Discussion of BRHBA Recommendations
Recommendation No 1. Encourages Albemarle County to obtain a legal opinion from the Virginia Attorney General on the County’s authority to require reservation and construction of streets to property lines.
Staff response: First, to correct any misunderstanding, the STA requires dedication of the right of way and construction easements, not a reservation for right of way as indicated in the BRHBA letter. The County Attorney has provided a legal opinion that this requirement is within the County’s authority. Additionally, staff notes this same provision has been widely used in other urban counties in Virginia for decades. As such, taking a year or more to obtain an opinion from the Attorney General would only further delay the adoption of the STA and accomplish little else. Staff also notes this is not a new requirement, but simply a modification of the existing requirement. Additionally, staff considers this provision necessary regardless of whether the project is considered a Neighborhood Model form of development. Without planned street connections, traffic is funneled to choke points which increases the need for expensive future transportation improvements. If this provision is eliminated, staff would recommend reducing the urban residential density to minimize the need for expensive future transportation improvements.
Recommendation No. 2. Create a bailout clause so that areas with average slopes below 10% grade do not require a grading plan.
Staff response: The STA already provides a bailout clause (waiver) for the overlot grading plan which is administratively managed by the agent. As such, the decision to relieve development of the need to have an overlot grading plan can be easily and quickly made by staff prior to the need to prepare that plan. That said, staff notes there can still be a need for an overlot grading plan with areas that have slopes less than 10% to verify adequate drainage. For example, the Wynridge Subdivision has areas with slopes less than 10% where the County recently spent over $200,000 to correct drainage problems created as part of that development. Staff anticipates circumstances for waiving the overlot grading plan can be noted at the time of preliminary plat review and agreement could be reached on how adequate drainage control can be assured through a modified overlot grading plan. Thus, while not the automatic bailout the BRHBA may desire, staff does believe the requirements can be easily waived where it is obvious the overlot grading plan serves little or no purpose.
Recommendation No. 3. The grade should be expressed as a maximum rise/fall of 3’ over 10’ across lots.
Staff response: This addresses a method to be used in measuring the slope and staff finds this acceptable. Staff does note the BRHBA has inadvertently recommended a more restrictive requirement than what is proposed with the ordinance language and staff fears this may be too restrictive for builders. 3’ over 10’ is actually flatter than 3:1. To accomplish the recommendation of the BRHBA, staff recommends leaving the ordinance as written but including a method for measuring the slope in the Design Standards Manual that calls for a maximum rise/fall of 4’ over 10’ with the overall slope 3:1 or flatter. That will provide builders relief for small and inconsequential variations in grading while maintaining the intent of this section.
Recommendation No. 4. Eliminate the requirements that limit the amount of drainage that may be carried across a yard in an open ditch or swale.
Staff response: Staff notes this is by far the most common drainage complaint received from new property owners and staff has found that the solutions become more complicated (expensive) as the size of the lot is decreased. Referring again to the Wynridge Subdivision, the amount of drainage carried in an open ditch or swale was the most significant part of the drainage problem. Additionally, staff has relied on the experience of other urban counties in developing this requirement.
With regard to utilizing low impact development (LID) techniques, staff has co-sponsored workshops on LID and is anxious to see it implemented in this area. That said, staff does not support putting structural Best Management Practices (BMPs) on lots. At one time, the County allowed BMPs to be built in yards, but the number of complaints and impacts on property owners forced the County to revise that policy. Staff believes allowing BMPs on small lots would only repeat a past mistake.
Recommendation No. 5. Allow driveway slopes to exceed 25% when certified by a licensed design professional, reduce the landing criteria to 15’, and average the grade over 10’.
