Rural Areas Comprehensive Plan Implementation Update



Work Session to review Rural Areas (RA) Strategies and future RA work program



Messrs. Tucker, Foley, Davis, Kamptner, Graham, Cilimberg, and Benish; and Ms. McDowell





June 3, 2009


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The Rural Areas (RA) section of the Comprehensive Plan and its Key Implementation Strategies were adopted in March 2005, along with additional implementation initiatives that were to be undertaken upon completion of the priority strategies.  The purpose of this work session is to review the status of the RA implementation strategies and to discuss how to proceed with future RA initiatives, per discussions at the Board Retreat last Fall.




Goal 2.1:  By June 30, 2010, increase the total combined acreage in permanent conservation easements and qualifying public parkland by 30,000 additional acres (50%) using public and private means.

Goal 4.2: By June 30, 2010, increase the protection of the County’s rural areas by implementing the key strategies of the Rural Areas Plan.




The priority order of the Key Implementation Categories approved with the RA Plan was based on the following principles:  

·         Unmanaged growth in the rural areas should be addressed.

·         When the rate and form of development had been addressed through Phasing (time-release) of development and Mandatory Rural Preservation Developments (clustering residential development to preserve resources), other strategies to provide services to rural area residents and to protect resources would be initiated.

·         Phasing and clustering should be reviewed together.


While these priorities (Phasing and Mandatory Rural Preservation Developments (RPD)) were being reviewed, the Mountain Overlay Committee (MOD) completed deliberations and presented its consensus recommendations.  Following the MOD Committee’s presentation of its recommendations, all of these initiatives were reviewed at the same time with multiple public input meetings and work sessions.


Attachment A is an update of the status of Priority Implementation Measures. 

Attachment B is an update of the status of the Plan’s Strategies.


In reviewing the status of the priorities and strategies, some items have moved forward while others have not.  The successes have primarily been with respect to protection of natural resources and voluntary efforts.   The strategies that have been less successful were ones that proposed a regulatory approach to growth management and struggled with significant resistance from rural property owners who saw their ability to develop their property being diminished.  As described in the second bullet above, because phasing and clustering provisions were not established, a number of the remaining strategies are in question.  However, the question is which remaining strategies are still applicable and independent of the tabled priorities.  In considering next steps for implementing rural area strategies, it is also important to recognize that the Rural Areas Plan, adopted in March 2005, is scheduled for its five year update in 2010.  Given each of these factors, staff believes a five year review of the Rural Areas Plan is important for validating remaining strategies before undertaking major new initiatives. Finally, staff notes there is a question of limited resources. Staff anticipates the currently frozen planner positions will remain this way for several years, meaning any new initiatives will need to fit within the currently available resources.  This suggests that strategies resulting in additional staff capacity for future initiatives should be more heavily weighted.  


With the above perspective, staff believes the following is the best course of action through 2010:

1.                   Maintain a strong effort towards encouraging conservation easements, through ACE and other means.  The County has a Strategic Plan objective that will be very challenging to reach by June 2010 given the state of the economy and staff believes this should be our highest priority for the Rural Areas.  To illustrate the type of effort recommended, Attachment C is a summary of the tax benefits of a donated conservation easement, prepared by the Piedmont Environmental Council.  Staff believes efforts should be focused on educating landowners to the potential benefits of voluntary conservation easements using this type of material.     

2.                   Initiate a five year review of the Rural Areas Plan starting in 2010.  This will provide the necessary update of this section of the Comprehensive Plan and provide an opportunity to validate the remaining strategies against the results of the first five years.  Staff also recognizes the Land Use Plan as well as the Natural Resources and Cultural Assets sections of the Comprehensive Plan are in need of an update and there are overlaps between those sections and the Rural Areas Plan.  This suggests the County could benefit from a concurrent review process for these three plans.   

3.                   Staff has identified two near-term strategies which can be completed prior to starting the update of the Rural Areas Plan, both of which should improve staff’s capacity to implement future Rural Areas strategies even if frozen positions are not refilled within the next several years.     

a.        Evaluate circumstances where Rural Areas’ churches can be considered a by-right activity and propose ordinance amendments to provide for this.   Special Use Permits required for small additions or changes to these churches often appear to provide limited value to the community and are routinely approved with a standard set of conditions.  As such, these uses may be more appropriately considered under the Supplemental Regulations part of the Zoning Ordinance.  This has the potential of allowing staff to focus more resources on long term strategies rather than application reviews.  Staff recognizes there will be numerous issues to consider with this proposal, such as whether the structure is in a historic district or significantly increases road demands, but believes this can managed as part of the considerations.

b.       Evaluate circumstances where home occupations can be considered as by-right activities and propose ordinance amendments to provide for this. Similar to the churches, staff has noted many of these Special Use Permit applications appear to provide limited value to the community and are routinely approved with a standard set of conditions, which suggests this may be appropriate under the Supplemental Regulations part of the Zoning Ordinance.  This would also free up staff resources to work on long term strategies.    




There are no budget impacts that would result from the recommended near-term strategies (churches and home occupations).  Time for those strategies was anticipated in the Department Work Program that was received and endorsed by the Board of Supervisors on February 4, 2009.  Staff does not anticipate direct budget impacts from an update of the Rural Areas Plan but recognizes that future strategies could create impacts.   Any budget impacts resulting from future initiatives will be determined with the review of the initiatives.




Staff recommends the following course of action:

1.                   Promotion of conservation easements should remain the highest priority

2.                   An update of the Rural Areas Plan should begin in 2010 concurrently with an update of the Land Use Plan and the Natural Resources and Cultural Assets sections of the Comprehensive Plan. 

3.                   Possible ordinance amendments related to churches and home occupations should be considered prior to beginning work on the update of the Rural Areas Plan. 




A          Rural Areas Comprehensive Plan Implementation Update

B          Rural Areas Comprehensive Plan Strategies Update

C          Tax Benefit Fact Sheet

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