Albemarle & Charlottesville
The County has finished Phase 1 of its Comprehensive Plan update, and the resulting Framework for an Equitable and Resilient Community will serve as a guide in developing policy goals, objectives, and strategies in the next two phases. Running through the end of 2023, Phase 2 will review the current policy topic goals and objectives — such as land use, transportation, economic development, and natural resources — and begin the process of drafting new ones. A new Comprehensive Plan structure recently presented by county staff is vastly different from that of the 2015 comprehensive plan, consolidating 10 specific topical policy chapters from the 2015 comp plan into six much broader chapters. PEC has serious concerns about how this proposed structure will affect Rural Area protections.
Albemarle County is also undertaking a multi- phase, multi-year zoning ordinance rewrite. Phase 1 includes completing the draft and final zoning ordinance evaluation report, and drafting new articles for general provisions, administration, permits and applications, and nonconforming uses, lots, and structures. During Phase 1, a public engagement plan has been completed and a public open house undertaken to introduce the community to the project and the ordinance evaluation. Phase 1 work sessions are slated to run from March through July 2023.
On Feb. 3, PEC made comments at a Clarke County Planning Commission public hearing about a special use permit (SUP) application for a Country Inn on the historic property of Carter Hall, formerly the site of Project Hope. Our concerns included unresolved issues of noise and light pollution and the introduction of a high intensity wedding venue at this rural location. With the majority of public comments against, and the applicant altering the application from the floor that morning, the Planning Commission voted to continue the public hearing through March 3, when the applicant requested deference for another month in order to respond to community concerns.
PEC is working in partnership with the Clarke County Conservation Easement Authority to identify forested properties that qualify for conservation assistance from the federal Forest Legacy Program. This program identifies and conserves environmentally important forest areas that are threatened by conversion to non-forest uses. If you have a property on the Blue Ridge that is 50 acres or more with at least 75% forest, and you are interested in a conservation easement, contact Hallie Harriman at email@example.com for more information.
At its first meeting of the year, the Board of Supervisors voted to remove the Brandy Station Technology Zone, an outdated tax incentive that was attracting inappropriate data center developments to a historic, agricultural community. PEC worked with local community leaders and organizations to raise awareness about this issue and provided comments at the hearing.
In February, the Board of Supervisors adopted a Solar Ordinance that adds many necessary protections to reduce or mitigate the negative impacts of utility-scale solar on rural farms and forests, including a 300-acre limit on utility-scale projects. PEC provided comments on the ordinance and spoke to supervisors about our position that Virginia’s transition to clean energy must include small-scale distributed solar and solar located on marginal lands rather than supplanting the environmental and human benefits of working farms and forests.
The Planning Commission voted for the third time to recommend denial of the Maroon Solar application. PEC, community organizations, and of the residents adjacent to the project have repeatedly raised concerns about the increased flood risk posed by the proposal’s impervious surfaces in an already flood-prone area. PEC also expressed concerns about loss of forestland, risk of sedimentation due to the highly-erodible soils on site, and the cumulative impacts of multiple utility-scale solar projects in the same watershed, referring to the previously approved Greenwood Solar and the proposed North Ridge Solar project. Maroon has since withdrawn its application, but plans to reapply at a later date.
The 2023 Comprehensive Plan update is complete and was adopted by the Board of Supervisors on March 7. PEC has been very encouraged by many changes the Board has adopted to protect and showcase Culpeper’s agricultural economy, the new Culpeper State Park, and historic Brandy Station.
At a Jan. 10 public hearing, the Town Council unanimously voted to withdraw its request for a Boundary Line Adjustment, but indicated that this action would not preclude individual applicants from applying to be incorporated into Town. Such an effort would raise many of the same questions related to zoning authority, revenues and service obligations of the Town and County.
After a Feb. 14 public hearing that ended after 2 a.m., the Warrenton Town Council voted to approve the proposed Amazon data center in Warrenton. In a historic showing of community opposition, over 500 community members attended and close to 130 spoke. PEC will continue to partner with community groups to raise awareness of our concerns about this project and data center development overall, including the energy infrastructure proposed by Dominion to serve the approved site, anticipated data center proposals in Warrenton enabled by it, and various efforts at the state level that could affect the data center industry’s impacts.
