BoS Radically Shifts Growth Accommodation

The county has long had a simple approach to growth: encourage it in the growth areas, discourage it elsewhere. It ain’t perfect, but it’s basically working. That policy got tossed out the window at last Wednesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Sean Tubbs writes for Charlottesville Tomorrow. Frank Stoner plans to build a 96-house development by the name of “Whittington,” just south of town, but didn’t want to build a septic field to serve his houses. So he petitioned the county to extend the county sewer system to include his 186 acres of land, something that they’ve never done before. County staff recommended against it because the comprehensive plan makes quite clear that’s not permissible. The board voted unanimously to extend the sewer system to Stoner’s. Supervisor Duane Snow said that it’s best, because otherwise a lot of trees would have needed to be cut down. In what’s likely foreshadowing, supervisor Ken Boyd said: “We live in changing times, and for us to say that we’re always going to do what we’ve done in the past, I think, is a path not to go down for us.”

This spring I had half an acre cleared to have a septic system put in, necessitating that dozens of trees be felled. If I’d known the county was open to extending the sewer system, I would have just asked for a hook-up. Or maybe I lack the clout?

17 thoughts on “BoS Radically Shifts Growth Accommodation”

  1. It was a 6-0 vote, the comprehensive plan is not a sacred religious text. Yes, different boards will make adjustment from time to time and voters will ratify or deny those changes in the next election by re-election or replacement.

    Planners and staff have become the high priests of the temple of regulation where changes are sacrilege to the temple of no growth that was built over the last 20 years.

    Perhaps we should look at this 6-0 vote as a worthy exception that shows we have a board that is ruled by the present citizens and their concerns rather then a comprehensive plan carved in stone years ago.

  2. What happens when the next developer wants to hook into the sewer system and make their development easier to put in? The point is not that the comprehensive plan is sacred it’s that once you make an exception then there’s precedent for exceptions and you’ve gone down an entirely different path. It will encourage/allow development in areas previously kept undeveloped for specific reasons. It’s tossing aside part of a comprehensive plan in a way that means the plan isn’t comprehensive anymore. Maybe there needs to be an overhaul of the plan but doing it by exception isn’t a good move. Reassessing the entire plan and figuring out what the rules should be now (if they should be different) would be the right way to do it.

    Also, “…I think, is a path not to go down for us” just kills me. What a construction.

  3. It’s a fascinating and historic policy shift. If exceptions to County growth policies are now possible, it’s difficult to believe that tree preservation is the only factor that (unanimously!) trumps written policy. What other values trump the County’s smart growth policies? Affordability? Accessibility? Historic preservation? Economic development? Revenue enhancement?
    Does this create new liability for the County? Should every owner outside the growth boundary sue the County claiming that they are being treated unfairly because they don’t have enough trees to cut down? It does smack of arbitrary and capricious legal policy, which is the stuff of which massive and lucrative lawsuits are made. Landowners outside the growth boundary get real financial benefits from connecting to public sewer and water. I predict a gold rush while a sympathetic Board rules.

  4. Chicken Little, all the more reason to slow growth. It might reduce the constant influx of people who want to move here because it is a nice place and then do all they can to destroy what once made the area appealing.

  5. LSY “It does smack of arbitrary and capricious legal policy” unless you spent a few moments listening to the hearing, your statement just shows your own internal bias. The comprehensive plan is made by planners with BOS approval. I mean if laws and the constitution can be changed then why not the CP.

    A 6-0 vote means something and it’s easy to read Waldo’s digest and be overly swayed that the flood gates may have opened. That kind of vote on growth is a reasonable response to new information and a new situations. Otherwise Waldo and the planners could simply program the comprehensive plan into a new program and let it make all the decisions.

    tBoM if you mean people who move here like Jack Marshall and many others then by all means let’s make it so the ASAP crowd can’t bring a bunch of new folks here. I have yet to meet a ASAP member who has lived their whole life here.

  6. It should be noted that this was a development that was approved some time ago and already had approval to connect to the water supply. The question then became should you force the developer to remove acres of existing trees to install septic systems. The logic used was since there was already approval for water, it was not a far stretch to approve sewer and doing so would not set any precedent.

  7. One of the issues here is simple fairness. If a large developer can just hook up to the sewer system, but Waldo as an individual cannot nor can smaller developers with less money and influence then it creates a system where you have one set of laws for some and another set of laws for another. That’s a pretty clear basis for a legal challenge.

    As for the comprehensive plan, all ordinances are supposed to find their justification in the Comp Plan. This provides both consistency in terms of how ordinances are applied, and provides a mechanism for reaching community objectives. The creation of the Comp Plan is a community process, and therefore represents the best consensus of what the community as a whole wants to see. It should transcend short term politics and special interests so that we shouldn’t have to replace a majority of the BOS just to achieve long term community objectives.

    In terms of the majority’s policy on growth, I think it is the collective decisions that have been made which concern many in the county. It also isn’t a no-growth versus pro-growth issue, but also greatly involves the quality of growth and quality of life. ASAP just represents one (extreme) perspective on the growth issue. If it is true that the BOS majority has intentions to undermine the entire zoning and goals of the comprehensive plan, then would indeed be troubling. I sincerely hope that isn’t the case, and that there is effort on both sides to reach meaningful compromise.

