CPA 03-06 Rural Areas Comprehensive Plan Public Hearing



Receive public input on the draft element of the Rural Areas Comprehensive Plan



Tucker, Foley, Davis, Graham, Cilimberg, Benish, McDowell





February 9, 2005


ACTION:                               INFORMATION:    X



  ACTION:                             INFORMATION:   











On March 5, 2003, the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission provided staff direction regarding potential topics and major issues to be addressed when drafting the Rural Areas element of the Comprehensive Plan.  A summary of the direction to staff is as follows:

  1. Transportation - the intention of the County is not to increase road capacity in rural areas; the roads should be well-maintained and safe to serve rural area residents; evaluate the Rural Rustic Roads program;
  2. Water and Sewer - Explore the use of central systems;
  3. Crossroads Communities - establish the concept of crossroads and identify existing rural crossroad areas, with an emphasis on historic crossroads communities; identify the types of uses that should be permitted in these crossroad communities; the scale, scope, and geographic boundaries of crossroad communities will be considerations in identification of crossroads communities and the determination of appropriate uses;
  4. Alternative Uses - explore strategies that could provide alternative uses to help landowners preserve their land intact rather than subdivide, with the goal to eliminate and/or reduce subdivisions;
  5. Agriculture and Forestry - consider establishing a dedicated staff position to provide support for agricultural and forestal support;
  6. Density and Development - do not consider reducing development rights; explore other methods that would reduce development potential; explore incentives that would result in a reduction of land used for residential acreage;
  7. Rural Preservation Developments - attempt to make RPDs the standard form of rural development as opposed to an option; explore the use of central systems; include residential design standards.


The development of the draft Rural Areas Plan included Planning Commission work sessions over the course of three years, four public meetings in the Rural Areas, and two public hearings.   Many individual citizens and citizen organizations contributed to the development of the draft Plan.


In August 2004, the Planning Commission recommended for approval a draft Rural Areas element of the Comprehensive Plan.  The Board began the first of its five work sessions on September 1, 2004.  Although most of the Plan recommended by the Commission has remained unchanged, the Board requested several changes to the Plan during these work sessions.  One of the major changes was to eliminate much of the section pertaining to central water and septic systems.  The impacts of this change are discussed below.  All of the Board's revisions have been incorporated into the draft Plan included in this report as Attachment A.  



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



The following is an overview of the major issues/areas which were considered in this proposed Rural Areas element of the Comprehensive Plan.  It notes, where appropriate, some of the more significant modifications made by the Board of            Supervisors to the Planning Commission recommended draft of the Plan.


Guiding Principles:  (Pages 11-12) The Guiding Principles serve as a set of standards that guided the drafting of the Rural Areas element of the Comprehensive Plan.  They identify the major goals, principles, and considerations that will continue to guide rural area policies.  The most significant change found in the Guiding Principles from current policy is that equal value would be placed on all the elements making up the Rural Areas (Guiding Principle 1.i-viii).  The current growth management policy places greater weight on agricultural and forestal resources by identifying them as "the most critical County resources and the desired primary land use in the Rural Area" and states that of all the elements, "the protection of  agricultural and forestry resources is the highest priority." The equal priority of these components means that land use decisions and resource allocation would include equal consideration of all elements.  The sharing of equal priority recognizes other important elements in the Rural Areas without diminishing the importance of agricultural and forestal land uses.


Agriculture and Forestry:  (Pages 13-18) Protection of agriculture and forestry has long been a major goal for the County. Until now, however, the County has taken an indirect role in protecting these land uses, largely through attempting to limit the amount of land taken out of production by residential development. The proposed plan would lead the County to take a more active role in supporting agriculture and forestry. This would be achieved through creation of a staff position to provide support to farm and forest owners; education programs; increased funding for purchase of conservation easements; simpler processes for sales of farm products, both on-farm and in farmers’ markets; and protection of important farm and forest land through mandating a clustered form for subdivisions.


Commercial Uses & Land-use Flexibility:  (Pages 23-27) Commercial uses are currently quite restricted in the Rural Areas. While this prevents undesirable impacts, certain low-impact uses that would be useful to rural residents are not permitted under current regulations. The plan proposes allowing commercial uses in specified historic crossroads communities, at scales small enough to provide benefits without encouraging further residential development. These uses should also provide owners of historic buildings with opportunities to make use of the buildings and help the community maintain its historic resources.  The Board determined that the commercial opportunities and rehabilitation of historic structures should not be restricted to the seven sites listed in the Survey of Crossroads Communities and recommended by the Planning Commission; therefore, they requested removal of references to certain specific historic Crossroads Communities in the draft Plan and requested that identification of crossroads communities would follow with the implementation of the Plan.  


