Monthly Archives: May 2019

Albemarle proceeds to second phase of rules for farm events

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on May 15 to adopt the first phase of new regulations that would place additional restrictions on events at farms within the county.

But several of the members signalled they are ready to get to the next phase, which will further define what it truly means to be an “agricultural operation” under state and local code.

“I’m really happy that we’re about to do phase two,” said Supervisor Liz Palmer (Samuel Miller).

“Phase two needs to come forward,” said Supervisor Diantha McKeel (Jack Jouett). 

The intent of the first phase is to harmonize rules for agricultural operations with those for farm wineries, breweries and distilleries. Legislation in previous sessions of the General Assembly prevent Virginia localities from banning agritourism events, though they can be regulated to preserve the “health, safety and general welfare.”

“We initially adopted the current provisions in the ordinance in 2014 and following that we did a lot of public engagement and had a lot of public input when we updated the winery, brewery, distillery regulations in 2017,” said county planner Rebecca Ragsdale. “We’ve learned a lot since 2014 and have had some input on the regulations.”

Supervisors asked in January for staff to review the regulations for “agricultural operations” after it came to light that farms were entitled to 24 events a year with up to 200 people as long as the county staff signed up on something called a “zoning clearance.” Until this first phase was adopted, abutting neighbor did not have to be notified if an application had been made.

“We are only proposing things that are already in our farm winery, brewery and distillery regulations,” Ragsdale said. “We haven’t had proposed any new substantive regulations in terms of rural area land uses or impacts.”

Notification now is required when such an application is made, which will give neighboring property owners some idea that changes could be coming.

“A neighbor would receive a one-time notice with the contact information for someone on site so that if they have any concerns they can contact the property owner directly,” Ragsdale said.

Another change in this first phase is to impose a curfew for amplified outdoor music. The property owner must also demonstrate they have a sound management plan to stay within the county’s noise ordinance.

Setbacks for any tents or other structures associated with the events will be increased from 75 feet to 125 feet.

But the most important change is a requirement of a minimum of five acres in agricultural production before the zoning clearance could be granted.

“We call it the eligibility requirement,” Ragsdale said. “That would not apply to farm sales or certain agritourism type activities. [Events] would be secondary to agriculture so we would make sure the property has agriculture as a primary use and then verify the acreage through the clearance process.”

Ragsdale said there is a special exception process for properties smaller than five acres.

Board discussion

Supervisors asked questions for 25 minutes before opening the public hearing. This indicates a high level of interest from this group of elected officials.

They opened up with questions about how sound from events is monitored, who does the measuring, whether the county could require specific devices, and who would do the enforcement. While those items are not germane to the first phase, they will be incredibly important in the second phase. 

Supervisor Ann Mallek (White Hall) suggested the county could ban outdoor amplified music altogether if there are too many bad apples who aren’t good neighbors.

“That is the ultimate sanction that we have in our pocket here waiting to happen,” Mallek said.

Zoning administrator Amelia McCulley said staff urges applicants to comply with the existing rules.

“We talk to [applicants] about music and traffic because those are the key impacts on neighbors,” said McCulley, adding that the county encourages music to be held indoors with closed windows or to use directional speakers to seek sound from bouncing across the countryside.      

Mallek also said the county should require property owners to update the name of the contact person every time it changes.

The longest discussion was over the nature of the special exception for properties smaller than five acres.

“The performance standards for the special exception are very general and very blah, and what I need them to be is very specific,” Mallek said. “If you have a tiny piece of property it’s going to impact tremendously whether you can meet parking requirements, circulation and emergency access.”

Ragsdale said special exceptions can have conditions placed on them to mitigate concerns, and these would be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. McCulley said those could involve a reduced number of events, more stringent curfews, or other site-specific requirements.

“We’re going to really rely on the impact to neighbors,” McCulley said. “If there is any evidence of impact and it cannot be addressed through conditions, we wouldn’t be able to support it.”

Mallek suggested eliminating the special exception.

“I can’t imagine a circumstance except where its a half-acre mushroom garden, but why would those people have to have events of 200 people?” Mallek asked. “It’s just not compatible with the space available and the neighborhood. Where are people going to park?”

Supervisor Ned Gallaway (Rio) supported the special exception process.

“There’s a certain point where when you try to regulate with specifics… that they don’t see the possibility of something that could work under the special exception,” Gallaway said. “If [concerns] can be alleviated then it gets written in the special exception. If it’s ridiculous, it doesn’t go forward.”

