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July 10, 2012

Water authority celebrates completed upgrades and environmental dividends

DailyProgressBy Ian Lamb
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The mood was celebratory as local officials gathered to witness the dedication ceremony for the newly improved Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.


The facility treats wastewater for all of the city of Charlottesville and for Albemarle County’s urban areas, including Crozet. The event marked the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority’s completion of the first major improvement there since the mid 1980s.

“Today we’re celebrating the completion of the $48 million Capital Improvement Project that lives and breathes our environmental policy of cleaner rivers, a cleaner Chesapeake Bay and a smaller carbon footprint,” said RWSA chairman Mike Gaffney at the beginning of the ribbon cutting ceremony.

The project brought improvements to almost all of the existing facilities, including modernizing aeration systems to improve the wastewater processing efficiency, as well as adding covers to existing structures to minimize the plant’s odor. In addition to the refurbishments, the plant received several new structures and increased the plant’s peak flow capabilities to almost 38 million gallons a day.

The additions and refurbishments will have an overall positive impact on the environment, and will assist in improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Key among the goals is the reduction of phosphorous and nitrogen, which contribute to algal blooms and can be disastrous to wildlife.

“A lot of times you hear that we have failed on the Chesapeake Bay cleanup,” said David Paylor, director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. “We have already accomplished 60 percent of the nitrogen removal that is our goal and 70 percent of the phosphorous. We’ve made a lot of progress; we’ve got some more to do.”

Continue reading "Water authority celebrates completed upgrades and environmental dividends" »

Health of Chesapeake improving partially because of local efforts

DailyProgressBy Courtney Beale
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The James River Green Building Council welcomed Ann B. Jurczyk, the Virginia outreach and advocacy manager for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, to Charlottesville on Tuesday to speak about pollution reduction in the Chesapeake Bay.

Ann B. Jurczyk, Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Jurczyk described ways to help the area meet its goals to improve the health of the bay under what is known as Phase 2 of the Watershed Implementation Plan.

In December 2010, the EPA established a “pollution diet” for the Chesapeake Bay. Each state was assigned a Total Maximum Daily Load of pollutants that can be released into the bay.

In accordance with WIP Phase 2, localities within the bay watershed have submitted their plans for achieving pollution reductions. This will be done through reducing sediment, nitrogen and phosphorous runoff in local streams and rivers.

“Collectively I think we’ve all got an opportunity to share in some of the [pollution] reductions,” Jurczyk said. “If we can clean up locally, eventually the bay will take care of itself but we have to start here, with what goes on in our backyard.”

Both the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County have submitted their input for the WIP. Both localities will create an inventory of current best management practices and increase BMP installations. Charlottesville will also conduct stormwater retention retrofits on school and city property and educate the public on the importance of reducing pet waste, among other things.

The difference between WIP Phase 2 and plans of the past is that it establishes attainment checkpoints every two years. This will allow localities to track their pollution levels and make adjustments as needed.

Continue reading "Health of Chesapeake improving partially because of local efforts" »

May 15, 2012

Local officials learn about next phase of Chesapeake Bay cleanup

DailyProgressBy Courtney Beale
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What impact will the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans for improving the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay have on localities in the Rivanna watershed? A variety of local environmental stakeholders gathered Monday afternoon to discuss this question at a discussion sponsored by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission and the Rivanna River Basin Commission.

(L to R) Alyson Sappington (TJSWCD), Rick Parrish (Southern Environmental Law Center), Charlie Armstrong (Southern Development), Irvin White (TJSWCD), & Mark Graham (Albemarle County)

“Our rivers, streams and creeks are all critical aspects of this,” said Stephen Williams, executive director of the TJPDC. “It is hoped that our efforts to increase the quality in the Chesapeake Bay will also ultimately benefit us here at the local level, as the pollution that is flowing into our waterways is also reduced.”

The EPA has assigned a “pollution diet” to the bay, giving it a total maximum daily load of pollution from sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus runoff. This TMDL was determined by gathering pollution information from the localities within the Bay’s watershed during the first phase of the Virginia Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP).

James Davis-Martin, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL coordinator, said that the next step in cleaning up the bay is to delegate authority to local governments. WIP Phase II takes the TMDL information gathered during the first phase and distributes it by watershed to allow localities to create their own implementation plans.

“The goal is acceptable water quality in the Chesapeake Bay by 2025,” Davis-Martin said.

