Amendments will close zoning loophole

The Board of Supervisors set a public hearing last week on amendments that will replace sections of the county’s subdivision ordinance that were struck down in a recent Virginia Supreme Court decision.

On Friday, Planning Director Kirk Turner said the subdivision ordinance contained a provision requiring a minimum parcel size of 5 acres for any division of land in the agricultural district. The zoning ordinance, however, allowed a minimum lot size of 1 acre in the agricultural district, he said.

“The reason why the [zoning] ordinance did that was it wanted to offer a reasonable standard for those people who wanted to” subdivide a parcel off for a family member, Turner said.

Essentially, the Virginia Supreme Court ruling, which was issued Feb. 25, said the county can’t have separate standards for residential and agricultural subdivisions, Turner said. The proposed ordinance revisions will bring the regulations in line with county practices that have been in place since 1988, he said.

Among the proposed amendments to the zoning ordinance are those that: increase the minimum lot size in the agricultural district from 1 acre to 5 acres, except for family subdivisions; increase the minimum lot width in the agricultural district from 150 feet to 300 feet, unless two lots share access, except for family subdivisions; and continue to allow family subdivisions with a minimum lot area of 1 acre and a minimum width of 150 feet.

One of two proposed amendments to the subdivision ordinance removes a section – which the court determined to be illegal – that required the rezoning of property to a residential classification.

“We’re just restoring what the Supreme Court took away,” Turner said. The 5-acre minimum lot size in the agricultural district is intended to help certain areas of the county retain their rural character, he said.

According to a staff report on the matter, the ruling has impacted approximately 7,500 parcels, 139,000 acres and 6,027 land owners. The bulk of the affected land is in the Matoaca magisterial district, he said, but there are properties with agricultural zoning throughout the county.

The Board of Supervisors’ public hearing on the proposed ordinance amendments is set for April 28, Turner said, and property owners can file subdivision applications that try to take advantage of the court-created loophole in the interim. But, even in today’s environment, the subdivision approval process can take 18 to 24 months, he said.

“So, people could start that process, but we’re going to change that ordinance in the interim,” he said. “Somebody willing to do this has got to be willing to take a risk.”

The Planning Department will have to notify owners of properties with agricultural zoning of the changes, Turner said, and that effort will cost at least $7,000. The department plans to assign a special phone number that residents can call if they have questions, he said. Callers will hear a recorded description of the situation and general information on the issue, he said, and they will have the option of talking to a staff member if they wish.

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