Mountain Overlay District and Rural Areas Resource Protection Work Session




Protection of Albemarle's Rural Areas Resources




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







December 13, 2006


ACTION:      X                        INFORMATION:   



  ACTION:                             INFORMATION:   











On September 13, 2006, the Board of Supervisors held a work session to discuss the Mountain Overlay District (MOD) Committee's recommendations for a three-part program to "protect the economic, cultural, and natural resources of Albemarle County's mountains."  The Committee's report advised, "several aspects of the proposal, such as enhanced protection for critical slopes, might be appropriate for general application in the County's Rural Areas."  The Board directed staff to investigate extending the protection measures recommended in the MOD framework to the rest of the Rural Areas and to schedule a joint meeting with the Planning Commission to review this report.  A copy of the proposed MOD framework is attached as reference (Attachment A). The Board did not vote on the Mountain Overlay District Resolution of Intent.



Goal 2: Protect the County's natural resources.



The Proposal for Protection of Albemarle County's Mountain Resources recommended by the MOD Committee consists of what the Committee referred to as a "three-legged stool." This three-part program includes: a) a mountain ordinance framework that focuses on protection of the MOD environment; b) principles that would mandate and govern Rural Cluster Subdivisions; and (c) public acquisition of interests in land.  The Committee stressed that all three "legs" would provide the comprehensive approach needed for protecting the lands in the Mountain Overlay District (Attachment A).


As the Board requested, this work session is to review an assessment of applying the MOD recommendations throughout the Rural Areas.  Staff’s analysis of applying the MOD recommendations throughout the Rural Areas is available in Attachment B. The format for this review includes the actual MOD framework quoted from the individual components, applicable comprehensive plan policies, existing ordinance regulations, and a question/answer segment to discuss some of the issues. 



When the Board has determined the direction regarding each of these regulations, staff will prepare a budget impact analysis. It is anticipated that additional staff resources would be required to process, inspect, and enforce many of these additional regulations. If the Board elects to do so, those additional costs may be recovered in permit fees.  Additionally, it is anticipated that providing accurate surveys and detailed plans, as well as any additional permit fees, would increase upfront costs to builders.   It is anticipated that all of the builder’s costs would be passed on to the future homebuyers.  While economic theory suggests these increased costs would constrain development activity in the Rural Areas, staff cannot speculate on whether the additional costs would have an appreciable effect on the rate of Rural Areas development.    




The purpose of this work session is to provide an opportunity for the Board and Planning Commission to give staff direction. Based on direction given at this work session, staff would develop both a Resolution of Intent and ordinance amendments to comply with the Board’s direction.  To be able to proceed with that effort, staff needs answers to the following questions:


1.                Does the Board wish to proceed with any of the MOD Committee recommendations (Attachment B - Part A) and, if so, does the Board wish to limit all of these to a Mountain Overlay District or to expand this to include the entire Rural Areas?  If the changes were applied to all Rural Areas property in the same manner, the need to create a Mountain Overlay District is eliminated while creation of the district would be important if any provisions were to be limited to that district.


2.                If the Board decides to proceed with any of the proposed changes, which changes would they like brought forward? To assist the Board, the following list describes the possible changes discussed and provides staff’s position.


a.     Critical Slopes.   Staff believes applying the critical slopes provision over the entire Rural Areas would be effective at reducing development impacts and protecting natural resources.  Staff believes this would provide some, but not all, of the natural resource protection anticipated with the previously considered subdivision phasing and clustering provisions.  Staff believes limiting this provision to the MOD would also provide a benefit, but a much smaller one and would increase the complexity of plan reviews by creating two separate standards rather than simplifying with one standard.  It should be recognized that this provision can reduce the ability of some properties to exercise all of their development rights, but would provide for at least one dwelling on the property as it currently exists. If applied to the entire Rural Areas rather than the MOD, the number of properties potentially affected would significantly increase.         


b.      Erosion and Sediment Control Plan.  Staff believes there is not sufficient benefit for reducing the disturbance area to 2,500 square feet for all building permits, as building permits for new Rural Areas’ dwellings all fall within the current 10,000 square foot area threshold.  Reducing the area to 2,500 square feet would expand coverage to construction such as additions to houses and garages, which staff considers to have much smaller impacts. If there is interest in pursuing the critical slopes provisions and/or verifying safe access, staff will need to stop allowing use of Agreements in-lieu of a Plan and require complete E&S Plans, which include existing topography and all proposed grading.  Ending use of Agreements in-lieu of a Plan does not require any ordinance changes but will significantly increase the amount of work staff must do in both permit review and inspections.  It would also increase the cost to applicants for building permits in the Rural Areas.  


c.       Stream Buffers.  Staff has previously indicated a 200’ buffer width can be justified in the MOD, based on the increased sensitivity of those areas.  Staff does not believe water resource protection can justify a 200’ stream buffer for the entire Rural Areas.   Staff believes including stream buffers for intermittent streams throughout the Rural Areas, as is currently done in the Water Supply Areas, is a justifiable protection of natural resources and consistent with the County’s Strategic Plan Goal for enhanced protection of water resources. Including intermittent streams throughout the entire Rural Areas would potentially impact the ability of property owners to exercise all of their development rights, but provisions already in the Water Protection Ordinance allow at least some reasonable use of the property.     


d.       Building Heights.  Staff believes protection of ridges and crests provides benefit within the MOD, but there is little benefit in applying this to the entire Rural Areas.  Within the MOD, it should be noted that the benefit of limiting building height with respect to the ridgeline has been challenged as having unanticipated impacts, such as encouraging building on the slope near the ridge, which potentially increases both the natural resource impact and visibility.   Staff does not believe that

application of building height restrictions in relation to ridgelines should be applied to the remainder of the Rural Areas.


e.       Safe Access.   Staff believes this provision is already in the Zoning Ordinance, but the ordinance is not specific on what is required and difficult to enforce without seeing grading that demonstrates the requirement is being satisfied.   As discussed with E&S Plans, assuring compliance with this provision would require the County to stop allowing Agreements in-lieu of a Plan for new dwellings in the Rural Areas.  It should also be noted the Fire/Rescue Department has indicated that safe access is an issue throughout the County. Based on this, staff believes this must be uniformly applied across the entire Rural Areas.


f.        Waivers and Modifications.  Waivers, modifications or variances are available in the Zoning Ordinance.  The MOD framework provides clarification of the intent and offers administrative waivers, under certain conditions.  To simplify process and assure consistent application, staff believes waivers and modifications should be kept administrative whenever possible and limited to that needed to allow at least some reasonable use of the property.    


g.      Guidelines for Cluster Subdivision Ordinance.  The existing regulations apply to both the MOD and the Rural Areas.  Staff does not believe that the existing ordinance needs modification.


h.      Additional Protection for Mountain Resources.  Staff believes additional protection measures for the Rural Areas can be explored, but completion of the current efforts should take priority over starting any new effort. 



A-Proposal for Protection of Albemarle County's Mountain Resources

B- Staff analysis of applying the MOD recommendations throughout the Rural Areas

C-Discussion Points - Expanding the proposed MOD Stream Buffer provisions Countywide

D-Zoning Ordinance Sections 4.2.5 Waivers and 4.2.6 Exemptions

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