Continue reading "Local officials learn about next phase of Chesapeake Bay cleanup" »

May 10, 2012

Supervisors defer action on alternative septic systems

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, May 10, 2012

A recent change in Virginia regulations is forcing localities to allow rural property owners to install alternate septic systems, but Albemarle County has to change its rules to follow suit. 
“Our ordinance now doesn’t specifically allow for these alternate treatment systems,” said County Attorney Larry Davis. “It requires drain-fields and underground septic systems for development and we are not in compliance with the state mandate that we allow these systems.” 
Alternate septic systems use filters such as peat, plastic or sand to purify wastewater. They require less space than conventional septic fields and are regulated by the Virginia Department of Health. 
“A large house in the rural area may have a septic field that is 5,000 square feet in size,” said Mark Graham, the county’s director of community development. “There are probably alternative on-site systems for that same house that would fit in 500 square feet.” 
The Board of Supervisors was asked Wednesday to consider changes to the zoning to bring Albemarle into compliance. 
“The state’s perspective is that these systems are actually better than the conventional systems,” Graham said. “Under the Chesapeake Bay [total maximum daily loads], they’re even looking at going a step further and saying all new sewage systems would have to be one of these systems because of the ability to remove nitrogen.” 

Continue reading "Supervisors defer action on alternative septic systems" »

March 15, 2012

DEQ briefs localities on quality of area streams

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is moving ahead with an effort to clean up four polluted streams in Albemarle County and Charlottesville.

Lodge Creek, Meadow Creek, Moores Creek and Schenks Branch are all considered to be impaired by the DEQ because they are not healthy environments for aquatic life. Fishing and swimming are prohibited.

As part of a plan to restore the streams, the DEQ hired the Biological Systems Engineering Department at Virginia Tech to identify pollutants in the watersheds of the four streams.

“We think sediment is the major stressor and if we can provide a suitable habitat for [microorganisms], that will allow them to come back,” said Gene Yagow, a senior research scientist at Virginia Tech. “We think these changes in sediment will get us there, and we will monitor the aquatic community to see if that happens.”

Sediment chokes off life by depriving habitats for microorganisms that make up the bottom of the food chain.

Yagow and his researchers calculated that over 3,200 tons of sediment enter Moores Creek every year, flowing in from stormwater that falls onto the waterway’s 21,860-acre watershed. The study is recommending that steps be taken to reduce that amount by 500 tons a year, or a 15.8 percent reduction.


Tara Sieber of the DEQ stands in front of a map depicting impaired streams

“Everyone has seen a dump truck load of dirt being brought down a street,” said Tara Sieber, a water quality coordinator for the DEQ.

“One dump truck load is about 20 tons of dirt,” Sieber said. “Think about 160 of those trucks being transported down Moores Creek every year. Our goal for Moores Creek is to reduce that to about 135 trucks.”

The research found that Lodge Creek receives 177 tons a year of sediment; 577.3 tons a year flow into Schenks Branch and 1,587 tons enter Meadow Creek. Similar reductions are recommended for those waterways.

Sieber presided over a meeting Thursday to gather input from the public on the next stage of the clean-up process, which is to create an implementation plan to meet the sediment reduction goals.

Continue reading "DEQ briefs localities on quality of area streams" »

August 10, 2011

Green builders encourage local action on major environmental challenges



00:06:31 -- Amanda Burbage,  Staff Planner, Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission
Download Presentation

00:22:31 -- Andy Lowe, Albemarle County’s Environmental Compliance Manager

00:45:00 -- Cynthia Adams, Director of the Local Energy Alliance Program

01:02:15 -- Ann Jurczyk, Virginia Outreach and Advocacy Manager for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The James River Green Building Council is thinking globally and acting locally. It held its first annual “state of the world” luncheon Tuesday with a focus on environmental initiatives in the Charlottesville-Albemarle County area. 

Four speakers made presentations about local planning, energy conservation and the health of the Chesapeake Bay. These experts said a variety of local initiatives were aimed at addressing major environmental challenges facing the community, the region, and the planet.

“It’s important to know where we are, in order to plan for where we are going,” said Ben Hicks, co-chair of JRGBC’s program committee. “Part of the mission of the JRGBC is to promote and inspire the transformation to a sustainable built environment.”

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20110809-JRGBC-luncheon

The council’s monthly luncheons attract building owners, building professionals and product manufacturers representing a variety of specialties.

