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November 03, 2009

City planners evaluating how developers might contribute to off-site mitigation efforts; City role in a transfer of development rights program also discussed

By Connie Chang & Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, November 3, 2009

20091027-CPC-Retreat1Commissioners Bill Emory, Genevieve Keller, Jason Pearson and Dan Rosensweig discuss their priorities before choosing study areas
In their third retreat in the past two months, the Charlottesville Planning Commission has directed staff to study how the City might create something called the Charlottesville Mitigation Exchange (CMX) and to assess how the City might participate in a transfer of development rights (TDR) program with Albemarle County. Staff will also study the potential of protecting the Rivanna River corridor through the City.

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The idea of the Charlottesville Mitigation Exchange was born after the Commission debated whether the City should be required to daylight culverted streams in exchange for a critical slopes waiver for a new fire station on Fontaine Avenue. There is currently no provision in the City’s code that would allow for a developer to be required to make off-site mitigations in exchange for a rezoning, site plan approval, special use permit or critical slopes waiver. Commissioner Kurt Keesecker suggested the CMX could operate as a mechanism for the City to prioritize specific environmental clean-up projects.

Keesecker drafted the following proposal:

“Charlottesville is a city that has seen virtually all of its vacant, non-impacted, privately held land fully developed in the years past. The remaining undeveloped parcels may have a variety of characteristics that would impact the City if they were fully developed to their potential. Mitigation of these impacts within the bounds of the single parcel is becoming increasingly difficult and/or expensive as available parcels become smaller and smaller. At the same time, the City has a variety of properties (both publicly and privately held) that have characteristics that should be preserved but there are no formal agreements or easements that would protect these areas against development in the future… The solution might be the creation of a mitigation exchange that would allow private parties to reach agreements to protect some areas of the City in exchange for the development of other portions of the City, on a site by site, proffer by proffer basis…”

Deputy City Attorney Richard Harris said the proposed CMX would not be legal unless enabling legislation were passed allowing Charlottesville to accept proffers for site plan and special use permits, an authority the City does not have. Additionally, he said proffers are intended to be used to make a rezoning of a particular property more palatable.

Chairman Jason Pearson said that he liked the idea because it was radical, but he doubted the City would be able to get the General Assembly to grant the necessary enabling authority.

Jim Tolbert, the City’s Director of Neighborhood Development Services, said the creation of a “mitigation checklist” would help educate developers about what improvements are expected for approvals. However, that idea would only apply to individual properties, and not off-site locations.

Commissioner Genevieve Keller said she thought the CMX might be a good tool for controlling land use across the City, and could help protect historical and physical assets that she said make Charlottesville a desirable place to live.
Transfer of Development Rights

The Commission also discussed whether the City should participate in a potential TDR system with Albemarle County, where Charlottesville would be one of the receiving areas for County development rights.

The General Assembly has passed legislation allowing Albemarle County to establish a TDR system, but the Board of Supervisors has so far declined to move forward with implementation.

Keesecker pointed out that a TDR system would also require a clearinghouse, or TDR
bank. He suggested that neighborhoods that want less density could potentially sell their development rights to downtown developers who want to add extra floors to buildings.

Tolbert was skeptical that a TDR system would work in Charlottesville, where some zoning districts already allow up to 200 units an acre.  He also said he wasn’t sure Charlottesville residents would automatically support more density.

Commissioner Keller said the time to implement a TDR system would have been before West Main Street was up-zoned to allow more development in 2003. She also said if the City were interested, it could test a TDR system by starting first in neighborhoods with historic protections in place. Keller said a TDR system might make more sense if Charlottesville and Albemarle County were one jurisdiction.

Commissioner Dan Rosensweig, who suggested the idea for study, said he intended the idea to be something for the City to have in place for use in several decades as redevelopment occurs.  Rosensweig participated in a 2008 discussion on TDRs facilitated by the Weldon-Cooper Center for Public Service.

20091027-pearson Chairman Jason Pearson. Above his head is the list of potential study areas. Commissioners got two votes and indicated their preferences with the use of red dots
Pearson said in a conversation he had with Albemarle County Planning Commission Chairman Eric Strucko, he learned that development in the County’s growth areas has not been as dense as planned.

“Where the development is occurring, they’re not getting build-out to the maximum densities so nobody is squeezed,” Pearson said. He added he was concerned that adding a TDR system might create an extra barrier for developers.

Keesecker said the TDR system would allow developers looking to add units to have the incentive of purchasing additional rights in order to build taller buildings.

The Commission was less interested in the TDRs, but agreed to keep that possibility open for discussion when they meet with the Albemarle County Planning Commission in December.

“I think this gives [staff] a road map for the types of things we’d like to be working on,” Pearson said. “I don’t think any of us want to just sit around and talk and not get something done… Maybe it does result in much more productive conversations with the development community about the way development happens in Charlottesville.”

Commission passes on “form-based zoning”

Commissioner Genevieve Keller made a request to study whether the City should switch to different system of zoning based on “form-based codes.” Under this system, codes depend more on what the physical structure of a block should look like, as opposed to separating out different types of uses. Currently the City can only regulate design in entrance corridors and historic districts. 

“I think there would be a greater comfort level in the city if people knew what things would look like,” said Genevieve Keller.

Tolbert said when the City’s zoning code was rewritten in 2003, that idea was considered but was taken off the table because it was felt that design reviews would become too lengthy.  He said that certain streets, such as Monticello Avenue through Belmont, could be added to the list of entrance corridors in order to require more design scrutiny.

However, the idea did not receive enough votes to be studied in the coming year.

Other items that staff will work on for the Commission’s consideration include:
  • Rewriting of the City’s critical slopes ordinance
  • Improving the planning process in the Belmont neighborhood
  • Rewriting the “dance hall” section of the City zoning code
  • Study of the Cherry Avenue corridor
  • Review of the process for prioritizing sidewalk additions
  • Review of entrance corridor guidelines
  • A request from the Fry’s Spring neighborhood to downzone some residential properties
Tolbert said the dance hall review is to establish clear guidelines on what establishments are allowed to offer music and which ones are not.

“We made a list the other day and came up with 35 places that have music in them,” Tolbert said. “Maybe five of them have been allowed legally. The others have morphed and happened and one definition doesn’t fit all of them.”