Staff response: First, staff notes the STA calls for a maximum driveway grade of 20%, not 25%, and staff has never suggested increasing this to 25%. Additionally, staff would note that in looking for maximum driveway slopes in other localities, none exceeded 20% and most were considerably flatter. While staff remains concerned about steeper driveway grades, an acceptable compromise would allow grades steeper than 20% if certified by a design professional that the driveway is safe and convenient for vehicular traffic, including emergency service vehicles that might use this driveway. With regard to the landing being 15’ versus the 18’ in the STA, the BRHBA has not provided a justification for this position. The 18’ represent the length of a parking space as specified in the Zoning Ordinance. Staff has examined this and found that allowing the grade to transition over this additional 3’ would still leave a reasonable vehicle landing area. As such, staff would support reducing the landing to 15’. With regard to the measurement of the slope, staff believes this is best handled in the Design Standards Manual using a methodology similar to the one recommended for slopes on yards. As such, the recommended measurement over 10’ would be considered acceptable by staff.
Recommendation No. 6. Eliminate any requirement for providing a graded area from building entrances to the driveway or street. Failing this, specifically exclude stairs, shorter distances to property lines and accessible routes from backdoors on basements.
Staff response: Staff concurs with the BRHBA on the need to exclude stairs and shorter distances to property lines. While staff interprets the existing ordinance to provide this flexibility, revising the ordinance language could assure this exception. Staff does not agree with excluding basement doors. Basements can often be used as an accessory apartment and this type of arrangement has been noted as a means of providing affordable housing. As such, staff is reluctant to exclude a basement door from this requirement.
Recommendation No. 7: Switch Sections A and B of 14-234 and eliminate the requirement for earthmoving computations and natural survey.
Staff response: First, the BRHBA letter references sections A and B of 14-313, but staff has assumed they are referring to 14-234 as that is the section noted in the heading. When examining sections A and B of 14-234, staff believes the order is appropriate. Section A references the submittal requirement of the applicant. Section B references the considerations of the agent and Planning Commission with regard to the waiver request. With regard to the requirement for earthwork computations (14-234 A.1.), it is noted this applies only to requests made pursuant to reducing environmental degradation on property zoned Rural Areas or Village Residential. As such, this requirement is the continuation of an existing requirement for the Rural Areas and would not apply to requests for private streets in the Development Areas. Staff believes any change to this provision should be considered with changes to the Subdivision Ordinance made to implement the Rural Areas Plan.
Recommendation No. 8: County must affirm its intent to use construction condemnation powers to allow for the construction of roads on property lines or the prohibition of spite strips should be removed.
Staff response: First, spite strips are clearly prohibited under VDOT regulations for subdivision streets. Thus, there is no way the County could allow spite strips with public streets. Beyond that, staff is convinced spite strips are not in the public’s interest and spite strips can be used to adversely affect the value of adjoining property. Staff does agree with the BRHBA that a street proposed parallel and next to a property line can create a burden to the developer. Ideally, under those circumstances the adjoining property owner would share in the necessary right of way as it benefits its property as well as the first developer. Failing that, a compromise will need to be reached and that could include condemnation of necessary right of way or construction easements. Staff believes the County’s use of condemnation powers would require a case by case analysis of the circumstances and a commitment in the ordinance is not appropriate. That said, nothing in the subdivision ordinance eliminates this option for future Board considerations. Finally, staff agrees the Board could consider a policy for the use of condemnation powers for streets proposed on a master plan.
Recommendation No. 9: Eliminate the drainage provisions or revise the flood standard to a 25 year standard similar to VDOT.
Staff response: Given that many VDOT streets are flooded with the 25 year storm, staff would support revising this requirement to a 25 year storm.
Recommendation No. 10: Recommends the Board of Supervisors formally instruct the county engineer that a county mandated requirement for piping is an option of last resort.
Staff response: For lots less than 20,000 square feet in size, which are the lots affected by this requirement, staff concurs that piping across lots should be avoided whenever possible, but disagrees that it should be the option of last resort. In staff’s opinion, the first choice should be routing the drainage around lots through common space and public right of ways. When it is not possible to route the drainage from the streets around lots, staff believes piping is preferable to open drainage ditches. Staff has previously shown the Board a presentation which included examples of yards made unusable by open ditches lined with riprap. Staff’s experience has shown those ditches generate a large number of complaints for the County and a safety concern for the property owners. Staff would also note the proposed approach is consistent with the requirements of other urban counties in Virginia.
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