“It’s important for these folks to get a big picture every once in a while,” Hicks added. “A lot of these folks in their offices are working on one particular thing, and to see everything come together and understand where the community is now, we can know how to improve it.”

Amanda Burbage, a staff planner at the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, shared an overview of the Livable Communities Project. Last year, the TJPDC received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in part to help Charlottesville and Albemarle County update their comprehensive plans.

Burbage said one of the key grant products, a performance measurement system, was under development and still receiving public feedback. She said it will allow the community to benchmark its performance on 67 different indicators.

“This system was actually developed by a group of graduate students from the University of Virginia in the Urban and Environmental Planning Program,” Burbage said. “They did research on other communities that are tracking sustainability and looked at the things communities evaluate.”

Burbage said six system areas were identified: natural resources; housing; transportation; neighborhoods; economy; and infrastructure. Indicators and metrics were identified within each area.

“Every single indicator is linked to goals that are in both the city and county comprehensive plans,” Burbage added.

Andy Lowe, Albemarle’s environmental compliance manager, described efforts by local government to manage energy usage.  He said the short-term goal was to reduce energy consumption by 30 percent from a 2005 baseline by next year.

“To date, with our July [2011] bills, our overall reduction is 23.5 percent,” Lowe said. “The combined electrical usage for our three main facilities…[saw] about a 1 million kilowatt reduction, thus avoiding costs of about $75,000, so the results are definitely coming.”

Lowe acknowledged that the city and county government operations produced a mere 4 percent of local greenhouse gas emissions.  Overall community emissions have been targeted by both the Albemarle Supervisors and Charlottesville City Council to be reduced by 80% by the year 2050 to mitigate human impacts on global warming.

The Local Energy Alliance Program is a nonprofit organization working to retrofit residential and commercial buildings with energy efficient technologies.

“Buildings account for 54 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions from our local community,” said LEAP director Cynthia Adams.  “If you are looking at this from a climate lens, that’s the important take away with respect to energy efficiency.”

“Thus far we have over 300 homeowners that have signed up to participate in our program, 255 of which have either completed their retrofit or are in process,” Adams said.

Ann Jurczyk, an advocacy manager for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, told the audience that the Chesapeake Bay’s health was improving slightly, but that it still didn’t have a passing grade.

“Agriculture has done a pretty good job of reducing nitrogen and phosphorous,” said Jurczyk. “Where we’ve got a serious problem still is in storm water. …With a low impact design, everything that you do on the land ultimately can have a positive impact on the bay.”

June 01, 2011

Sewage waste applied next to Carrsbrook neighborhood

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Tractor-trailers from Washington’s Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant drove through the Carrsbrook neighborhood of Albemarle County Tuesday on their way to deposit several tons of treated human waste on a farm that borders the South Fork of the Rivanna River.

For hours, crews sprayed the material into the air to cover a large portion of the 88-acre property, which is owned by Jane C. Williamson. Steam rose from the material as it came into contact with the ground and the humid air.

At least one neighbor was angered by the application.

“This is not a 10,000 acre farm in the middle of Kansas,” said Ray Caddell, who lives next to the farm. “This piece of property is in the growth area, on the banks of the South Fork of the Rivanna River, and it’s in a flood plain.”

Caddell said he is not bothered by the smell from the human waste, but is concerned about the potential health effects. The last time the material was spread on the farm was in 2008. Afterwards, he said his wife developed a cough that lingered that entire summer.

“It went away soon after the first hard frost,” Caddell said.

The practice of applying Class B biosolids on farms is regulated by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. ReCyc Systems of Culpeper holds a permit allowing them to apply the material to 6,438 acres in Albemarle County. They are paid by wastewater treatment plants to remove sewage solids while depositing it for free on the lands of willing farmers and property owners.

SLUDGE map   Source: Daily Progress/Ross Bradley

One of the witnesses to Tuesday’s application was County Supervisor Rodney Thomas. He said he is a supporter of the practice, but has had concerns about it being applied within the county’s growth area and along the river.

“We all support farming and agriculture, and this is part of it,” Thomas said.

“They are obviously meeting all the criteria that they have to at this point,” he added.

Thomas said his concerns about potential effects on health were allayed when he spoke with an inspector from the DEQ and found out that the material had been treated with lime.