Conservation:  (Pages18-23) This plan recognizes environmental conservation as a priority for the Rural Areas, and focuses on the need to protect large areas of forest, connect natural areas, protect stream habitats with forested buffers, and protect key areas identified in the ongoing Critical Resources Inventory.  In response to citizens expressing the importance to them of conservation of rural area lands, the Planning Commission added this section to the draft Plan. The Board amended the language to clarify the definition of conservation, its importance to the County, and to recognize that conservation uses are qualified for land use taxation.


The plan recommends a range of tools intended to protect important resources at various scales. Although the overall level of land conversion to residential use (which directly impacts natural resources) is not addressed, the design standards for clustered subdivisions are intended to ensure that a portion of each subdivision is potentially available for conservation. Other tools include increased numbers of purchased and donated conservation easements; assistance and education for County landowners interested in conservation on their land; and a stream-corridor overlay zoning district that would protect water quality and provide habitat connections for wildlife.


Central Water and Sewer Systems: (Pages 44-45)  The support of central water and sewer systems as a tool to further reduce residential lot sizes in the Rural Areas, as recommended by the Planning Commission, was removed by the Board of Supervisors.  The Board believed that a proliferation of central systems could become a long term maintenance concern and could have an unintended consequence by permitting residential development that would not otherwise be feasible. Although some Planning Commissioners had reservations, the majority of the Commission supported central systems as a way to reduce lot sizes in Rural Preservation Developments to 1 - 1˝ acres.  In removing this recommendation of the Commission, the Board acknowledged that such systems should only be considered on a case-by-case basis.  This would be consistent with current policies and regulations which discourage such systems but include a process for approving them where the Board feels it is appropriate. 


The Board did agree that the County should consider the Chesapeake Bay Act's provision regarding maintenance of septic tank systems in order to reduce the potential for groundwater contamination because of increased residential development in the Rural Areas.   If this provision requiring the pumping of septic tanks every five years were to be ultimately implemented, it would have widespread application in the Rural Areas. 


Residential Development:  (Pages 33-40)  Since the 1989 Comprehensive Plan, the County has recognized residential development as a major threat to the Rural Areas and to the area’s water supplies. It is estimated that over 50,000 more homes may be built in the Rural Areas under the current Zoning Ordinance. The conversion of that amount of land to residential uses, and the infrastructure and resources needed to serve those homes (roads, community services, groundwater supply, etc.) would lead to widespread suburbanization of the Rural Areas and significant impacts on the viability of agriculture and forestry, on water quality and natural habitats, and on the character of rural communities.


This Plan does not address the total amount of residential development that is possible in the Rural Areas. During the Planning Commission work sessions, changing the current 21-acre minimum residual lot sizes to 50 or 100 acres was discussed.  Ultimately, the Commission, and later the Board, determined that changes to the current 21-acre minimum lot sizes would not be considered.  The proposed policies would only control the design of that development, in hopes of reducing some of the impacts. This reduction would be achieved through requiring most development to be clustered, with small development lots grouped together and a single large parcel placed under a permanent conservation easement. On page 35, the draft Plan observes that until now Rural Preservation Developments have divided rural land into large lot residential developments. The Plan further states that it is important to “minimize the amount of land used for residential development in order to maximize the amount of land that is available for agricultural, forestry, open space, natural, scenic and historic resources. In order to accomplish this goal, consideration of fewer residential lots may be considered.”  Other growth management tools mentioned include limiting the size of development lots.  Page 29-30 emphasizes that," New policies should focus on protecting existing large parcels from fragmentation, preserving a general pattern characterized by farms, forests, and habitat corridors, and reducing the potential overall level of residential development and loss of rural character.  Implementation of these policies to address residential density and pattern of development should be the County's highest priority."  Phasing of development, which limits the number of development rights that can be used in a given time period, is also proposed to moderate the rate of subdivision in the Rural Area. 


Roads & Transportation:  (Pages 42-44) The Plan focuses on improving the safety of rural roads through in-place improvements, rather than through increasing speeds and road capacity with wider, paved roads. However, the Board changes to the draft Plan recognize that the unaddressed development potential of the Rural Areas will make it more difficult to achieve safe roads.


Long-term Planning:  The Plan recommends the development of tracking and monitoring tools that would help the County better understand trends in the Rural Areas and the effects of new and proposed regulations and programs. It also calls for a detailed visioning process in which citizens can help to identify future states for the Rural Areas in which the Plan’s multiple goals can be achieved.



Staff recommends that the Board receive public comments on the draft Plan and schedule a follow-up work session to discuss any final revisions and to review implementation steps before adopting the Plan. 



A          Draft Rural Areas Comprehensive Plan Table of Contents

B          Draft Rural Areas Comprehensive Plan


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