    Nonetheless, there have been a range of new policies and exemptions made in the past year that, as a whole, could definitely raise concern and cause one to question the overall direction and goals of the current leadership. I personally feel the best model of “smaller government” is a fair and equal playing field where everyone who is able pays their fair share for the services they receive. I don’t think it is unreasonable that we hold elected officials to that standard and demand an open, consistent, and democratic planning process.

  8. It all depends upon whose asking. Wasn’t it just last year that county staff staff recommended one fee for sewer hookup and the BoS voted for a much lower one. If the Comprehensive Plan was not intended to serve aws a guide why does the State require each locality to have one? The guy that’s developing a PUD on Longwood Dr near Jackson-Via Elem I believe once had to sue the county for the same privileges for development as Wendell Wood. BTW what does water connections have to do with sewer connections?

  9. Why did the BoS approve a water connection for that project if it isn’t in the growth area.

  10. If memory serves me correctly the development in question was approved before the initial county comp plan which established growth areas.
    With regard to the connection between sewer and water I can only assume the relationship is something like what goes in must come out, which is why it’s called the Albemarle County Sewer and Water Authority.

  11. There really should be a limit on how far back something can be grandfathered, and how long an “approval” is good for. It makes planning a nightmare and raises costs for the county and homeowners.

    Think about it, how many years have we had growth areas now? Seems like a we should have processed all the legitimately pending applications by now… Build it or not, but don’t get it approved then sit on it for a decade.

  12. @BOS Observer, No everyone in the city and in the county who are connected to public water is not always connected to the sewer. They have septic systems. That’s why we have water treatment plants and we have sewer treatment plants.

  13. This is a path to higher taxes. Expanding the county sewer system to accommodate developers will eventually mean more than just digging some holes and laying pipes. It will mean needing a larger water treatment facility, etc. etc.

    One day, we’re going to get an estimate of some tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade that system. Ditto the need for new fire stations, expanded police force, wider roads, larger schools for big increases in population.

    And suddenly my property tax bill will double, just like yours will. Look at the property taxes people are stuck paying in many Northern Virginia counties because of this stuff. And we want to bring that here? Great, new people get to move down here. And what happens to those of us who were already here? Priced out of our own home town.

    This Board of Supervisors is on a high-tax course that will dramatically increase all of our property taxes and eventually force many of us to move out of our home County. It is fiscally reckless and amount to handing our homes and lives over to a handful of carpetbagger developers.

  14. @Jack, that has already started happening. Because of the exected North Pointe It was decided not to improve the nearby waste water treatment plant at Camelot in northern Virginia, but to build a pipeline to the Moore’s Creek treatment plant in the city’s Woolen Mills. Moore’s Creek capacity has been recently increased. The existing pipeline to Moore’s Creek is to be expanded to accommodate Albemarle Place near Kmart. Of course, RWSA’s and RWSA’s five-year CIP should actually be a 10-year CIP because more sewer work is slated for years 6 through 10 which we don’t know about because it’s not being discussed publicly. Then our governing bodies will raise the rates again to develop more capacity and to help subsidize the developers. Eventually the development will creep out of the now-designated growth areas. Face it, we don’t control our government because we don’t know what they are planning behind our backs and we voters don’t have control of the ACSA or RWSA – they are authorities unto themselves. I hope we don’t form anymore of this independent authorities.

  15. Just found out a few days ago that as soon as mid November a proposal will be brought up officially with the Board of Supervisors for a comprehensive plan amendment to add two new development areas. Oddly, this hasn’t been discussed at all by local media.

    It seems like really odd timing to me, since it seems like the last thing the local housing or commecial real estate industry needs right now is more inventory. Also, I second Jack’s assessment that this continued expansion will vastly increase taxes. I think it may also endanger land use valuation, as urban residents and smaller landowners come to resent paying more taxes than their rural neighbors.

    Here’s an interesting review of the history of the growth areas and the comprehensive plan, to give some perspective on these issues.

  16. Thanks for the link Lonnie. A few things I found interesting – The trend is for more farms in the county but less total acreage in production. Older citizen population in larger houses. A build-out # of 186,000 residents was referenced! I am curious to learn where these proposed new growth areas are located.
    I think land use and conservation tax breaks deserve a close review .I’d like to see much larger backside tax recovery for withdrawal from the program at a minimum. What we’re seeing in the Southern end of the county is tracts of land that formerly qualified for inclusion in the Carter’s Bridge Forestal District being cleared, surrounded by white board fence, and marketed as luxury lots with names like “The farms at _______.”

  17. As for the Farms of _____, see my note in the other discussion about the recent family subdivision exceptions. Apparently, calling your development a “farm” is a clever way around zoning so that you can build roads, grade, impact streams, etc. by exploiting the agricultural exemption.

    While I’ve yet to see anyone draw the boundaries on a map, my understanding is that one of new development areas will be next to NGIC, and the other will be that expanse of forest on the other side of the South Fork on 29 before you get to the Hollymeade/Forest Lakes area. I have no idea how many residential and commercial units these expansion represent.

    There was an article a while back about allowing people to get credit for growing “hay” for land use valuation was hurting local cattle farmers since no one wanted to lease to them as long as they could get the same tax benefit by growing grass and mowing a few times a year. Some reforms have been made since then, but more could probably be done.

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