“What lime stabilization does is raise the material’s pH above 7, therefore killing any pathogens,” said Carl Tinder, a farmer who rents the land from Williamson. He will plant No. 2 yellow corn later this year, but added it will not be used directly for human consumption.

Tinder feels confident enough in biosolids to have applied them twice at his own house in Albemarle and plans to do so again next year. He said the practice is well-regulated and pointed out the DEQ only allows the fields to receive biosolids every three years.

“There’s not a study out there that shows a negative health risk associated with the spread of biosolids,” Tinder said.

Caddell said his only notification was this small green sign placed at the farm's entrance at the end of Dover Road

Nevertheless, Caddell is convinced the source of his family’s illness is the material’s application.

“You cannot draw a straight line between my wife’s six-month cough [and biosolids],” Caddell said. “But it started the day they put it down.”

Authority over biosolids was transferred from the Virginia Department of Health to the DEQ in 2007. Soon after, a panel of experts studied the issue and concluded that the practice was safe according to contemporary science. However, it did sound a cautionary note.

“While the current scientific evidence does not establish a specific chemical or biological agent cause-effect link between citizen health complaints and the land application of biosolids, the Panel does recognize that some individuals residing in close proximity to biosolids land application sites have reported varied adverse health impacts,” reads the report.

Still, two members of the panel issued a dissenting opinion that said the DEQ needed to prove that the use of biosolids was safe and to regulate it even further.


One of those dissenters was Henry Staudinger, an attorney from Shenandoah County. He became involved with the issue in 1995 when he took ill after biosolids were applied next to his home.

“Everybody says that there’s no scientific connection between illnesses and [biosolids] but what they don’t tell you is that they make it impossible to make the scientific connection because they don’t test what’s in it,” Staudinger said.

“They test for fecal coliform, they test for a few heavy metals and they test for nutrients,” Staudinger said. “They don’t test for anything else that’s in there. There could be 65,000 or more different things in there.”

In July 2010 , researchers at the University of Toledo studied the degree to which soybean plants drew in contaminants, like pharmaceuticals, which are found in wastewater and biosolids.  The study showed that chemicals did accumulate in plant tissues.  However, reviewers of the research said the study had limitations and further research is recommended to fully assess the risks of human exposure.

In January 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency released a study that found there were 145 known pollutants in biosolids, including steroids, hormones and heavy metals. That research is ongoing.


Jane C. Williamson wrote to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday saying she made the decision to allow biosolids on her land after careful consideration.

“Not one other person in my neighborhood of [more than] 150 households has made a similar complaint, even though many of them use our field on a regular basis to walk, jog, fish, pick blackberries, ride bicycles and exercise their dogs, their children and their houseguests,” Williamson wrote in an email obtained by Charlottesville Tomorrow.

Responding to concerns about being so close to the river, Williamson said the Rivanna is protected by previous land-management decisions.

“All the waterways that abut this property are buffered by wide strips of land that have either been left wild… or have been planted with 850 hardwood trees,” she added.

The Albemarle supervisors are expected to discuss the matter at their meeting today.


January 05, 2011

Localities have leeway in bay cleanup plan


 By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has accepted a plan that describes how Virginia will reduce the total maximum daily load (TMDL) of pollutants that enter the Chesapeake Bay.

“The EPA thinks Virginia has enough specifics in its watershed implementation plan to have a solid basis for moving forward to meet the goals of the TMDL,” said Stephen Williams, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.

The EPA  published the TMDL in the final week of 2010

The acceptance also means that Albemarle County, Charlottesville and other localities in the state will be able to determine for themselves what steps they will take to ensure that significantly lower levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment enter the bay’s watershed from within their borders.

The TMDL is being implemented in part because the Chesapeake Bay Foundation won a lawsuit that claimed the EPA had failed to take enough action to meet the goals of the Clean Water Act. That resulted in a consent decree granting the EPA the authority to enforce the act.

In September, the EPA deemed a draft version of Virginia’s plan to be insufficient. Federal officials had warned that if the final plan was not sufficient, they would mandate pollution reductions by requiring tougher standards on wastewater treatments plants, stormwater facilities and other sources of pollution for which an EPA discharge permit is required.

In response, the Department of Environmental Quality submitted a plan that relied on further reductions at wastewater treatment plants to meet the goal. The changes satisfied EPA regulators

By contrast, the final plans submitted by Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia were not deemed sufficient, and so the EPA will mandate “backstop” measures to ensure those states meet their goals.

