Supervisors approve zoning ordinance amendments

The Board of Supervisors last week unanimously approved ordinance amendments that will fill a gap left by a February Virginia Supreme Court decision.

Before the ruling, the county’s subdivision ordinance contained a provision requiring a minimum parcel size of 5 acres for any division of land in the agricultural district. The zoning ordinance, however, allowed a minimum lot size of 1 acre in the agricultural district.

At the supervisors April 28 meeting, Planning Administrator Beverly Rogers said the court ruled that the county’s subdivision ordinance couldn’t require a different minimum lot size than its zoning ordinance. The ruling, which voided the part of the subdivision ordinance requiring the 5 acre minimum parcel size, affected about 140,000 acres and 6,000 property owners, she said.

The 5-acre minimum lot size was adopted in 1988 after extensive public input and debate, she said. The current proposal is to amend the code to reflect the ruling and continue the practices that have been in place for 22 years, she said.

The proposed amendments would increase the minimum size for new lots in agricultural zoning districts from 1 acre to 5 acres, excluding family subdivisions, and require road frontage of 300 feet, unless there are lots with shared access, and that the width be maintained for a minimum distance.

Since the court ruling, 26 subdivision plats consisting of about 2,500 lots had been submitted in the affected areas, Rogers said. With the passage of the proposed ordinance amendment, the staff will address vesting claims by applicants on a case-by-case basis, she said.

The estimated financial impact on the county of a single residential lot is $18,966. Based on that, Rogers said, the total impact of the 26 plats would be about $47.4 million.

The Planning Commission recommended adding a sunset clause to the ordinance amendments so they would expire in July 2011, she said. The thought was that the issue should be evaluated and vetted during the comprehensive planning process, she said. The staff asked that a sunset clause not be included.

The commission also asked that the supervisors refer the matter back to the commission for study.  

During a public hearing on the matter, Howard Nester, president of the Chesterfield Farm Bureau and a member of the county’s agricultural and forestry committee, said he found several aspects of the proposed amendments “a little concerning.”

“I’ve come to the conclusion that the agricultural community has had very little input into this ordinance change,” Nester said. Family subdivisions should be dealt with in a separate section, the street extension portion needs work and the ordinance’s affect on property owners with no road frontage is “a big concern,” he said.

John Wood, a lawyer, said several landowners thought the proposed amendments were a move to limit the rights of Matoaca land owners. That may not be the intended consequence of the amendments, but that’s the perception, he said.

“This is perceived as an anti-growth measure being imposed on a relatively small group of citizens,” Wood said.

Peter Martin was one of several speakers who supported the amendments. He said they would promote responsible growth in the county. Kitty Snow said the amendments would help protect the county’s citizens from dangerous overbuilding.

Supervisors Chairman Dan Gecker said a policy decision was made years ago and, while people can disagree with it, “for 22 years, everybody in this county believed the right rule was the 5-acre minimum” lot size. Deciding whether to change the policy is something that’s best left to the deliberative process of creating the new comprehensive plan, he said.

“I don’t see how the proposed ordinance takes away anything that was had before the decision,” Gecker said. “We are simply restoring the rules as they were prior to the loss in the [Virginia] Supreme Court.”

Before the supervisors’ vote, Clover Hill Supervisor Art Warren said he hoped many of the suggestions heard at the meeting would be evaluated during the comprehensive plan process.

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