McCulley suggested that the appropriate time to make wider changes would be in the second phase, which will get underway in the third quarter of 2019.

“The current ordinances [changes are] really to align agricultural operations with wineries, breweries and distilleries,” McCulley said. “If we held [special exceptions] up and just addressed them for agricultural operations, we would have the same disconnect.”

“The state opened up the door for agricultural operations holding events and activities because they were on a roll with farm wineries, and then breweries and distilleries,” said county attorney Greg Kamptner. “This is the fourth of the four agriculturally-related activities where the General Assembly greatly expanded what it means to be agriculture.”

Kamptner said Albemarle’s zoning ordinance defines what an agricultural operation is and also defines what “bona fide” means.

“It’s pretty well-defined now, although we’re doing some more refinement in phase two,” Kamptner said.

Public hearing

Two people spoke at the public hearing to support adoption of the first phase, including myself.

“We’ve heard from many residents who live next to agricultural operations who argue that there ‘is a substantial impact on the health, safety or general welfare’ to outdoor events that generate noise, traffic and other outcomes,” I said. “Their property rights are just as valid as their neighbors, and without this amendment, they have little to no voice.”

The other person who spoke was Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental.

“We think it makes sense to take some of those baseline protections that currently apply to events at farm breweries and farm wineries and apply them to events at actual farms,” Butler said.

He added that there are terms in the zoning ordinance that “suffer from a lack of clarity” and that they should be tightened up in the second phase.

“We think it would be very beneficial to go through the public process and community input process of thinking about how we can nail those terms down,” Butler said.

Moving on to next steps

After the public hearing, supervisors continued to ask questions about what an “agricultural operation” actually is.

“I still am not clear what a legitimate agriculture is,” said Supervisor Norman Dill. “If someone has ten acres and a few fruit trees, and picks them and sells them, what is the standard?”

Ragsdale said the zoning ordinance has a list of definitions that govern agriculture, including one that specifies what consists of a bona fide agricultural operation.

“We have a number of factors that we can consider when looking at the farm in its totality,” Ragsdale said.

Kamptner said some of those factors include federal tax forms, receipts showing gross sales and anything else that zoning staff could use to determine if the agricultural activity was bona fide.

Mallek said she set a high standard for whether a property is truly using agriculture as its primary use.

“Primary use means, in a way, that more than 50 percent of their income needs to be coming from agriculture,” Mallek said. “Next time around we may get to that.”

Two urban intersection projects to move forward 

(editor’s note:  Charlottesville opted to spend on a different project – this article is out of date and was not updated)
The Virginia Department of Transportation has found additional funding that could lead to the reconstruction of two major intersections in our area.
Deputy Secretary Nick Donohue announced Tuesday that $8.88 million will be spent at the intersection of U.S. 250 and Route 20 in Albemarle County and $5.9 million will go towards the intersection of Preston Avenue and Grady Avenue in Charlottesville.
Both projects had been submitted for funding through VDOT’s Smart Scale process, but had not originally qualified for funding. Under Smart Scale, all potential road projects are ranked according to how they address safety issues, relieve congestion, boost economic development and more. The new funding for these projects comes in part from cancellation of other projects across the state as well as better-than-expected revenue projections.
The Preston Avenue project is intended to create safer conditions at its intersection with Grady Avenue and 10th Street. One goal will be to reduce crossing widths, and another is to reduce the number of commercial driveways in the vicinity. Bike lanes will be constructed along Preston Avenue.
“The improvements will realign Preston Avenue and create a consolidated signalized intersection of Preston Avenue / 10th Street, and Grady Avenue,” reads the Smart Scale application.
The intersection of U.S. 250 and Route 20 will be rebuilt with additional turn lanes, medians in the right of way, and new traffic signals. A “keyhole” bike lane would be “added along the right turn lane from U.S. 250 to Route 20. The project would also construct 385 linear feet of new sidewalk on the west side of Route 20 from the U.S. 250 intersection, filling a gap.

The projects still need to be approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board. A final vote is scheduled for the CTB’s meeting in June.


Upcoming information for May 6

Welcome to a weekly look at meetings coming up in our community.  As with everything on this secret blog, this is an experiment and not considered official.


A busy week kicks off with a series of meetings.

Albemarle’s Architectural Review Board is charged with ensuring new buildings are consistent with the county’s design expectations. On Monday, the five member body will consider a new AutoZone at the corner of U.S. 29 and Westfield Road, as well the expansion of an office building on U.S. 250 west of Crozet. We are watching the latter closely as the building is just outside of the county’s development area. Take a look at the full agenda here.

