COUNTY OF ALBEMARLE

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 

 

AGENDA TITLE:  Administrative Waivers and Modifications in the Development Areas

 

 

SUBJECT/PROPOSAL/REQUEST:

Work Session - Discussion of Implementation of Development Review Task Force Recommendations for Certain Administrative Approvals in the Development Areas

 

 

 

STAFF:  Amelia McCulley, Ron Higgins

 

 

 

PLANNING COMMISSION DATE:  November 20, 2007

 

 

 

 

BACKGROUND

The Development Review Task Force (DRTF) was charged by the Board of Supervisors to:  review and assess the current legislative review process for improvements in efficiency, effectiveness, quality and adequate public participation.  One of the recommendations (listed as fourth priority) in their report to the Board on May 2, 2007 was “to establish staff authority for waivers and modifications in development areas.  The committee clearly felt that there are minor issues that come to the Planning Commission and Board that could be handled by staff if there were clear definitions.”  (See Attachment A for the DRTF recommendations and Attachment B for minutes of the Board’s discussion.) 

The DRTF specifically recommended that the Board “adopt standards that allow staff to have clearly defined discretion and authority on the following items that would have a significant impact on streamlining the approval process:  private roads; critical slopes; and buffers.”  It was acknowledged that this task would require ordinance changes. 

 

This recommendation was endorsed by the Board with the provisions that:  a) we would consider the impact on the public input process and b) there would be policy guidance from the Commission and Board as to how this would be implemented. 

 

With the intent of streamlining the review of minor issues in the Development Areas and consequently allowing the Commission to have more time to focus on policy issues, staff considered which issues may be taking unnecessary agenda time.  We examined 2007 Commission agendas for information as to which are recurring waiver requests.  (Information could not be accurately counted in numbers because not all waivers or reasons for Commission review are listed in the agenda description.  We have changed our agenda descriptions to better capture that information for the future.)  While there are a fairly high number of curb and gutter and inter-parcel connection waivers, staff is not prepared at this time to recommend that these become administrative reviews.  As we have more experience with these, we can revisit whether they may be appropriate for administrative reviews.

 

Staff identified three additional reviews which may appropriately qualify for administrative approvals with clear criteria.  Each review item will be discussed with the three recommended by the DRTF.

 

 

DISCUSSION

Of the six items to be considered for administrative review (three from the DRTF and three additional from staff), staff can suggest clear criteria and supports five of the six.  The sixth item, private roads, is not a recurring waiver request in the Development Areas.  In fact, the current Subdivision Ordinance adopted in July 2005, already provides for most of the common requests for private roads in the Development Areas to be approved administratively (by the Agent).  (The relevant section, 14-233 is found in Attachment C.)  Staff suggests that we continue to monitor the private road issue to determine if they become a common waiver request.

 

Of the five items recommended for administrative review, the critical slopes issue has perhaps the most difficult related issues.  It will likely be the focus of most of this work session discussion and will be covered last.

 

 

Staff has considered the concern raised by the Board about diminished public input and has a recommendation to address it.  We recommend that adjacent owners be sent written notice that an administrative waiver request has been submitted with information about the decision timeline.  This will allow the public to provide information for staff to consider prior to rendering the decision. 

 

  1. Buffers (recommended by DRTF):  A 20 foot undisturbed buffer is required in the Commercial Districts and a 30 foot undisturbed buffer in the Industrial Districts for properties adjacent to residential or rural areas.  The Commission may allow buffer disturbance subject to two conditions (the same for commercial and industrial as listed on Attachment D).  The two criteria currently within the Ordinance provide sufficient guidance so this waiver may be addressed by staff. 

 

  1. Certain -404 Requests for a Separate Access (recommended by staff):  The current language of Subdivision Ordinance Section 14-404 requires a -404 waiver for property split by an existing public road to use separate shared driveways or private roads.  This arises for example, when an existing public road runs through property splitting it into physically separate portions which lie on both sides of that road.  This is clearly a case in which it is not physically possible to serve the portions of the property on two different sides of an existing road with the same driveway.  Therefore, it does not appear to be a good use of Commission agenda time or applicant and staff time to require approval of a waiver.  There are currently no Ordinance exemptions from this requirement.  Staff recommends that the Subdivision Ordinance language be revised to exempt this specific situation from the requirement for a Section 14-404 waiver.