“This probably provides local governments and the state of Virginia with more flexibility about how they’re going to meet the requirements of the TMDL,” Williams said. “But it also says that the EPA is going to be watching to make sure we do meet the requirements.”

Now that the EPA has accepted Virginia’s plan, localities, soil and water conservation districts and other groups have until Nov. 1 to develop a more detailed set of implementation plans that will demonstrate to the EPA what will happen at the local level. In this region, that work is being coordinated by the TJPDC and the Rivanna River Basin Commission.

The threat of a backstop measure still looms if the EPA is not confident that this second phase will reduce stormwater runoff outside of major cities, a step the EPA has taken into consideration in the development of the final TMDL.

Williams said consensus is needed between the many sectors that contribute to pollution in the bay.

“Eventually the [Virginia] Department of Conservation and Recreation is going to set targets for pollutant discharges for smaller areas below the watershed level,” Williams said. “At that point, local governments and other dischargers such as farmers and builders are all going to have to get together and figure out how to make this work out in the region.”

Thomas L. Frederick Jr., executive director of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority, initially had been alarmed that wastewater treatment plants would bear too much of the burden of attaining the TMDL targets. A $40.5 million upgrade is currently under way at the Moores Creek plant to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous released into the Rivanna River. However, this week Frederick said that he was less concerned.

“Under the final version of EPA’s TMDL, the initial allocation to the Moores Creek plant will be achievable through the plant upgrade currently under construction,” Frederick wrote in an e-mail to Charlottesville Tomorrow. However, he warned further upgrades could be necessary if the EPA is not convinced Virginia will meet its goals.

Gov. Bob McDonnell wrote in a statement he continues to have concerns on the computer model that the EPA used to calculate the TMDL, but that his administration remains committed to cleaning up the bay.

“While we maintain our concern about aspects of the EPA watershed model and enforcement authority, as well as the significant additional public and private sector costs associated with plan implementation, we believe Virginia’s plan will make a significant contribution to improving water quality in the bay,” the governor wrote.

December 22, 2010

Albemarle supervisors lobby legislators on 2011 legislative agenda

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will request that the General Assembly change a state formula that calculates its ability to pay for education costs to reflect tax revenues lost due to the land use taxation program.

Listen using player above or download the podcast:   Download 20101221-BOS-Legislators

 “One of consequences of [the land use] program is that we defer about $2.4 billion of real estate value from being taxed,” said county attorney Larry Davis.

Albemarle instituted the land use program in 1975 to allow qualified property owners to pay a lower tax rate if their land is used for agricultural purposes, the harvesting of timber, or preservation of open space.

“If the formula [for the composite index] is truly designed to truly reflect the ability to pay, that land value doesn’t give us income and we can’t use that to pay for schools which is the whole purpose of the composite index,” Davis added.


However, the concept was met with skepticism at a meeting between supervisors and area legislators Tuesday.

Senator Creigh Deeds (D-25) said the decision to implement the land use program was a local one, and that it would not be fair to recalculate the formula because half of the counties in the state have chosen not to assess agricultural land at less than .

“You’re basically pushing to those people the cost of the decision,” Deeds said. “There’s going to be some resistance to that.” 

Another of Albemarle’s legislative priorities for 2011 is a request to streamline the application process for placing land in agricultural-forest districts. The proposal is to remove one step in the public notification process. Currently the county must advertise three public meetings at which each application is discussed.

 “What we were hoping to eliminate is the first advertisement that has to be done when we refer it to the [ag-forest] committee, which is something we don’t even do for a rezoning,” said Supervisor Ann Mallek.

A major legislative priority for the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission is an effort to persuade legislators to represent local interests as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s mandate to clean up the Chesapeake Bay is implemented. The EPA is placing a pollution diet on Bay States through a process called the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).

 “[The TMDL] was the issue that bubbled to the top among all the localities as being the critical one out there this year,” said David Blount, legislative liaison for the TJPDC.

In November, supervisors were told that Albemarle could be required to invest $5 million to $10 million to retrofit its storm water system to reduce sediment, nitrogen and phosphorous that enters the watershed. Charlottesville officials have estimated it could cost the city between $7 million and $15 million a year.

“The [legislative] program really calls on both the federal and state governments to provide various forms of financial and technical resources, and also be fair in how the requirements of the TMDL are going to be allocated among the various source sectors,” Blount said.