  • 01:00 – Chair Jason Pearson opens with discussion of location of fire station on Fontaine Avenue
  • 08:00 – Planning staff Ebony Walden provides status report on tree canopy initiative
  • 15:05 – Planning staff Melissa Celii provides status report on density discussion
  • 17:23 – Planning staff Nick Rodgers provides status report on Rivanna River discussion
  • 23:15 – Planning manager Missy Creasy discusses revised proposed work plan items
  • 27:24 – Pearson discusses slope waiver review language
  • 39:45 – Creasy opens discussion of potential work plan items
  • 43:50 – Commissioner Kurt Keesecker asks whether Charlottesville Mitigation Exchange (CMX) is legal
  • 53:27 – Jim Tolbert discusses transfer of development rights
  • 1:07:04 – Pearson discusses form-based codes
  • 1:17:10 – Pearson discusses density in relation to transportation of all types
  • 1:20:56 – Pearson discusses alignment of the comprehensive plan
  • 1:30:15 – Commissioner Dan Rosensweig discusses affordable housing item
  • 1:36:00 – Keesecker discusses environment-sensitive development
  • 1:47:14 – Commissioners vote on priorities for work plan
  • 1:51:00 – Discussion of CMX

June 19, 2009

ASAP invites Farm Bureau to discussion on future of Albemarle's rural farms

Panelists (L to R) Ann Mallek, Stephen Levine (background), & Carl Tinder (foreground)

On June 18, 2009, Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population (ASAP) held a panel discussion entitled: “The Future of Albemarle Farmland.” Carl Tinder, President of the Albemarle County Farm Bureau, and Stephen Levine, an ASAP Board member, discussed their respective organization’s efforts to insure a healthy rural environment and the preservation of local farms. Albemarle County Supervisor Ann Mallek, served as moderator. An audience of about thirty people gathered at the Westminster Presbyterian Church to listen to the panelists answer questions they received in advance and to those from the audience.

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01:14 - Introduction by David Shreve

Moderated by Ann Mallek

10:49 - Question 1 - Much of the land in Albemarle County now in housing developments was farmland in past years. What is to stop this pattern from continuing in the future?

14:29 - Question 2 - Is the non-farming community justified in encouraging local government to enact regulations that will reduce the probability that developers and speculators will buy farmland and turn it into residential developments?

18:44 - Question 3 - Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population (ASAP), because of the use of the word “population” in its name, has sometimes been identified as a “one trick pony.” That is, some mistakenly assume that population is its only concern, rather than an essential component in issues such as environmental degradation, traffic congestion, sprawl, resource depletion, strained infrastructure, and threat to our quality of life. What in your view is the connection between population size and these issues?

21:51 - Question 4 - What could be done to develop more common ground between ASAP and local Farm Bureau members? Are they aware of the existence of ASAP and why it is trying to stabilize local population at a sustainable level?
Whole foods
24:04 - Question 5 - Conservation easements are one tool for protecting rural land from excessive development. Other such tools include zoning, subdivision limits, growth boundaries, and the protection of prime agricultural land, forests, and wildlife habitat. Given that U.S. and Virginia courts have consistently decided that these tools violate no property rights, how does this indicate that we (everyone involved) could begin to use these tools in a more robust and effective manner?

28:44 - Question 6 - Does your organization support TDRs? Why or why not?

32:34 - Question 7 - Since much of the appreciated value of rural land is related directly to ongoing public investments in the nearby urban and suburban region, does this not make land use in these affected rural areas a necessary focus of public policy?

43:19 - Question 8 - In the past five decades, traditional methods of farming have increasingly given way to large scale, industrial farming, resulting in significant soil erosion, lowering of aquifers, widespread pollution of soil, air, and water (with pesticides, fertilizer, and hormones), and the excessive use of antibiotics demanded by the crowded, unnatural, and stressful conditions that characterize factory farming--agricultural practices that surely threaten the very sustainability of agriculture itself, as well as the health of the American people. What can your organization do to address these problems and to promote more sustainable and environmentally healthy methods of food production?

49:30 - Question 9 - Critics of the USDA claim that its policies are designed to favor large industrial farming operations at the expense of traditional family farms, making it very difficult for such farms to support their   families and discouraging people who would like to become farmers from pursuing such a career. What can be done to make family farming as it existed up to the 1950s a more viable option than it presently is and ensure that farming remains, or becomes anew, a viable career in this county?

53:14 - Question 10 - There is a move about to provide a permanent home for Charlottesville’s farmers’ market that could function year-round, as well as other initiatives for moving agricultural products more directly from farmer to consumer. How important do you think it is to local farmers to provide these new avenues for selling agricultural products? The ACE program attempts to compensate farmers for voluntarily giving up development rights -- rights they say they will not use in any case.  Why don’t more farmers take advantage of the ACE program?

Audience Questions:

1:01:25 - Question on not supporting county funding of food hubs

1:03:49 - Question on how the Farm Bureau can help the small farmer

1:05:29 - Question on how industrial farms are defined

1:09:18 - Question on farms near the Gulf of Mexico

1:11:04 - Comments on rural area development and a consumer-driven market

1:17:09 - Comment on real estate revenue for farms

1:20:00 - Question on property taxes are on value of farm

1:24:54 - Question on which state has a better tax system

1:26:19 - Comment on the term industrial farm and the future of local farming

1:31:37 - Question on next generation of farmers

1:35:59 - Comment on farming lifestyle

1:40:04 - Question on large corporations affecting local farmers

1:44:24 - Discussion on property tax in California

1:52:26 - Mallek concludes

March 23, 2009

Chesapeake Bay expert urges slower growth for Albemarle County

Source: Salisbury University

For their annual membership meeting on March 19, 2009, Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population (ASAP) asked journalist and professor Tom Horton to give an address. Horton is a writer from Salisbury, Maryland, whose work often deals with the impact that population growth has on the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

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For the last several decades, the Chesapeake Bay Authority has tried various strategies to restore the health of the bay by reducing the per person ecological footprint of residents within the watershed. However, as Horton sees it, this initiative has been a failure. Environmental goals have not been met, and he believes the reason for this poor record has been the general unwillingness to address population growth in the region.

“The blind-spot is our allegiance to perpetual economic growth and to encouraging and ever expanding a human population of consumers to support it,” Horton said.

Horton said the solution is for government bodies, local, state and federal, to enact strict immigration and growth controls. He would like to see the U.S. reduce the number of immigrants allowed to cross the border, and he praises counties that have successfully limited growth with carefully crafted zoning ordinances.

He provided the example of Calvert County, Maryland that used a Transfer of Development Rights program to slow growth from the Washington metro region. Horton conceded that the policies functionally shifted growth to neighboring counties, but he responded, “you’ve got to start somewhere.”

Beyond the benefits to the local ecosystem, Horton said there would be several other advantages to slowing population growth in Albemarle County. Crime rates would be lower, because there would be fewer young people. There would be more freedom, because sparsely populated communities typically require less regulation. Infrastructure costs will be reduced, and less money would have to be spent mitigating the impacts on global warming.

Furthermore, Horton said there would be financial potential in stopping growth.

“Generally, its useful to look at per capita prosperity as opposed to gross numbers,” Horton said, “In other words, you can have a huge increase in the property tax base, but if its accompanied by a lot more people, and a lot more expenditures to accommodate those people, where are you at? I think it’s more useful to look at what you have done for individuals.”

ASAP director Jack Marshall concluded the meeting by praising Horton. “I don’t think ASAP in it’s seven years has ever had a speaker from outside who has been as compatible with what we’re saying and doing as Tom Horton,” Marshall said.

ASAP is currently in the first stage of a study to measure the ecological carrying capacity of Albemarle County and Charlottesville.  The results of the study, which was funded in part by both local governments, are expected later this year.