 

  1. Site Plan Waiver Approval for Certain Situations  (recommended by staff):  The current language of Section 32.2.2 allows the Commission to waive the drawing of a full blown site plan and the acceptance of a site plan drawn to reduced requirements.  Members of the Site Review Committee provide a recommendation to the Agent (and Commission) regarding whether a site plan waiver will adequately serve the purposes of their technical review.  The requirement for a site plan comes up in situations such as three or more dwellings on one parcel.  Staff suggests that if there are no other properties (other than the subject property) sharing the access road to the public road, a site plan waiver can be administered by staff.  Another example is property developed prior to the current site plan requirements which would otherwise be required to complete a full blown site plan for a minor addition such as a greenhouse or a small building addition.  Staff recommends that the Zoning Ordinance be revised to allow staff to administratively approve the use of a site plan waiver as opposed to a full blown site plan drawing in certain cases.

 

  1. Open Space (recommended by staff):  The Ordinance currently requires Commission approval for the dedication of open space and various aspects relating to open space (such as private ownership and inclusion of certain areas).  Staff recommends that the Ordinance be amended at a minimum to allow staff approval of the dedication of open space.  The current Ordinance language (found in Attachment E) can guide staff in the decision as it guides the Commission to “consider the appropriateness of such areas for the intended usage in terms of such factors as location, size, shape and topographic character.”    

 

  1. Critical Slopes (recommended by the DRTF):  The Ordinance currently requires Commission approval of critical slopes disturbance.  We have (administratively) allowed disturbance to artificial or manmade critical slopes which result from development under a prior plan approval by the County.  Staff uses the Open Space plan in the determination of whether there is a resource which may be impacted by the slope disturbance.  To avoid the later need for critical slope waivers, staff has been addressing it as part of the legislative review. 

 

In the future when the Open Space plan is re-evaluated and the key features can be more accurately depicted on a parcel-by-parcel basis, staff recommends that it becomes the tool in determining whether critical slopes disturbance may be permitted without a waiver.  However, this re-evaluation is a significant undertaking including field analysis and it is not currently scheduled.  The Open Space plan considers systems of significant wooded areas and significant stream valleys, among other things.  Because the extent (or distance) to protect a stream valley depends on various factors such as sensitive soils, drainage area and slopes of the stream bank, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

 

The Commission has several options for how to implement the DRTF recommendation on critical slopes.

Staff recommends that at a minimum, we codify the practice of exempting the disturbance of slopes created artificially as a result of prior development approval from the requirement for a waiver. 

 

The Commission also has these options:

 

A.      No longer prohibiting the disturbance of critical slopes in the Development Areas and instead relying on the review, measures and protections under the Water Protection Ordinance.

B.      Allowing disturbance of a certain area of critical slopes, such as 10,000 square feet, either as an exemption or as an administrative waiver.

 

 

RECOMMENDATION

Staff has purposely not provided draft Ordinance language at this time in order to facilitate focus on and discussion of the issues rather than that language.  We also do not have a resolution of intent for Ordinance amendment drafted at this time.  We recommend based on decisions made in this work session, that staff draft a resolution of intent with an executive summary, for the Commission to adopt on a future consent agenda.  We will then follow with public hearings on the draft Ordinance language.

 

In summary, staff recommends a resolution of intent to provide for:

 

1)       Exemption to Section 14-404 for properties split by an existing public road;

2)       Administrative approval for buffer disturbance, site plan waiver, open space dedication and disturbance of previously approved critical slopes.  The Agent shall have the option in a particular case, involving impacts to neighboring properties or for other reasons, to refer the waiver request to the Commission.  Prior to action by the Agent on a waiver request, adjacent owner notification shall be provided with adequate time allowed for input to be submitted. 

 

 

ATTACHMENTS:

A - Development Review Task Force Report and Recommendations

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