However, Mallek said she could see the benefit in taking tough steps to clean up Albemarle’s rivers and streams.

“If we solve our own problems for own rivers, over 70% of which are impaired in some way, then we’re helping our local residents and we’re also therefore providing an additive effect to helping those downstream as well,” Mallek said.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker said he supports the goals of the TMDL program, but questions some of the science behind the model upon which the pollution diet is being set.

“It’s really not clear to me how well the science has been advanced on determining actions that may be mandated be taken and what the net effect is going to be on the bay,” Rooker said.

Exact details on what the EPA will require will not become known until the final TMDL is published on December 31.

Rooker also called on legislators to try to do something to support additional revenues for transportation.

“Our secondary road funds have been reduced by 95% over the last six years,” Rooker said. “We’ve been told we may have none next year. We can’t remain competitive as a state if we have virtually no money for secondary roads.”

Delegate David Toscano (D-57) agreed with Rooker, and pointed out that China will build more roads in one year than all of the existing roads in Virginia.

“When you travel the world, there are tremendous economic forces at work and there are many countries in this world that are not playing for second best,” Toscano said. “They’re doing a lot of investment that we’re not doing.”

Earlier this month, Governor Bob McDonnell announced a plan to issue up to $1.8 billion in bonds to pay for transportation projects. The money would be paid for with future federal highway funds. McDonnell also wants to create a transportation infrastructure bank that would provide loans to localities and private companies that seek to build their own roads.

The General Assembly session begins on January 12.

November 29, 2010

Commission seeks advice from City Council before slopes hearing

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, November 29, 2010

The Charlottesville Planning Commission’s review of the city’s critical slopes ordinance will not proceed until City Council has a chance to weigh in on the revised ordinance’s ‘purpose and intent’ section.

“We’d like to get some feedback from them prior to giving them the draft ordinance,” said commission chairman Jason Pearson.

Listen using player above or download the podcast:  Download 20101123-CPC-Slopes

The ordinance has been under review for over a year following concerns from the Southern Environmental Law Center that waivers are granted too frequently.

“The current ordinance says any slope over 25% would be subject to a waiver request in order to disturb that slope,” Pearson said. “What we’ve done instead is to try to focus down from that very broad current ordinance.”

City planner Brian Haluska has written a revised ordinance after commissioners went through it line by line on specific provisions and definitions of when a request to disturb a critical slope.


Download Download draft critical slopes ordinance

The new purpose and intent section adds at least two criteria to what slopes would be covered. One would define a slope as critical if its disturbance would cause “loss of significant, natural, or topographic features that contribute to the natural beauty and visual quality of the community.”

 However, this language has attracted the concern of the Housing Advisory Committee, a group charged by City Council with exploring ways to increase the stock of affordable living choices within city limits.

“The [HAC] is very clear that it appreciates all the efforts to clarify, quantify and make the ordinance objective as much as possible,” said outgoing chair Charlie Armstrong, who is also with Southern Development.

However, he added that the draft ordinance does not meet that goal, and claimed that use of the language “significant and natural features” is too ambiguous and subjective.

“There [is] a predominant feeling that nobody would really feel like they had a good grasp on whether they could or could not get a waiver for any given project at any given time… It’s been the general feeling of housing providers that a waiver, as long as it’s not egregious or disrespectful to the land and engineered well, would probably get approved,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said if the revised ordinance reduces the supply of developable land in the city, land prices and housing prices would increase.

Commissioner Lisa Green asked if there was any sense of how many undeveloped parcels the ordinance would affect.

“We don’t have an exact count,” Haluska said. “Based on the ordinance, there could be parcels out there that have critical slopes on them but [they still] have a sufficient building site to accommodate the development that needs to be there.”

Commissioner John Santoski said he favored an ordinance that gives the commission flexibility to adjust over time how it defines subjective terms.

“Community values change over time, so what may be important to us today  may not be important to us ten years from now,” Santoski said. “We should allow [future] planning commissions the flexibility to determine what those significant features should be.”

The commission’s public hearing will not be scheduled until after Council has provided its input, according to Haluska. That agenda item has not yet been scheduled before Council. 

Commissioner Genevieve Keller said that even if council decides to keep the existing ordinance in place, the experience of revising the ordinance had educated the current commission.

“I wouldn’t think that…so many waivers would be granted, because I think we’ve learned a lot about this,” Keller said.