WPTA 2008 -003 – Public Airport Runways and Associated Improvements




Public hearing to consider an ordinance to amend County Code § 17-319 to exempt public airport runways and associated improvements from stream buffer requirements




Messrs. Tucker, Foley, Davis, Kamptner, Graham, and Brooks






September 3, 2008


ACTION:     X          INFORMATION:   



  ACTION:              INFORMATION:   











On August 13, 2008, the Board authorized a public hearing to consider amending the Water Protection Ordinance (“Ordinance”) to allow public airport runways and associated improvements to be exempt from stream buffer requirements.   The Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport’s (“Airport”) planned extension of its runway encroaches into stream buffers protected by the Ordinance.   The planned extension is shown in the Airport’s master plan, is incorporated into the County’s Comprehensive Plan through the master plan, and is supported by the Board as evidenced by its August 13, 2008 resolution of support.  Additionally, the runway extension has already gone through a federal approval process that included an environmental assessment.       




Effectively manage growth and development




Staff recognized a potential conflict between a planned runway extension at the Airport and the Ordinance when reviewing a site plan for the Airport that includes the runway extension.  Staff found that the runway extension encroached into a protected stream buffer and that a runway was not specifically addressed in the Ordinance.   To resolve this potential conflict, staff determined that either an ordinance amendment or an interpretation of the Ordinance by the Program Authority would be required.  Recognizing the Airport was under tight contractual timelines, the Director of Community Development, acting as the Program Authority under the Ordinance, directed staff to proceed with the review of the project, treating the runway as if it were a driveway.  This delayed the need to make a final interpretation and provided an opportunity to bring forward an ordinance amendment to address this issue.  If the Ordinance is not amended, an Ordinance interpretation will need to be finalized before approving or denying a grading plan that allows disturbance of this stream buffer.          


In proposing an ordinance amendment, staff considered three options for allowing a public airport runway within protected stream buffers.   Those options included:

  1. Under § 17-319 of the Ordinance, treat a public runway as an exempted activity;  
  2. Under § 17-320 of the Ordinance, treat a public runway as an authorized activity with established conditions; and
  3. Under § 17-321 of the Ordinance, treat a public runway as a discretionary activity that requires a case by case determination and mitigation plan.      


Staff supports an amendment to make the public airport runway an exempt activity under § 17-319 of the Ordinance for the following reasons.  First, water quality impacts associated with the runway extension are already regulated under federal and state permits.  This suggests that water quality regulation at the local level is redundant and would divert scarce staff resources from other projects where there are no state and federal safeguards.  Second, the runway extension is already recognized by the County as a planned improvement in the Comprehensive Plan and by the Board’s August 13th resolution of support.  This demonstrates that the runway extension should be viewed as a Board endorsed project rather than a project subject to administrative denial by staff.  Additionally, a public airport runway is a unique and very rare development, suggesting that standard conditions as an authorized activity will likely provide a poor fit.  Finally, staff recognizes the Airport and the County have a long and cooperative relationship.  While such an exemption might not be appropriate for all development, staff is confident the Airport will remain open to staff suggestions on additional water quality measures beyond what is required.          




Staff has not identified any budget impact associated with the proposed ordinance amendment.  This amendment will simplify the County’s administration of the grading permit, but that activity is already funded through the fees in the Water Protection Ordinance.  Under County policy, the Airport pays the same fees as any other developer.   




After the public hearing, staff recommends that the Board adopt the attached ordinance to exempt public airport runways and associated improvements from the Water Protection Ordinance stream buffer requirement.  




A – WPTA 2008-0003 Ordinance

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