Rural Areas Comprehensive Plan Work Session




Discuss key issues contained in the draft Rural Areas Comprehensive Plan




Tucker, Foley, Kamptner, Cilimberg, Benish, McDowell






November 3, 2004


ACTION:                                 INFORMATION:   X



  ACTION:                               INFORMATION:   










For its first Rural Areas Comprehensive Plan work session on September 1, 2004, the Board of Supervisors received the Planning Commission’s recommended Rural Area Plan and received a brief overview of the Plan contents. The Board agreed to a facilitated review process that would focus on key issues of the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment. The first facilitated work session on October 6 resulted in several directions given to staff which will be reviewed with the Board at the end of the work session process, along with any other recommendations that the Board may generate during subsequent work sessions.  The items to be discussed at the November 3 work session are outlined in the discussion section of this Executive Summary.  Any other critical issues identified by the Board will be discussed after completion of the key issues discussion in this work session. 


For your reference in the upcoming work sessions, the draft Plan and reference documents were provided to the Board in September in a notebook titled: The Rural Areas Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan.  Please bring your notebooks to the upcoming work sessions.




Strategic Direction 2:  Protect the County's Natural, Scenic and Historic Resources.

Goal 2.1:  Protect and/or preserve the County's rural character.




Work Session #3 Agenda:

Discuss the Following Key Issues:

  1. Density
  2. Central Water and Septic Systems
  3. Rural Preservation Developments (RPD)
  4. Phasing (timing) of Development
  5. Impact on Roads/Transportation
  6. Land Use Tax

7.   Implementation


   Key Issues Discussion

The report format for each of the key issues begins with a reference to the RA Comprehensive Plan page numbers followed by a summary of the direction given to staff by the Board and Commission at a joint work session on April 2, 2003.  The direction paragraph is followed by a summary outline of the key issue.


1.       Density

(Pages 27, 28; Pages 31-32 “Density and Development” section; Page 34)


Direction:  At a joint work session on April 2, 2003, the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission directed staff to not consider a reduction in development rights in the drafting of the Comprehensive Plan, but instead to pursue alternatives that would reduce development potential in the Rural Areas, potentially through increasing size of non-development-right lots or through other zoning approaches (e.g., large-lot zoning, phasing, sliding scale zoning).  Staff was also directed to explore incentives that would result in a reduction of land used for residential acreage, in order to increase land available for natural resource conservation and preservation, agricultural and forestal uses. A copy of the report is contained in the Board's RA Comprehensive Plan notebooks. 


The Planning Commission discussed approaches to reducing the number of 21-acre division right lots during several work sessions. These lots are considered to be too small to be viable for most forms of farming, forestry, and conservation.  More importantly, they actually decrease the acreage available for these preferred Rural Areas land uses.  Staff made a proposal to increase this by-right acreage to a minimum of 50 acres and a Commissioner recommended that a 100-acre minimum be established.  Although the Planning Commission did not reach consensus on this issue, the Commission directed staff to add language to allow consideration for "changing the formula for calculating the number and size of lots within Rural Preservation Developments." In other words, rather than calculating the number of lots based on conventional subdivision methods (development-right lots and minimum 21-acre remainder parcels), the formula would be based on the total of development-right lots and remainder lots of some yet-undetermined larger size. The language recommended by the Planning Commission was added to the Plan; however, staff recommends that the final version also include a strategy that would provide clear direction as to the expected outcome of this effort.


2.       Central Water and Sewer Systems

(Pages 43 - 45; Appendices White Papers for Rural Area Comprehensive Plan, Technology Choices for Water & Wastewater, The Albemarle County Rural Area as a Source of Watershed Ecosystem Services)


Direction:  Although the current County policy does not support central water and sewer systems, at the joint work session on April 2, 2003, the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission directed staff to explore the use of central water and sewer systems and to focus on their technology.  These systems could be considered where feasible for RPDs or for other types of rural development.  The Board and Commissioners emphasized that the intent of central systems would not be to provide a mechanism for encouraging or allowing development that could not otherwise occur with private (individual) systems. 


Concerns regarding the impact of residential development on groundwater and the environment, coupled with a goal to use as little land as possible for residential development, resulted in searching for other methods for obtaining water and for waste water disposal.  The draft Plan asks that the use of central systems or other alternative systems be considered; however, in heeding the earlier direction given at the joint meeting, strategy #3, page 45 emphasizes that it is not the intent of central water and sewer systems to accommodate development that could not otherwise be feasible using conventional subdivision standards (individual wells and septic systems).  Further, the draft Plan recommends that prior to consideration of central systems, verification should be provided that the uses could be supported by individual private systems. 


The Planning Commission did not arrive at full agreement that these systems would not result in an unintended increase in development.  However, the majority of the Commission recommended consideration of central systems as a viable alternative to individual wells and septic systems.  Staff has maintained that a key to recommending these systems is to have them professionally designed, constructed, and maintained. Information pertaining to alternative water and wastewater choices is included as reference in the RA Comprehensive Plan notebooks in the appendices.