In Culpeper, Virginia Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine will host a public meeting on the state’s six-year improvement program. That fund is one of many sources of revenues for road, bridge, rail, bicycle, pedestrian and public transportation projects in the state. I’m going to take the opportunity to speak with planners about keeping the rural character of several roads in northeastern Albemarle. The meeting begins at 4:00 p.m. in VDOT’s office in Culpeper. Before the meeting, I’m going to participate in a litter clean-up with the Secretary.

Charlottesville City Council has an ambitious meeting agenda with items ranging from an update on the city’s climate action plan to a review of the West Main Streetscape Plan. There will also be proclamations for both Bike Month as well Kids to Parks Day, which is coming up on May 18. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in City Council Chambers and can be viewed live through Facebook, the city’s website or Cable Channel 10.

Finally on this busy day, Albemarle will begin a series of events called Climate Mondays as part of the work toward the development of the county’s Climate Action Plan. The first event will discuss energy efficiency and renewable energy in residential buildings, which represents 27 percent of the county’s greenhouse gas emissions. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. at room 235 in the County Office Building on McIntire Road.


If you’re interested in transportation projects in Albemarle, have I got a meeting for you.

The Planning Commission will be briefed on two major plans coordinated by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. The first will be a presentation on the Long-Range Transportation Plan, a document that must be updated every five years to tell federal officials what projects are desired by the community. Want to know what this means? Give me a call and I’ll help you understand how it all works.

The second will be a public hearing on the 2019 Jefferson Area Bike and Pedestrian Plan, a document that is a “focused list of regionally-significant bicycle and pedestrian projects that enhance connectivity to residential and economic centers.” Thanks to a grant from the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation, my colleague Peter Krebs has been working to develop public support for the plan. The meeting begins at 6:00 p.m. in the Albemarle County Office Building.


Crozet is gearing up for an update of the master plan that guides future development. The Crozet Community Advisory Committee will meet at the Field School at 7:00 p.m. for their monthly which will set up the plan’s review. In particular, county planner Andrew Knuppel will brief citizens on what staff’s approach will be to the review. After that, the group will discuss the status of Eastern Avenue, a north-south road that has been called for since the Crozet Master Plan was first adopted in December 2014. I plan to be there and look forward to the discussion.


Charlottesville’s PLACE Design Task Force was created in 2012 to advise City Council on urban placemaking. Since then, the group has weighed in on the Belmont Bridge, the West Main Streetscape and other key projects that affect the city. At this meeting, they will discuss the future of planning in the city. Shortly before the city hired Tarron Richardson as its next manager, Council authorized creation of a new position to oversee long range planning.

At the same time, review of Charlottesville’s Comprehensive Plan was put on on hold earlier this year. In early February, Council agreed to spend around $900,000 to hire the new position and to hire a new consultant to complete both the Comprehensive Plan and to begin a rewrite of the zoning ordinance. I am hopeful that I will get an update from staff at the PLACE meeting on Friday, which begins at noon in the Neighborhood Development Services Conference room in Charlottesville City Hall.

Friday (and Saturday)

There is nothing on the agenda, as far as I know, for Friday. This isn’t unusual. But I’ll be working with Peter Krebs to prepare for the Rivanna River Fest. Our friends at the Rivanna Conservation Alliance are holding this event on Saturday, May 11, to bring people downtown to enjoy the waterway that serves as the border between Albemarle and Charlottesville.

Events Include:

  • Underwater Photography at Lewis & Clark Exploratory Center
    Join the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center for a workshop on underwater photography with our cameras. Children and adults can participate. Children must be accompanied by a parent. Your hands will get wet, but your legs don’t have to! Available times: 10 AM and 11:30 AM. Workshop lasts approximately an hour. $5 per person. To register, please email
  • Music & Fun at Rivanna River Company
  • Join us for a River celebration at the Rivanna River Company!
  • There will be live music by the Rivanna Roustabouts and Red and the Romantics!
  • Food vendors include: Mexican Tacos, 106 Street Food, and Blue Ridge Creamery
  • Kids Activities: Face-painting, monitoring demonstrations, and more!
  • Shuttles will run from parking at Darden Towe Park (where the morning activities will be held) to the Rivanna River Company from 12:00 – 5:00 pm.

We can’t wait to see you on the river!