If other counties also approve it, Albemarle County will join a regional cigarette tax board.
On Wednesday night, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors became the first body in the region to vote to join the Blue Ridge Cigarette Tax Board, which will manage the administration of its potential cigarette tax ordinance.
The board on Sept.15 will vote to schedule a public hearing for Oct. 20 to consider the ordinance to implement the actual cigarette tax, which could be up to 40 cents per pack.
State law changed in 2020 to allow counties the option to levy new taxes, similar to cities’ longstanding taxing authority, including adding a local cigarette tax.
Albemarle, along with Greene, Fluvanna, Nelson, Orange, Madison and Augusta counties have been working with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission to form the regional cigarette tax board. The city of Charlottesville, which first implemented a local cigarette tax in 1993, also might join the board.
Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley said she was “thrilled” to see this come to fruition.
“This is something I think that will save lives, and it’s better for the health of all of our county residents in Albemarle,” she said.
The board approved an operating agreement, which allows one representative from each locality to sit on the board and outlines what the board and its staff will do. The agreement will not be implemented until at least six jurisdictions execute the agreement and approve cigarette tax ordinances.
So far, Greene, Nelson and Orange have scheduled public hearings for their regional cigarette tax board votes on Sept. 14.
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek questioned why six jurisdictions was the minimum required to form the board.
David Blount, the TJPDC’s deputy director and legislative director, said state code defines a regional board as at least six localities.
“What I would anticipate seeing perhaps, is that we get a board up and running, if it’s six, seven, or all of the eight, there may be others that are kind of holding back … I would look for maybe the numbers to go up rather than come down,” he said.
Supervisor Diantha McKeel said the tax board is a win-win for the community.
“I think it’s a win for the businesses because they’re no longer having to struggle with competition, it levels the playing field,” she said. “And I look at it through the viewpoint of an environmental action, because it will reduce the amount of driving that people are doing from one area to another to purchase cigarettes. They’ll buy their cigarettes at the closest place to them, and so I just think it’s a win-win all the way around.”
After a deferral earlier this year, the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday approved an optional form-based code for the area around the intersection of Rio Road and U.S. 29.
Form-based code focuses on regulation of form, placement and design of buildings and public elements. While regulation of use in a form-based code is still included, it’s typically secondary to the form. County staff began working on the form-based code for around the intersection in 2019, after the county approved a small area plan for the area.
The code contains three character areas: core, flex and edge. Core would have the “highest intensity and most urban form of development,” while edge would have less intense uses and smaller buildings.
The core area surrounds the Rio Road and U.S. 29. intersection, while the flex area encompasses most of the large shopping centers such as Rio Hill, 29th Place and most of Fashion Square Mall. The edge area is the smallest, along the Woodbrook neighborhood and the southwestern side of Berkmar Drive.
Rachel Falkenstein, a county planning manager, said some have questioned why the core character area couldn’t be applied to the entire Fashion Square Mall property, and if it was appropriate to have that site or other shopping centers be split between a core and a flex character area.
“The core adjacent to the flex does not look drastically different, and it provides a gradual gradual transition down in intensity,” she said. “Because of this gradual nature of the transition, it will not feel disruptive to future users of a site that might have core and flex adjacent to each other, and it will not preclude continuity of design on a large site that might have some core and flex.”
Falkenstein said that if a property owner is interested in using the form-based code for their property, they could opt in by filling out a county application.
“Then the review process would follow our typical site plan review process, it would be reviewed and approved by staff if it met all of the requirements for candidates,” she said. “We also have a pre-application meeting requirement for the form-based code since it is new to us, and we can work with applicants and be proactive with a new development coming in.”
The county also removed reference to the specific numbers for affordable housing requirements in the form based code or regulations and are instead requiring recommendations adopted under the county’s housing policy, which was updated in July.
“The reason for this is both to avoid setting in stone something that may change and also to create a policy that can evolve in tandem with the county has those needs and those housing policies evolve,” said Lea Brumfield, a county senior planner. “This creates a much more flexible policy and much more flexible district. That is a nimble code that won’t require a [zoning text amendment] every time the county’s housing policy is updated.”
Brumfield said the ordinance, even after adoption, will remain a living document.
“One of the changes of the planning profession over the last couple of decades is the realization that ordinances however well intentioned, however expertly written, must be revised as time goes on,” she said.
County staff are also recommending future county code work including a street network regulating plan, civic spaces design guidance, green building and design standards and transit planning, but would need board approval and capital project funding, as it would need to be done by consultants.
Brumfield said he county will also consider investment in public infrastructure as an additional measure to support and encourage redevelopment, such as projects suggested in the small area plan.
“They will be creating that vision, that walkable, vibrant, mixed-use area,” she said.
During the public hearing, Free Enterprise Forum President Neil Williamson said the organization is concerned that the incentives currently in place may or may not be enough.
“That being said, let’s try it,” he said. “It’s a living document, as one of you had said. Let’s see if we can make this happen.”
The current incentive in the code says that developments that provide at least 5% more affordable housing units than what is required may qualify for one additional story of building height than the maximum permitted in the core and flex character areas. The units must remain affordable at the levels in the housing policy for at least 30 years.
Director of Planning Charles Rapp said one of the main intentions of pre-application meetings is to have others, such as the county’s Office of Economic Development or the Virginia Department of Transportation.
“The point is to kind of figure out what the potential project is, and who might need to be in that room to see about collaboration and guiding them through that process,” he said.
Deputy County Executive Doug Walker said the Office of Economic Development is open to talking with investors and developers around how their interests and the county’s interests “can best align for meaningful development.”