3.       Rural Preservation Development (RPD)

(Pages 32-34; Strategies on pages 37-39)


Direction:  The Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission directed that staff attempt to make RPDs the standard form of development, as opposed to an option. 


The Comprehensive Plan sets goals and strategies to protect large expanses of land for conservation, agricultural, and forestal uses.  Rural Preservation Developments (RPDs) have been in existence since 1989 as a subdivision option.  The draft Plan contains three major changes in the way RPD subdivisions would be regulated in the Rural Areas: a) mandatory (with limited exceptions) that all residential subdivisions would be required to be clustered in an RPD; b) use the least amount of land possible for residential lots (establish a maximum lot size, as opposed to the minimum lot size now required); c) the size of the preservation (easement) parcel would be at least a minimum percentage of the RPD’s total acreage, instead of the current 40-acre minimum.  The Planning Commission discussed requiring 85% of the total acreage as the minimum.


Central water and sewer systems and/or allowing secondary septic drainfields on an open space lot or on a portion of the preservation parcel are options that would make smaller residential lots in RPDs feasible.  Again, proof that no additional lots other than what would be allowed under conventional subdivision methods should be required.


4.       Phasing (timing) of Development

          (Page 35; Strategy 12, page 38)


Direction:  The Board and Commission provided the following direction regarding phasing:  Staff will pursue alternatives that reduce the development potential in the Rural Areas.  One of the alternatives considered was phasing. 


Currently, it is possible for the full number of lots to be developed without phasing restrictions.  Phasing (timing of development) would be applicable to all new subdivisions, including Rural Preservation Developments and Family Divisions.  Phasing of the number of lots to be created from any given parcel over a fixed period of years would slow development in the Rural Areas. Phasing would not affect the ultimate density of development (the number of lots created). 


5.       Impact of Roads/Transportation

          (Pages 41-43 and Attachment A of this executive summary)


Direction:  The Board and Commission direction regarding transportation issues is:  it should be clearly understood that it is not the intention of the County to increase road capacity in the rural areas; the County should serve the needs of rural area residents with safe and well-maintained roads; and we do not need to evaluate the Pave in Place Program - we should evaluate the Rural Rustic Roads program for implementation.


As a means to retain rural character, the draft Plan recommends Rural Rustic Roads as a strategy.  This cost-saving type of construction would allow the paving of rural roads with the least amount of aesthetic and environmental impact.  The County has approved two pilot Rural Rustic Road projects on Gilbert Station Road and Allen Road.   It is anticipated that construction will begin in the spring of 2005.


ADDED BOARD ISSUE:  An issue was raised by the Board at the first RA work session regarding the impacts of residential development on roads and traffic.  A copy of the research from Juandiego Wade, Transportation Planner, is attached (Attachment A).


6.       Land Use Tax

          (Page 46 - 47 and Map H)


Direction: The Board and Commission did not request any changes to the strategies listed in the draft Plan.


Although the percentage of participation in the program has declined from 1982 to 2002 from 75.5% to 62.6%, as indicated by Map H, most of the Rural Areas and portions of the Development Areas receive the benefit of receiving Land Use Tax.  The Farm Bureau as well as many other individuals have cautioned the County regarding any removal of the Land Use Tax Program, saying that many if not most farming operations would be jeopardized if the program were eliminated.  However, the draft plan recommends that an examination of the effectiveness of the program to positively support agricultural, forestal, horticultural, and open space land uses should be undertaken by a committee.


7.       Implementation

          (Pages 28-29)


Direction:  Consistent with the County’s Strategic Plan and based on the direction provided by the Board of Supervisors, staff is developing implementation measures and priorities to present to the Board as the Board completes its review process.     


The variety and complexity of issues pertaining to the Rural Areas required that they be approached on a multitude of levels.  It was clear early on in this process that there was to be not one, or even a few, magic solutions that would retain the rural character appreciated by those who live in and visit Albemarle. The Planning Commission determined that the Rural Areas Comprehensive Plan should address these issues in a general way through direction, guidance, and policies.  They believe that implementation of the Plan offers the most advantageous process for the County to determine regulatory details. 


Although the review process is still underway, Staff is drafting an implementation chart that includes each strategy and a recommendation for priority.  The implementation chart will be scheduled for presentation to the Planning Commission in December.  A rush by the public for land use approvals may be an unintended consequence of anticipated changes to zoning and subdivision ordinances. Therefore, implementation of the strategies related to residential density and pattern of development have been recommended to have the highest priority. 



Lee Catlin will facilitate the Board’s discussion of each of these key issues at the upcoming work session.




Staff recommends that the Board of Supervisors discuss the key issues outlined above and provide guidance as to any modifications it desires and direction as to its implementation priorities.  If necessary, the Board should identify if further deliberation is necessary on the issues that have been discussed or if any additional issues should be included for discussion in an additional work session.  Otherwise, the Board should set a public hearing for the Rural Areas element of the Comprehensive Plan.




Attachment A - Memorandum from Juandiego Wade, Transportation Planner, dated October 19, 2004

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