, 2009.  All pre-treatment units have to be NSF 40 certified. Presently, dealers for these units have to inspect these units when they are installed and 6 months thereafter for a two year period.


Class B Country Store.  In a non-historic building, a new country store use or other permitted use in the RA would be required to obtain a special use permit. 


Class A and Class B Country Stores.  Some of the proposed regulations apply to both classes of country store.  As we have experienced, there can be some difficulty in retaining the economic viability of country stores in the Rural Areas.  Country store property owners have discussed ideas that would allow a diversification of uses that they believe necessary for their survival.  Consideration of other uses included historic precedence, scale, parking, and potential demand of services.  Regulations concerning building size and the maximum amount of accessory uses in relation to the country store use apply to both Classes.  The following regulations would apply to both classes:


   Maximum 4,000 square foot building (removed from definition, so that it can be waived by the Planning Commission);

   Office and/or residence allowed in a maximum 49% of the country store building (offices and mixed residential/office/country store uses are currently not permitted in the RA District); 

   Food preparation, sale, and consumption in no more than 20% of the country store area within the building; outdoor seating area would also be permitted, with size limited to 20% of the country store area within the building;

   Entrances would be required to meet Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) sight distance standards;

   Stores and signs on Entrance Corridors would be reviewed by the Architectural Review Board, using the Secretary of Interior standards

   Gasoline sales would be allowed with a special use permit, with limitations on the fuel/nozzle dispensers; other fuels, such as propane and diesel could also be sold without limitation;

   Pre-existing country stores with special use permits would be allowed to continue in use, as approved;

   Accessory uses would be allowed to continue for two years after the country store use is discontinued;

   Provisions regarding lot adjustments to meet Department of Health requirements for country stores that would provide protections for nonconforming lots.


Housing Affordability: 

The draft proposal (Attachment C) does include residential use within a country store buildings as an accessory use, although impacts on housing affordability will not be significant due to the total number of remaining country stores.  However, combining residential use within country store buildings would provide the opportunity for owners to simultaneously live in and operate a country store, provide on-site living accommodations for a caretaker / employee, or provide supplemental income to the store owner through the rental of residential space.


Administration / Review Process: 

Review of country stores would consist of the following processes:

Class A – Existing uses would be allowed to continue to operate.  New uses would require an administrative approval process that includes review by Health Department and Virginia Department of Transportation.  A site plan application would be required for new uses that would necessitate additional parking or a change in the entrance.  Exterior alterations of buildings located on Entrance Corridors would require Architectural Review Board approval.  


Class B –Existing uses in country stores would be allowed to continue to operate. New country stores would be required to obtain a special use permit.  Exterior alterations of buildings located on Entrance Corridors would require Architectural Review Board approval.


Implications to Staffing / Staffing Costs:

This ordinance amendment would encourage the reuse of country store buildings. Of the total 83 country stores that have been located and surveyed by staff, 49 country store buildings are located on Entrance Corridors. Since the intent of this ordinance is to support and promote country stores in the Rural Areas, it can anticipated that additional applications, both administrative reviews and special use permits, would result from this effort.  Although additional reviews will impact staff work loads in the Community Development Department, the greatest impact would be for the review of the architecture, site and signs on Entrance Corridors for both Class A and Class B country stores, including a new requirement for an analysis of the Secretary of Interior standards (Attachment E).  In addition to review of both Class A and Class B stores on the Entrance Corridors, the Design Planning staff would also be charged with instructing the Architectural Review Board (ARB) on the Secretary of Interior standards.  At this time, the Design Planning staff in functioning in excess of full capacity with mandated reviews; therefore, any additional activity generated by this amendment would increase already over burdened work levels.  Although a decline for some of the other applications is currently being experienced due to the economic downturn, the Design Planning has been experiencing heavier work levels and with fewer staff, due to the frozen Historic Preservation planner position.


The review of country stores would be subject to the appropriate fees.  No new fees would result from this proposal. 


STAFF RECOMMENDATION:  Staff recommends adoption of the draft ordinance found in Attachment C.  It should be noted that there are resource implications to the adoption and implementation of the ordinance (as described above) that need to be addressed by the Board of Supervisors before this ordinance is adopted and put into effect.



Attachment A:  Resolution of Intent

Attachment B: Draft Ordinance No. 08-18 – final draft

Attachment C: May 22, 2008 Planning Commission Final Action Memo

Attachment D:  Secretary of Interior Standards

Return to PC actions memo