Daniel Nairn

February 25, 2009

Panelists discuss sustainable development and site selection


The James River Green Building Council hosted a panel discussion on February 9, 2009 entitled Site Selection and Sustainable Development. The meeting, which took place at the Charlottesville Community Design Center, brought together planners, developers, public officials, and activists to share ideas about sustainable building practices and the social and cultural issues underlying the way communities develop land.

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Planner Lyle Solla-Yates served as moderator and explained some of the benefits of urban infill over development of rural areas on the fringe of cities. New construction that reuses building stock and urban public infrastructure is more sustainable than construction that requires new infrastructure and more environmentally intensive transportation use. However, urban redevelopment is currently not the norm, even for LEED certified buildings, because of the added expenses and barriers involved in infill projects.

Developer Richard Price of the Folsom Group sees a “reshaping of the American Dream” as the underlying necessity for sustainable site selection. A low-density lifestyle has become embedded in our culture.  Price said sprawling development is already here, and the challenge will be in finding a way to redevelop suburban housing stock that he considers likely to become future slums. Price’s research is in how to integrate a highly connective natural ecology with a built environment that is currently very fragmented. This involves finding links in order to make people-centered and ecological connections between existing suburban developments.

Another panelist, Albemarle County planner Elaine Echols, explained the principles of the County’s Neighborhood Model and how it relates to LEED-ND. This involves pedestrian-orientation, mixed-use centers, options for alternative transportation, buildings of human-scale, parks and open space, and clear boundaries with rural areas. The goal is to “create livable, vibrant places for residents and the preservation of rural areas.”

Julia Monteith, Senior Land Use Planner in the University of Virginia’s Office of the Architect, spoke about the new University land use plan. The Office of the Architect is working on connecting the various parts of campus and keeping all new development on grounds. Academic/Mixed-use and Housing/Mixed-use are the two zones in which infill development will be accommodated. She sees physical connectivity on campus as a way to encourage mental connectivity of academic disciplines.

Left to right: Stratton Salidas, Richard Price, Julia Monteith, Dan Rosensweig, Karen Waters, Sean Dougherty, Elaine Echols

City Planning Commissioner Dan Rosensweig acknowledged the tragic ecological consequences of the suburban development practices over the last several decades. Rosensweig said Charlottesville is at an “interesting existential impasse” because it needs to decide whether to stay as a “big town” or become “small city.” Rosensweig is personally pushing for more density, mixes of uses, and regional cooperation. There has been some success to this end in recent years, particularly with a new zoning ordinance to allow higher density around the University. Rosensweig believes that a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) system could be a helpful tool toward achieving this goal, and the city could benefit from being more involved in this discussion with Albemarle County.

Planner Sean Dougherty of Octagon Partners sees Urban Growth Boundaries as an effect tool in ensuring pockets of growth. He said that while Albemarle County has a boundary, there is a problem when development can leap-frog into other jurisdictions such as Greene County that do not have the same regulations in place. There needs to be regional or state-wide cooperation.

Karen Waters, director of the Quality Community Council, brought up the dilemma of gentrification. She said infill development may be  green, but there must be a way to avoid displacing current residents with new growth. People often fight new urban redevelopments because “the people who come in may not be the people who were there before.” She asked the question of how social sustainability can be included with environmental sustainability.

Local activist Stratton Salidas said he thinks the most important factor in sustainable development is the difference between building for pedestrians versus automobiles. Sustainable land use policies are important, but they will never be successful without pedestrian-oriented transportation infrastructure. Zoning should be loosened up, he said, to encourage “micro-infill” rather than large subdivisions on the outskirts of the urban area.

Daniel Nairn


  • 00:55 – Introductory remarks, James River Green Building Council
  • 02:25 – Panelists are introduced
  • 05.35 -  Lyle Solla-Yates frames questions on site selection
  • 09:20 – Richard Price on connecting the existing suburban landscape
  • 15:45 – Elaine Nichols outlines Albemarle County’s Neighborhood Model
  • 18:05 – Julia Monteith tells about University of Virginia planning initiatives
  • 25:35 – Dan Rosensweig offers his vision for the City of Charlottesville
  • 33:05 - Sean Dougherty explains the tool of Urban Growth Boundaries
  • 38:05 – Karen Waters brings up the dilemma of gentrification
  • 42:20 – Stratton Salidas combines ecological health and social justice
  • 51:40 – Question and Answer: How does LEED-ND factor in site location?
  • 53:00 – Is it easy for developers to redevelop on sustainable sites?
  • 1:03:15 – What is more responsible, the demand or the supply?
  • 1:11:55 - How much flexibility does planning commission have in allowing new development practices?
  • 1:15:45 – How can a denser lifestyle be sold to the homeowners, neighbors, and developers?

February 20, 2009

Experts on transfer of development rights programs identify success factors

A new study has been published in the Journal of the American Planning Association on Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) programs around the county. Rick Pruetz and Noah Standridge, two veteran TDR consultants and planning practitioners, ranked the top 20 programs in terms of their success in preserving land, drawing from a pool of 191 TDR programs that have been implemented across the nation. Each of these is matched up with a list of potential success factors that have been recommended by experts in the academic literature. Finally, these suggested success factors are prioritized in value, depending on how often they show up in the most successful programs.

While the idea of TDR may be fairly new to the Charlottesville-Albemarle community, the concept has been in practice for about 40 years. The rate of success has varied widely between communities. Pruetz’s and Standridge’s evaluation of the factors that differentiate the successful programs from those that have not been able to meet their stated goals could help local leaders determine whether Charlottesville-Albemarle has the right conditions and aspirations for a successful TDR program.

A Rural Area of Albemarle County

Here is the top ten list of success factors from the study:

  1. Enough demand in the receiving area for bonuses. Whether in the form of extra density or other perks, developers have to truly want the bonuses that a purchase of development rights would confer.
  2. The receiving area is customized to the community. The receiving area must have adequate infrastructure, political backing, and a clear designation. Ideally, the receiving area would be in a city or urban fringe, although a few communities that face urban pressures against development have created new town centers as receiving areas.
  3. Strict sending area development regulations. “Strict regulations” are defined as prohibitions of densities greater than one unit per five acres, but some of the most successful programs have much stricter prohibitions than this. [Note: Albemarle County’s Rural Areas zoning ordinance currently allows one single-family residential unit for twenty-one acres in most cases.]
  4. Few or no alternatives to TDR for achieving additional development. There is less demand for TDR in communities where developers believe they can receive a waiver to regulations without having to purchase development rights.
  5. Market incentives: transfer ratios and conversion factors. The most successful programs have carefully matched the values of development rights in the selling area with the values they would be sold for in the receiving area. This is done by setting a favorable ratio for trading, so that each development right sold would be worth multiple rights to the buyer.
  6. Ensuring that Developers will be able to use TDR. Many successful communities have rewritten zoning laws to allow by-right development with TDR, rather than making the buyer go through what could be a lengthy and expensive approval process. This drives demand by giving developers more certainty their projects can be completed on schedule.
  7. Strong Public Support for Preservation. The most successful programs are in counties that already have publicly-funded land preservation measures in place, such as outright purchases of development rights.  [Note: Albemarle County has an Acquisition of Conservation Easements (ACE) program.]
  8. Simplicity.  Programs that are easier to understand and implement find more support and participation.
  9. TDR Promotion and facilitation. Citizens have to be well informed and regularly updated about the TDR program. This is usually accomplished with a high-quality website and an initial promotional push.
  10. A TDR Bank. While only four of the top twenty communities established official TDR banks, these four programs have been remarkably successful. A TDR bank is an officially designated intermediary between buyers and sellers. It serves to facilitate trades, stabilized prices, and ensure continuous market activity.  [Note: Albemarle County has enabling legislation that would allow for the banking of development rights.]

