AGENDA TITLE:  ZTA2009-00006   Accessory Structures in required yards


SUBJECT/PROPOSAL/REQUEST: Amendment to restore front setback for accessory structures and to establish minimum separation between accessory and primary structures.



STAFF:  John Shepherd and Stewart Wright









Section was amended in 1983 to increase the accessory structure setback from 5 to 6 feet and to prohibit the location of such structures in required yards adjacent to streets, roads or access easements in the Rural Areas or residential districts. This section was again amended in 2002 to allow accessory structures to be set back 3 feet from alleys and shared driveways to better allow the implementation of the neighborhood model. The language that previously prohibited accessory structures in required front yards was not included in the 2002 amendment of the section. As a result, accessory may now be located six feet from the front property line in the RA and residential districts.


Buildings can be considered to be accessory, and eligible for location within 6 feet of a property line, if detached from the primary structure. The minimum distance of separation is not specified in the ordinance. This results in porches and garages that are separated by as little as one half an inch from the primary structure to be located six feet from a property line. While legal, this circumvents the principle that primary structures and uses should meet primary setbacks.


The Planning Commission held a work session on this proposal on April 21, 2009. The Commission adopted the Resolution of Intent and advised staff as follows:







This amendment reorganizes sections 4.11.2,, and into two well drafted sections. The purpose of this amendment is to restore the front setback for accessory structures to that of the required front yard and to provide a minimum separation between primary and accessory structures of a minimum of six (6) feet. It adds retaining walls and ATMs to the list of accessory structures that are allowed in required yards. Finally, it creates a new, separate section that strengthens the regulation of structures located in easements.


Specifically, this ZTA includes the following revisions to the ordinance.


  1. The proposed ZTA restores the requirement that accessory structures shall not be located in required front yards. It is staff opinion that this provision was inadvertently omitted from the 2002 zoning text amendment. It is also staff opinion that the front setback maintains a beneficial clear zone between streets and primary structures. This provision contributes to transportation safety and to an orderly pattern of development.


  1. The proposed ZTA adds retaining walls to the accessory structures that are permitted in required yards. This codifies our consistent, long-standing administrative practice to allow retaining walls in required yards.


  1. The proposed ZTA also adds Automatic Teller Machines to the accessory structures that are permitted in required yards. It is staff opinion that ATM machines are comparable to telephone booths which have been permitted in required yards since 1981.


  1. The proposed ZTA adds a provision that requires accessory structures located closer than six feet from a primary structure to comply with the minimum yard requirements for the primary structure. This closes a loophole that has allowed structures that were detached by as little as ˝ inch to be considered to be detached. These “detached “structures can now be located six feet from a property line. It is staff opinion that such structures that effectively function as a part of the primary structure are appropriately subject to the applicable primary setback. Staff notes that the proposed 6-foot separation decreases the area available for accessory structures located between a primary structure and a side or rear lot line, thus reducing the current development potential of the affected lots.


  1. The proposed ZTA creates a new section, 4.11.4 that prohibits the location of structures in easements without the written consent of the easement holder.


  1. The proposed ZTA reorganizes and clarifies the existing provisions of section 4.11.2. This amendment will also provide a clearer understanding of what is allowed and should result in fewer questions of staff. It will also allow for greater efficiencies in use determinations, plan and plat reviews and enforcement.


PUBLIC PURPOSE TO BE SERVEDThis proposal restores regulations that provide for a more orderly development pattern in front yards in the rural and residential districts. It also creates a clear distinction between primary and accessory structures for the purpose of maintaining setbacks.


ADMINISTRATION/ REVIEW PROCESS: This proposal will not change the review process for the vast majority of permits for accessory structures. The reduced area available for accessory structures can be expected to result in a small number of requests for setback variances.


IMPLICATIONS TO STAFFING  / STAFFING COSTS: This proposal will have an insignificant effect on staff time or cost. The limited number of variances resulting from the increased separation will result in increased staff time and cost to the applicant.


HOUSING AFFORDABILITYThis proposal will have no effect on housing affordability.


RECOMMENDATION: Staff recommends approval of the draft ordinance.  (See Attachment A) 



ATTACHMENT A:        Albemarle County Zoning Ordinance Section 4.11.2, dated May 4, 2009

ATTACHMENT B:       Resolution of Intent

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