In January, we submitted grant proposals to the Natural Resources Conservation Service for agricultural land easements on two farms on the border of Greene County — a 274-acre farm in Greene and a 564-acre farm across the line in Orange County. If secured, these grants will effectively conserve over 800 acres of valuable farmland under threat of commercial and residential development along the Highway 29 corridor.
The Ruckersville Advisory Committee continues to support its Ruckersville Area Plan by pursuing safety and access opportunities outlined in the Jefferson Area Bike and Pedestrian Plan. County planning staff presented a final draft of the Comprehensive Plan to the Planning Commission on Feb. 18. PEC has supported the vision so far and has advocated that zoning districts intended to target economic development be located within existing growth-designated areas.
A Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program was briefly discussed at the Dec. 13 meeting of the Finance, Government, Operations & Economic Development Committee. PEC and 14 other partner organizations subsequently submitted a letter supporting such a program. County staff do not anticipate bringing a full PDR program proposal to the Board for consideration until later this year.
The Planning Commission has held its second public hearing on the Zoning Ordinance rewrite, covering chapters not addressed last August. PEC has provided input directly and jointly with partners, suggesting changes to the draft that will better fulfill the vision of the Comprehensive Plan. We are scheduling individual meetings with planning commissioners in coming weeks. Several more work sessions are scheduled through the beginning of May.
PEC has been providing input on the Prime Soils and Cluster Subdivision zoning amendment, through in depth presentations to planning commissioners and meetings with County board members. We will support a Board-appointed working group charged with recommending draft changes to help resolve concerns about impacts to future conservation easements.
The Board of Supervisors recently approved a substantial increase to the County’s conservation easement assistance program income cap from $150,000 to $500,000. PEC provided a letter of support and is happy to share that this change will empower more landowners to fully participate in conservation easements.
The County’s Comprehensive Plan update is underway. A committee of residents and representatives from the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors are first considering a revised vision statement and discussing broad topic areas for inclusion in the plan. PEC is following their work and will look for opportunities to contribute to the process and to help engage residents during the public input period later this spring.
The saga of a Richmond developer’s proposal to purchase, renovate and repurpose the historic Criglersville school as a boutique hotel and wedding venue continues. After the Board of Supervisors declined to execute a contract to purchase the property, the developer sued to either force the sale or secure compensation. When the developer first proposed a plan for the property last year, PEC was pleased to see an attempt to save the historic school building, but raised questions about water supply, noise, guest capacity, and potential negative impacts on the village, as the proposal called for construction of additional lodging. Community residents voiced similar concerns in a series of public meetings in late 2022. At this time, it is unclear what the developer would do with the property if his lawsuit is successful, as it would have to be rezoned in order to operate a hotel.
The latest revision to the proposed Wilderness Crossing development reduced the number of homes, increased the commercial space and added a variety of industrial uses by-right. Our Freedom of Information Act request revealed that County officials have signed non-disclosure agreements with data center developers. As proposed, Wilderness Crossing could be a sprawling subdivision of 5,000 homes, a massive data center campus requiring new power transmission lines, or some combination of both. PEC and the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition continue to urge the Planning Commission to address unresolved concerns about mercury contamination, the strain on the County’s water supply, and impacts to traffic, schools, and the historic Wilderness Battlefield.
Two of PEC’s long-time partner organizations in Rappahannock County have officially joined forces! As of Feb. 1, the local nonprofit Rappahannock Friends and Lovers of Our Watersheds (RappFLOW) is joining the Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection (RLEP), to create a single nonprofit organization under the RLEP name.
The Sperryville Community Alliance, a local nonprofit and PEC partner on the Sperryville Trail Network, is working with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources to potentially expand and update the Sperryville Historic District. PEC continues to monitor the progress of the project.
This article appeared in the 2023 spring edition of The Piedmont Environmental Council’s member newsletter, The Piedmont View. If you’d like to become a PEC member or renew your membership, please visit pecva.org/join.