Image from King County, Washington

Applying the success factors to the Charlottesville-Albemarle context

Pruetz and Standridge emphasize that not all ten of these traits are necessary to run a successful program. For example, Montgomery County, Maryland does not have a TDR bank and does not promise developers can use TDR by-right, yet they have managed to conserve an average of 1,851 acres per year since the inception of the program in 1980. Another highly successful program, New Jersey Pinelands, scores quite low on simplicity points. All of these factors reinforce each other in complex ways, and the diversity of individual characteristics of each community make any simplistic formula for success impossible.

However, there are some examples that relate to Charlottesville-Albemarle’s particular situation. Now that the City of Charlottesville has expressed an interest in TDR, the example of Boulder County, Colorado may prove illuminating. Their program, which began in 1989, has preserved 5,900 acres of land, and an expanded version was just ratified in the summer of 2008.  Boulder County has entered into intergovernmental agreements with six different incorporated towns in the county in order to find acceptable receiving areas for development rights.  The contracts give the cities the authority to set the receiving area within their boundaries, and they clarify the exact terms of a trade of development rights between the city and county.

King County, Washington, the TDR program with the best record in the country, also extends across political boundaries. There is potential for confusion, however, because each city government has its own policy of which development rights it is willing to accept. A municipal government, for instance, may only want to protect land within its own watershed. In 1998, The City of Seattle, located in King County, used TDR to allow developers to increase the number of stories on new buildings in a target neighborhood. Each additional story was priced at $120,000. Half of the cost went to purchasing three development rights from the county, and the other half was used for infrastructure improvements to the immediate vicinity of the development. Other creative arrangements between the two jurisdictions have been used since this initiative.

Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) has said that in his own research he was not able to find any well-functioning TDR program that did not also include a down-zoning. The Pruetz and Standridge study confirm this finding. All of the top 12 TDR programs included strict land use controls on the sending area. Montgomery County down-zoned to 1 dwelling unit per 25 acres, a number they considered to be the minimum amount of land for a for a viable working farm. Boulder County has a base density of 1 dwelling unit per 35 acres, while King County maintains a more modest 1 dwelling unit per 5 acres limit. The researchers identified development restrictions like this as just short of essential for a TDR system to function. Many of the 191 programs with more permissive land use showed no TDR transactions at all.

Albemarle County’s Rural Areas zoning ordinance allows development of 1 single-family residence per 21 acres in most cases. The findings of Pruetz and Sandridge would already classify Albemarle’s rural development restrictions as “strict.” When the TDR concept was originally proposed by Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) in 2006, he suggested Albemarle’s rural areas be down-zoned to one dwelling unit per 50 acres.

An August TDR stakeholder meeting at the Weldon Cooper Center

During the recent meetings on TDR facilitated by the Weldon-Cooper Center at the University of Virginia, stakeholders wrestled with the acceptability and practicality of further downzoning rural Albemarle.  Some rural property owners felt such a change, like the one approved in Albemarle’s “Great Rezoning” of 1980, would be a violation of their property rights.  By their fourth meeting, that key tenet of Slutzky’s TDR proposal was off the table.  At the time, the group discussed how large land parcels in Albemarle (over 50 acres) might best be protected with voluntary conservation easements. 

The most essential success factor, according the study, is whether enough development demand exists in the receiving area to prime the pumps of the market. This question may be especially pertinent in the current slow housing market.  King County had a thriving TDR trade until the housing bubble burst within the last two years, and since then there has been very little market activity. If developers are even hesitant to build to allowable standards, they are all the more unlikely to want to purchase the right to exceed those standards. Nevertheless, King County officials intend to simply wait out the slow economic climate and keep the TDR apparatus in place for the anticipated recovery. In many cases, TDR is intended as a long-term strategy that may have to weather the inevitable vicissitudes of the housing market.

Participants in the TDR stakeholder meetings also spent a considerable amount of time discussing what the exact constitution of the receiving area should be. Supervisor Slutzky’s original proposal suggested a 1% increase in the County’s designated growth area, but this proposal was abandoned during the stakeholder discussions. Many in the environmental community were resistant to growth area expansion, while others favored opening more of Albemarle’s rural area to development. The group eventually formed a consensus around setting the receiving area as the current designated growth area of the County and, if the City would agree, portions of Charlottesville.

Pruetz and Sandridge found a significant amount of variety in successful receiving areas, so they were hesitant to delineate specific Best Practices to follow. The criteria they did establish were that there had to be adequate infrastructure, or plans to extend the infrastructure necessary to accommodate higher density. There could not be any confusion about the boundaries, and the selected area should not draw political controversy. All of these factors have already figured heavily in the Albemarle-Charlottesville discussions.

While there are many models of good TDR programs to measure against, it is equally important to take account of the numerous TDR attempts that have incurred unnecessary costs, inspired needless controversy, or simply just faded away. Pruetz and Sandridge prove to be a helpful guide through the complex landscape of TDR policies around the country, another voice to add to the careful and inclusive conversation currently underway in the Albemarle-Charlottesville community.

Daniel Nairn

February 06, 2009

Charlottesville considered as a receiving area for Albemarle development rights

(Left to right) City Planning Commissioner Dan Rosensweig, Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris and Albemarle County Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio)

The City of Charlottesville has stepped further into the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) discussion. A stakeholder group met on January 29, 2009 for the final installment of the TDR discussions hosted by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. For the first time, Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris joined the group and announced that the City is considering what role it may play in a TDR system.

The possibility of adopting a TDR system in Albemarle County has been a topic of conversation ever since Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) initiated the idea in 2006. The stated goal of Slutzky’s TDR proposal is to limit growth in rural areas while compensating owners for their loss of property rights. A market would be established, allowing property owners in rural areas to detach the development rights from their land and sell them at market price to developers in a designated receiving area. The Weldon Cooper Center meetings began in August of 2008 as a way to begin a community dialogue on TDRs that used Slutzky’s original proposal as a launching point.  In the course of the stakeholder meetings, strong opposition has been expressed to expanding the County’s existing growth areas to serve as a receiving area for new development.  However, in 2007 the Virginia General Assembly passed enabling legislation which allows a county to transfer development rights to an adjacent city.

