After years of deferrals, supervisors deny approval of zoning amendment

By Heather Michon

The Board of Supervisors has denied approval of a controversial zoning amendment that would have allowed a dramatic increase in housing density in some parts of the county.

Their 3-2 vote came at the end of a public hearing and discussion that went on for over three hours on Wednesday night (Aug. 16), as dozens of residents stepped up to the podium to urge them to reject the motion.

Community Development Director Douglas Miles said the text amendment would allow developers in areas zoned as R-4 (Residential, Limited) to construct up to 5.5 dwelling units per acre by right, rather than having to seek special use permits. Under the narrow language of the amendment, this type of use would only be permitted in areas that are “subjected to a common plan of development” and are served by central water and sewer. 

Currently, only a few acres in Fluvanna County are zoned as R-4. Most homes are single-family dwellings with a density of 2.9 units per acre. Communities like Sycamore Square, Village Oaks, and the Villages at Nahor are zoned as R-3, and developers follow an arduous zoning process to bring their projects to fruition.    

The most immediate beneficiary of the zoning change would have been Marina Point at Lake Monticello. 

Constructed in the 1980s, independent of the Lake Monticello Owners Association, Marina Point was planned as a 45-unit condominium complex. However, they were rezoned as R-4 after only 15 units had been built, halting further development and putting the costs of maintaining the property on a small group of owners. The Marina Point Owners Association has been fighting for permission to build another 10 units on their five-acre plot.

While Marina Point would benefit from the change, Miles argued that expanding by-right density in areas zoned or re-zoned as R-4 would benefit the county in the long term by increasing the types of housing available in Fluvanna County. This fits within the 2015 Comprehensive Plan, which called for higher density and more options in the county’s six Community Planning Areas.

Miles said the amendment could help draw development away from the overcrowded Lake Monticello area and lead to more growth in the Zion Crossroads and Fork Union areas over the coming years and decades. Both have evolving municipal water and sewer systems, and more housing could help spur much-needed economic growth. 

Residents, however, turned out in force to object to the plan.

Speakers accused the county of engaging in “spot zoning” on behalf of the wealthy residents of Marina Point. They argued that it could open all of Lake Monticello up to multi-family housing, as older homes could be pulled down and replaced by duplexes. Some said it would strip the county of oversight authority. Others argued that Aqua Virginia, the private water company that serves the Lake Monticello area, was already failing under the increased pressure of development. 

“Unless the county has a machine that prints money, I suspect the residents of this county will be paying for the higher infrastructure costs that come along with this zoning change,” said Wayne Knight.

Others argued that increasing density would, over time change the thing that makes Fluvanna County so special to so many residents. 

“It will destroy the inherent DNA of this county, this emerald green county,” said Donna Daguanno.

Miles pushed back on some of the issues raised by residents, particularly as it related to Lake Monticello. The HOA has covenants and bylaws that restrict density, and it would take a vote by the entire membership to change those rules. While theoretically possible, that sort of change seems improbable. 

He also argued that the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors would retain control of the process. “You would be well within reason to never rezone anything else R-4,” he said, adding that they would also retain the right to ask for proffers and conditions before approving any new project.

This is not the first time supervisors have wrestled with this issue. They deferred decisions in both the summer of 2021 and 2022, asking for more information and data on how other counties deal with density issues.    

On Wednesday, however, a majority seemed to coalesce around a single choice. “I don’t want to see Fluvanna look like Charlottesville,” said Patricia Eager (Palmyra).

Chris Fairchild (Cunningham) made the motion to deny the text amendment change, seconded by Eager. Mike Sheridan (Columbia) provided the deciding vote. Tony O’Brien (Rivanna) and Chair Mozell Booker (Fork Union) both voted against the motion.

Other matters

A public hearing on an ordinance dealing with dogs running at large is scheduled for Sept. 20.

Supervisors voted 5-0 to make corrections to small errors in their bylaws, including meeting start times and location.

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