The City was not represented at the meetings until October, when Charlottesville Planning Commissioner Dan Rosensweig first attended.  While he has expressed personal interest in the TDR proposal in the past, until this last week, he has been hesitant to elaborate on whether Charlottesville could receive development rights from County landowners. During the meeting, however, he indicated at least a possible willingness on the part of the City to designate certain urban areas to be a “receiving area” for a TDR system.

In order to accept these development rights, the City has to determine where additional housing density could be accommodated and where it is inappropriate. Rosensweig said that if TDRs could be received in the City it would have to involve the upzoning of some R1 areas, areas characterized by low-density detached houses.  

While there is some difference of opinion in the City over whether this would be a beneficial change, Rosensweig personally favors a selective increase in residential density. Alternatively, the City could downzone some mixed-use corridors that were rezoned in 2003 for higher density by Special Use Permit. The more intensive uses could be made conditional upon the purchase of a development right. Mayor Norris assented to this possibility, and mentioned that it would require a discretionary act by City Council.

The Charlottesville Planning Commission raised the topic of residential density two days earlier, during their January 27, 2009 work session. Commissioner Rosensweig suggested then it would be appropriate to be  “looking for opportunities to rezone some areas for increased density and/or more intensive use.” According to Rosensweig, these selected areas could serve as TDR receivers. As an example, he mentioned the possibility of rezoning an area of Woolen Mills from Industrial to high-density mixed-use. He noted that such a transition may require an update of the Comprehensive plan and that this will likely be an ongoing conversation.

How would the city benefit from a TDR arrangement? Rosensweig offered two answers to this question in an interview with Charlottesville Tomorrow.

First, the City has a vested interest in preserving the natural landscape of the county. He said the City’s drinking water, access to local foods, and recreational opportunities are all at stake.

Second, increases in density, if managed well, could help the city “redevelop in a pedestrian- and transit-oriented way.” According to Rosensweig, this is an issue that requires a wider scope.

“In all critical planning matters, we must begin to resist the urge to be Balkanized,” Rosensweig said.  "We must really commit to regional, national and global solutions to problems attendant with unhealthy, sprawling development.” .

The Planning Commission will evaluate residential densities over the course of 2009, as part of their adopted work plan. While no clear resolutions were reached during the course of the TDR meetings, many of the participants indicated an interest in continuing the dialogue.

Daniel Nairn

January 27, 2009

Supervisor Slutzky will not challenge Delegate Bell; Focusing on local agenda in 2009

20090126-slutzky-barefoot On January 26, 2009, Albemarle County Supervisor David Slutzky (D-Rio) appeared on WINA’s Charlottesville Right Now radio program and announced he had decided not to challenge Delegate Rob Bell (R-58) for his seat in the Virginia General Assembly.  Slutzky told host Coy Barefoot that he intended in 2009 to remain focused on the priorities in his work before local government. 

Slutzky did not announce whether he would seek re-election for a second term on the Board of Supervisors.  In an open seat election, Slutzky defeated Gary Grant (R-Rio) in November 2005 after the retirement of David Bowerman from the Rio District seat.  Earlier this month, Slutzky was elected by his colleagues to serve as Chairman of the Board during 2009. His current four-year term on the Board ends on December 31, 2009.  The seats held by Supervisors Sally Thomas (I-Samuel Miller) and Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett) are also up for re-election in November 2009.

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20090126-WINA-Slutzky

“My role on the Board of Supervisors has gotten interesting,” said Slutzky.  “I’ve got a lot of things that we are dealing with that are very important to the community…and [I am] very interested in and engaged in some of these topics, and to take on a major campaign at a time like this…would be very distracting.”

Coy Barefoot asked Slutzky to name the top issues on his local government agenda.  “Right now, front and center is the issue of transportation.  We have serious transportation challenges in Albemarle County and Charlottesville right now,” said Slutzky.  As a Supervisor, Slutzky also serves as Chairman of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and has represented Albemarle on a task force related to the formation of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Transit Authority.  

Slutzky described two bills (HB2158 and HB2161) introduced by Delegate David Toscano (D-57) that would allow the community to form the joint transit entity and, separately, to hold a voter referendum on a local sales tax increase to fund both transit and transportation needs.  Slutzky said that if the local sales tax was raised by a penny the City and County would raise close to $25 million a year which could be applied to the community’s approved list of priority transportation projects.

Supervisor Slutzky identified two other priorities that will get his attention in 2009.  First, efforts to address climate change and reduce the community’s ‘carbon footprint,’ and a proposal to allow for the transfer of development rights in Albemarle County.

Brian Wheeler

September 16, 2008

TDR discussions continue; Slutzky’s straw proposal abandoned


There will be no down-zoning of Albemarle County’s rural areas in the near future, according to a comment made last week by Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio). That’s just one of the ways in which his straw proposal to create a market for rural development rights has been modified as a group of community stakeholders have weighed its merits. However, many questions remain unanswered as the collection of disparate interests continues to debate the future of development and rural area protection in Albemarle County. 

The concept was explored even further during the fourth meeting of the group on September 11, 2008. Facilitator Terry Rephann of the Weldon-Cooper Center at the University of Virginia began by explaining that Slutzky’s Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) straw proposal was meant as a starting point for discussion.

“But we’ve moved to a different point now, and we’re talking about an entirely different proposal that has different elements,” Rephann said. He urged the stakeholders to remember that the key tenets of the Slutzky proposal were off the table. There will not be a down-zoning which means participation in the TDR market would not be mandatory. There will be no expansion of the County’s growth area to create a new receiving area.

Slutzky said he wanted to move forward in a way to determine what can be done to encourage rural preservation. He said there are two different classes of land parcels to address. First, those tracts over 50 acres that likely have several development rights which can be protected with a conservation easement. Second, there are approximately 7,800 lots in the County that are less than 50 acres and are “effectively unused.” Slutzky said a down-zoning would not have affected the development potential of the second category of lots, and that they are not likely attractive candidates for conservation easements. Slutzky acknowledged barriers to protecting the first category as well.

“For the larger parcels where they are eligible for conservation easements, the dollar value of putting the land in conservation easements seems like its way more than what the land owner would likely receive if they sold TDRs, based on what TDRs have sold for in other markets,” Slutzky said. He said the TDR discussion group should now take a look at finding ways to encourage landowners to put their land into easements. “Maybe the County should be putting more effort into explaining to the public how that actually works and making it clear to the public all of the elements of economic benefit that are associated with the conversation easement programs.”  The week before, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors heard a report on alternative funding strategies for conservation easements .


Slutzky added that if the group still sees merit in a TDR program, perhaps it could be extended only to the smaller 7,800 parcels on a voluntary basis. He asked several questions to stir up discussion.
“How do you set up a program that would motivate the owners of those development rights to extinguish them and sell them into a receiving area? And if the receiving area is not going to be an expanded growth area… do we want to have this receiving area the whole growth area, or do we want to pick areas?”

Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said he thought that many people in the farming community are not aware of those potential economic benefits. Rooker, who is an attorney, said he has negotiated deals where a landowner sells a conservation easement to someone who can benefit from the tax benefits that come with such an easement. “It is a very viable option for people who want to keep their land and want to try to realize some of the value out of some of the development rights on the property,” Rooker said.

He added the County had a desire to move land from land use taxation to conservation easements in order to reduce the payment it must make to the City of Charlottesville under the revenue sharing agreement. Property in land use is still assessed at full value under the formula that governs the agreement. 

Sarah Henley, representing Forever Albemarle, said conservation easements are not as straight-forward as that, but after spending a few minutes discussing the finances involved, she said she would like to have more information. “It’s definitely interesting,” she said. Tony Vanderwarker of the Piedmont Environmental Council agreed to set up a meeting between local farmers and PEC land officer Rex Linville.

Continue reading "TDR discussions continue; Slutzky’s straw proposal abandoned" »

August 17, 2008

TDR discussions continue; Group identifies concerns with Slutzky proposal

Two weeks after Albemarle County Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) detailed his straw proposal for the creation of a marketplace for the voluntary transfer of development rights out of Albemarle’s rural area, stakeholders got their chance to make their comments on the plan. The Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia is facilitating the discussion group to seek input on how a system of transferrable development rights (TDR) might work. 

Participating in the group for the first time, Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) presented a chart he created which depicts how much of a receiving area would be needed to accommodate development rights transferred from the rural area. Slutzky suggests creating a receiving area that would total 1% of the County. That translates to about 7.2 square miles or 4,608 acres. Assuming a lot density of .77 dwelling units per acre, Rooker said that would be only enough to accommodate 12,000 development rights, if 2 rights would be required to develop one lot. 

“The [enabling legislation] requires that you create an area that is capable of handling the development rights that might be put into it,” Rooker said. He added that the County also would need to require that the necessary infrastructure needs be in place as well. “North Pointe right now is dealing with sewer issues that as I understand it will end up costing $30 to $40 million.”  Approved two years ago, North Pointe is a 900 home mixed-use development in Albemarle’s designated growth area along Route 29 North past Airport Road.  No construction has begun in North Pointe.

Individual property owners must apply for a determination from the County of how many rights they have, which results in a Determination of Development Rights letter. Rooker estimated there are at least 40,000 development rights in the County, but that the exact figure is not known. If the number is close to 40,000, Rooker said the County’s receiving area would need to be around 24 square miles, or over 3% of the County.

After Rooker’s presentation, each stakeholder was asked to identify a pro and a con with Slutzky’s proposal. Here is a selection of some of the responses:


Albemarle County Planning Commissioner Jon Cannon is serving as a facilitator in the TDR discussion series

“It’s an opportunity to preserve the rural character of the County.” (Leigh Middleditch, 5-C’s)
“It would have the potential of preserving a land base which we need for various environmental reasons.” (Joe Jones, Farm Bureau)

 “It’s the best idea that I’ve seen on the table for a win-win solution between the no-growthers and the rural property landowners.” (Frank Quayle, Realtor)

“There is a potential to create building lots that the market demands that are not currently available and as a result of those lots not being available, people are building in the rural areas.” (Chuck Rotgin, Great Eastern Management Company and developer of North Pointe)

“You might create some marketable rights for people who don’t want to divide their property.” (Dennis Rooker, Albemarle County)

“We always thought of this TDR approach as a way of protecting the rural area by encouraging growth in the growth area, but with $3-plus gas, there might be a new paradigm operating here… It may be a transportation planning tool in that with gas prices that high, more and more people are going to want to live centrally where they work so this TDR project might facilitate people living where they can afford to live.” (Tony Vanderwarker, Piedmont Environmental Council)

“If we take seriously both the statements of the City and the County that we want to work towards a sustainable community, I think this is a creative and potentially useful tool.” (Jack Marshall, Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population)


Terry Rephann of the Weldon Cooper Center is serving as the other facilitator of the TDR discussion series

“The market may not work.” (Leigh Middleditch)

“I don’t think that the 50 acre mandatory down-zoning [from 21 acre minimum lot sizes] creates a fair-market value for the development rights... To me it creates a fire sale of development rights. All of a sudden they’re there just like a hailstorm and when you got a flood on the market, prices tend to go down.” (Joe Jones)

 “You are violating landowners property rights and assuming that their land is your land to talk about and to do with what you will. The starting point of saying that there is going to be a mandatory 50 acre downzoning is a violation right there of what landowners and property owners would want to see happen.” (Sarah Henley, Forever Albemarle)

“The plan as it was presented  is fundamentally flawed because it rests on coercion,  it rests on a force that to me is not sustainable ultimately, and it deprives people of fundamental rights, and the vision it creates is one I can’t even begin to think that anybody could take seriously.” (Deborah Stockton, Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association)

“I’m extraordinarily skeptical that you’d need to give up two division rights to get one home built. I struggle to believe a 50 acre downzoned parcel could have a value that is comparable to today’s 50 acre parcel with division rights.” (Frank Quayle)

 “David’s density is much, much too low… In order to create those lots, they’ve got to be bigger. You can’t expect people that want a yard and a big house that are going to build on a 5 to 10 acre lot in the rural areas, which they currently can, to come into a quarter acre of half acre lot in the boundary.” (Chuck Rotgin)

“It’s way too complex to work in a natural marketplace. I don’t see enough positive market incentives to create a legitimate market place that will actually work. I see it as kind of one-sided right now.” (Dave Phillips, Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors)

“I would like not to expand the existing growth areas and wish there were some way to utilize existing growth areas as the receiving area.” (Jack Marshall)

Other comments and questions were made as participants offered their comments. Here’s a selection of some of their viewpoints:

“If no solution is reached, the winnowing away of property rights that’s happening dramatically over the last 18 months and will continue, there’s a high degree of probability that 5 or 10 years from now rural
property owners will have far less ability to do with their property what they can do today.” (Frank Quayle)

“There seem to be two core goals of the County’s growth management strategy. Number one, to discourage growth in the rural areas. Number two, to create vibrant, compact, mixed use areas in our development areas where you’re going to attract growth that would otherwise go into other areas. The pro I would offer is that this is a creative proposal for trying to find a politically palatable way to accomplish that first goal, discouraging growth in the rural areas by simply downzoning rural area properties. Broadly, the con that I have with it is that in trying to achieve that first goal, we seem to be undermining the second goal of creating vibrant and attractive development areas.” (Morgan Butler, Southern Environmental Law Center)

“The pro is that if we achieve a workable plan that all interested parties including the landowners can agree on, that adds a lot of valuable predictability for the future. My counter-acting con is that I’ve spent most of my adult life in government. Aggressive governments continue to be aggressive and we could perhaps reach a conclusion here that makes permanent changes on the land itself but doesn’t prevent future actions by the County government to make future controls added on to this agreement.” (Jay Willar, Blue Ridge Homebuilders Association)

“Its complexity is going to be its constant bane, and there’s no question about that. I still think that its fundamental pro is that the proposal tries to balance the legitimate concerns of property owners against the need to constrain development in the rural area,” Slutzky said. “I don’t know if we can pull it off.”
Dennis Rooker warned that the TDR mechanism could create a false sense of compensation for rural landowners. The fair market today might see a development right worth as much as $175,000, but Rooker feared selling the development right to the receiving area might be as low as $20,000.

Neil Williamson said the County’s population base is shifting to the growth areas, many of whom are getting upset at a lack of services. He wanted to know how infrastructure would be paid for if the development in the boundary area would all be done by right.


Leigh Middleditch asked if TDRs would work if they were voluntary, meaning no downzoning would take place. He also wondered if an area of the County could be set up for a pilot project to see if it worked.
Joe Jones said he would not support a mandatory downzoning, but would be interested in parting with his development rights voluntarily if there was a value in it.

Sarah Henley was adamant that a program that downzoned the whole County would be against the wishes of farmers, but said a voluntary program might work.

“I’m looking for government that is incentivizing and asking for permission to do certain things with your land, and to understand the investment that’s in that land,” Henley said. “Farmers put their investment in the land and now it’s being played with like a board game.”

Rooker said when he was preparing for a panel discussion sponsored by ASAP in 2007, he did not find any effective TDR programs that were not mandatory. “The ones that were voluntary did not have a single transaction,” he said.


Morgan Butler said there were as many as 8,000 lots in the rural area that are currently undeveloped, and these would not be affected under Slutzky’s proposal. “At the current rate of rural development, between roughly 200 and 300 lots a year, that number of vacant lots could basically satisfy 20 to 30 years of rural development…. How do rural landowners react to a downzoning when the market for  development rights created by the downzoning may not kick in for decades?”

Chuck Rotgin: “I think there is enough significant anecdotal evidence that the unavailability of lots that the market wants in Albemarle County over the past 10 to 15 years has pushed people into the rural areas. More importantly, it’s also pushed people into neighboring counties… that’s bled our tax base… it’s also created tremendous transportation issues… we’ve got all these people that we’ve pushed out of the community, paying taxes elsewhere, yet they’re using our roads and we have no tax base and no money to help fix those roads.”

Jay Willar: “I wonder if we’re fighting the last war here. If the building community nationwide sees a trend that says people are looking for smaller lots, smaller houses… and as Tony said, gas prices are going up and they’re going to stay up. Several people have mentioned that the trend in Albemarle County is less building in the rural areas, more building in the growth areas. I wonder if the markets aren’t going to be taking care of a lot of these problems on their own, and the government doesn’t any longer need to step in and be as forceful as this kind of plan talks about.”


Several people not invited to serve as stakeholders also attended the meeting. Grant Griffin, with the Appraisal Group, wanted to know more information about what could be done in the boundary area. Could anything be developed at all on that land without a development right? What would that do for the property rights of existing landowners in that area? He also said developers’ costs would skyrocket if they were forced to pay for land as well as two development rights.

One woman was concerned that decisions were going to be made that affect her land and she was frustrated she could not be part of the discussion. Terry Rephann, a facilitator with the Weldon Cooper Center, said one of the sessions would be dedicated to receiving input from the public, possibly in late October.

Dave Phillips told the new attendees that Slutzky’s proposal is not in any way official, and that was just a proposal to serve as a starting point in a long discussion. “If we’re able to come up with something, it’s going to take a while and a lot of mental changes and a lot of compromises on different people’s parts,” Phillips said.

Supervisor Rooker reminded the new attendees that the working group was not created by the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, and no staff time is being spent on evaluating the costs and benefits of a TDR plan.

After the participants got the chance to weigh in with their thoughts, the room was split into four groups to further discuss the pros and cons how they would revise Slutzky’s proposal to make it more palatable. Those groups will report out their work at the next meeting, scheduled for August 28, 2008.


Sean Tubbs

August 04, 2008

Slutzky renews effort to create a Transfer of Development Rights program in Albemarle

Leigh Middleditch describes why the 5 C's are interested in TDR's while Terrance Rephann (seated) watches

The Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia is facilitating a series of meetings studying whether a system allowing the transfer of development rights (TDR) could help the County achieve its goal of protecting the rural countryside while also allowing farmers and other owners of large parcels of land to financially benefit by creating a market system for the sale and transfer of development rights.

The idea is a pet project of Albemarle County Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio), and he was the principal speaker at the first meeting of a group that was brought together by the Citizens Committee for City-County Cooperation (or 5-C’s). 

Local attorney Leigh Middleditch, founder of the 5 C’s, said the group’s interest was raised when Slutzky first floated the idea in 2006. After Slutzky’s initial proposal for TDR’s failed to receive Board support, the 5-C’s convened a meeting in the summer of 2007 to see if the TDR program could be adjusted or better explained to the public and policymakers. In 2008, a bill sponsored by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58) granted Albemarle County the authority to create a market in which development rights in the rural area could be sold to parties seeking to build in a “receiving area.” Any TDR program would require approval from the Board of Supervisors.

In order to build broad support for the concept, the 5 C’s coordinated these meetings and invited stakeholders from all over the community to participate. The Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors (CAAR) is sponsoring the meetings, in part because the Virginia Association of Realtors is interested in gathering information on TDR efforts in Virginia. 


Terrance Rephann, a Research Associate at the Weldon Center, said the TDR discussion has been largely dormant since Slutzky’s initial TDR proposal was tabled. While explaining the ground rules for the meeting, one opponent of TDRs asked why the issue was being studied at all.

“[TDR’s are] a growth management policy that tries to compensate potential losers when you try to constrain that growth,” Rephann answered. “It’s an attempt to construct a win-win situation depending on how it is executed.”

Center Director John Thomas explained that the Center was asked to facilitate a conversation where all sides of the growth issue want to solve the same problem: How to preserve Albemarle County’s rural character? 

“The goal is non-controversial,” Thomas said. “We haven’t found anybody who seems to think that somehow the beauty of rural Albemarle County ought not to be protected. The questions are myriad about how you would do it.”

The participants represented a variety of organizations and viewpoints, and included:

  • Joe Jones, Farm Bureau
  • Neil Williamson, Free Enterprise Forum
  • Dave Phillips, Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors
  • Steve Blaine, Chamber of Commerce Board
  • Frank Quayle, Realtor
  • Deborah Stockton, Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association
  • Morgan Butler, Southern Environmental Law Center
  • Chuck Rotgin, Great Eastern Management Company
  • Jack Marshall, Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population
  • Jane Fischer, Charlottesville Community Design Center
  • Kathy Rash, Forever Albemarle
  • Sarah Henley, Forever Albemarle
  • Linda McRaven, Free Union resident
  • Roger Ray, local surveyor
  • Mark Graham, Albemarle County’s Director of Community Development
  • Jon Cannon, Albemarle County Planning Commission (Rio)
  • David Slutzky, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors (Rio)

Many skeptics of the plan expressed their opposition up front. Sarah Henley’s husband farms in Albemarle County, and she says many in agriculture are concerned about what they see as attacks on their profession by new government policies. “You’re dealing with a lot of people’s land, and you’re dealing with a lot of people’s money,” Henley said. “[Farmers] feel like they’re being messed with, and we all don’t want the [countryside] to be built up either. I want to bring to the table that you’re messing with somebody’s investments.”


Supervisor David Slutzky

Slutzky said his proposal was a starting point for discussion, and that he said he has not yet completed writing out a formal paper outlining how the TDR system would work. As he has done over the past two years, Slutzky called his presentation to the group a “straw-man” proposal designed to get their feedback on key points. Slutzky said he wanted the ultimate TDR proposal to be the result of the community’s input. 

Slutzky said that the Comprehensive Plan adopted in 1980 clearly indicated that the rural area was to be preserved. He acknowledged that many people want to do that for aesthetic reasons, but he said his motivation was to preserve the ecology. The current Comprehensive Plan created two classes of land in the County. A growth area totaling 5% of the County’s area was created where high density development could occur, while the remaining 95% was set aside to be rural, where no re-zonings for higher density would be granted.  Slutzky said that philosophy hasn’t been completely successful. 

“We fully intended to have our growth activities occur inside the growth area, and I lived out on a farm on Fox Mountain for a number of years,” Slutzky said. “I was very disturbed at the rate at which growth was happening where it was not supposed to be happening.” He said the current rate of building houses in the rural area is between 250 and 300 a year, the equivalent of a new Biscuit Run every ten years.  Biscuit Run is a 3,100 home development recently approved in the County’s growth area.

That concern, said Slutzky, prompted him to run for office, and when he was elected in 2005, he tried to advance several proposals to slow or adjust the development in the rural areas. Rural area protection strategies like phasing of development rights, clustering of homes, and mountaintop protection ordinances all failed to receive support when considered by the Board in 2006-2007.

“Each of those proposals would have to some degree constrained growth at the expense of property rights,” Slutzky said. So, Slutzky described how he began to meet with representatives of the Farm Bureau and others in order to understand the perspective of the property owner. He realized that the only rural protection strategies that can work are those that do not undermine property rights. After searching for a new strategy, he came up with the TDR proposal.

“I thought TDR’s offered us that special potential opportunity to balance these potentially competing objectives,” said Slutzky.

When the Board of Supervisors failed to embrace Slutzky’s initial TDR proposal in December 2006, members did suggest that if enabling legislation was passed by the General Assembly, it might be worth continued discussion.  Now, with laws supporting Albemarle’s exploration of TDRs approved by the General Assembly (Delegate David Toscano’s HB2503 and Delegate Rob Bell’s HB991), Slutzky is once again advocating for a TDR program and asking stakeholders for their input.

“If we can get through that process and have an outcome, and there’s enough people in this room that believe it’s the right way for the Board of Supervisors to go, I’ll take it back to my Board,” Slutzky said. “I don’t know that everybody in the room has to support it, but it better be close to everybody or politically it’s going to be challenged on arrival.” 

An conceptual map showing where the boundary area might be. This map is not intended by anyone to represent where that theoretical boundary would actually be drawn

Under Slutzky’s TDR proposal, a new growth area would be established as a “boundary area” totaling 1% of the County’s land. The rural areas would be downzoned from a minimum lot size of one home per 21 acres (established in the 1980 “great rezoning”) to one home per 50 acres. Development potential lost by the downzoning or held unused by the property owner could be “banked” for future sale.  Slutzky said this would create a real estate asset to the landowner detached from the actual land. The rural area development rights could be purchased by developers seeking to build in the “boundary” area, which would not require any further re-zonings as the boundary area would be developed by-right.

However, Slutzky acknowledged he does not know how many development rights are in the rural area. He estimates there are about 50,000 theoretical development rights in the rural areas today, but many of those are parcels that are not developable for residential use. For instance, in order to get a building permit, you have to be able to demonstrate access to groundwater. Undevelopable land would not be eligible because there are no realistic development rights.

“What we don’t know today is…the size of that universe of actually usable development rights that would be rendered useless with the downzonings and would therefore be eligible for the TDR program,” Slutzky said. Under his preliminary proposal, those who chose to sell their development rights would have to go through the same qualifying steps needed to create a lot today.

 “If we’re going to take away from [landowners] the ability to sell off their land, we have to create a mechanism to make them whole,” Slutzky said.

However, Slutzky said at this time, he has no idea what a TDR would be worth because no one has ever sold one in Virginia. The TDR “bank” enabled by the General Assembly would be a mechanism to ensure a vital marketplace, because some purchasers would want to hold on to TDRs as their value fluctuates on the open market.

Under Slutzky’s proposal, the boundary area would not be subject to the Neighborhood Model requirement, and would thus, it is speculated , be more likely to result in construction of single family detached homes in cul-de-sac neighborhoods. There would be no commercial development in this zone. 

Slutzky said he would like to have the group’s input on which rural parcels should be in the boundary area, though he is suggesting incorporating the areas immediately adjacent to the growth area to take advantage of infrastructure improvements.  Slutzky is proposing a density of 2.16 lots per acre in the boundary area, where it would take two transferred development rights to create one new lot. The County could adjust those rules where appropriate to serve County goals. For instance, for an “affordable” project, that ratio could be adjusted on a 1 to 1 basis.  When this proposal has been discussed publicly in the past, Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) has questioned whether a 1% expansion of the County’s growth area would be able to accommodate all the potential development rights that the County might want to retire from the rural areas.

After his presentation, there were many questions. Would any County money be used in the purchase any TDRs? No. Who will determine how many usable development rights would be eligible? County staff in collaboration with the Weldon Cooper Center.

“If we have a market of 20,000 things for sale, and it can be sold into a receiving market on a 2 to 1 ratio where there’s a demand for 10,000, 20,000 aren’t going to be put on the market next Thursday, and 10,000 aren’t going to be bought next Thursday,” Slutzky said. “This is creating a market condition that will be in place for a generation, but during that generation of potential transactions we won’t be continuing to corrode the rural areas.”

Deborah Stockton of VICFA said she was concerned that after down-zoning, the remaining parcels in rural Albemarle under 50 acres would sky-rocket in value. “They will become rare artifacts, and that will be a very elite market, and they will not be as available to what I would call small farmers who want to buy land,” Stockton said. Slutzky acknowledged that would be a risk, but he suggested that the next generation of farmers would likely be leasing their land as opposed to owning it.

Joe Jones questioned if the density in the boundary area would be too small, and that single families would want to live on larger than a half-acre property. He suggested expanding the boundary area further. Slutzky said that he didn’t think the County should mandate the size of lots in the boundary area, but an average would have to be worked out as the area built out.

Slutzky’s presentation ran long, and there was not time for the stakeholders to list the pros and cons of the proposal. That will happen at the group’s second meeting scheduled for August 14, 2008.

Sean Tubbs & Brian Wheeler