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Albemarle panel backs changes to regulations for placement of fill material

Where materials from demolitions or construction projects can be taken in Albemarle County soon could change.

At its virtual meeting Tuesday, the county Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of changing Albemarle’s regulations around the placement of fill.

Late last year, the Board of Supervisors approved a resolution of intent to consider changes after issues around truck traffic on rural roads, hours of operation and placement of fill on critical slopes and in stream buffers were brought to the county’s attention by neighbors of fill sites.

Currently, fill activities are permitted in all zoning districts, and allow for soil or inert materials.

The proposed changes would create two types of fill activities — clean earth fill and inert waste fill. Clean earth fill is defined as rock and soil, while inert waste fill is defined as brick, concrete block, broken concrete, asphalt pavement and uncontaminated minerals.

Under the proposed changes, clean earth fill activity would be permitted by-right, or without legislative approval, in all zoning districts, while inert waste fill activity would be permitted by-right in all zoning districts except for the Rural Areas, Village Residential and Monticello Historic District. In those districts, inert waste fill activity would be permitted only by special exception.

An online petition called Save Albemarle County’s Rural Landscape cites complaints around two fill incidents: one in November 2018, when synthetic turf was taken from an area park to property off Fox Mountain Road, and spring and summer of 2019, when debris from the demolished University Hall and other materials were taken to a property in Free Union and other sites in Crozet and Covesville.

“We recommend support for the following reasons: by-right dumping of fill and waste can risk contamination of neighboring wells, waterways and aquifers,” the petition says. “Reduce the unfair burden of road repair costs placed on taxpayers of Virginia. Limit the flow of thousands of dump trucks on unpaved, rural roads which cause blockage of traffic, unreasonable noise, and road dust covering homes and property.”

In an interview earlier this year, Mark Stanis, director of capital construction and renovation at the University of Virginia, said UVa is making a number of changes around its contracts for hauling materials. He said the university also initiated a protocol with Albemarle County that UVa would reach out as soon as it has a large site that it knows there is going to be hauling from to make sure that the county has been contacted by the contractor and that the site is communicated.

“We’ve also limited the hours … so university projects, unless there is some compelling reason that I have to sign off on, there will not be hauling off hours, it will only be hauling Monday through Friday, regular business hours,” he said.

Bill Fritz, the county’s chief of special projects, said in a presentation on Tuesday that the proposed changes may discourage the generation of fill materials.

“We acknowledge that this proposed ordinance may make fill activities more difficult due to the performance regulations,” he said. “This may discourage the generation of fill material and encourage reuse of existing infrastructure and reduce terraforming activities. The reuse of existing infrastructure reduces the environmental impacts caused by disposal of demolished infrastructure materials, and the manufacturing of new infrastructure materials.”

Currently, fill activities associated with agriculture activities are exempt. Fill activities of fewer than 10,000 square feet are exempted from the regulations of the Water Protection Ordinance, but if the fill material is generated from an Albemarle-regulated activity, the fill is not exempt from the WPO.

Under the proposed changes, agricultural activities would specifically not include “ the above ground application or storage of sewage sludge, or the storage or disposal of non-agricultural excavation material, waste and debris if the excavation material, waste and debris are not generated on the farm, subject to the provisions of the Virginia Waste Management Act.”

Also, all fill activity of 2,500 square feet or greater would be subject to performance regulations.

In addition to maintaining the current operational regulations, the proposed changes allow some trees to be cut in the development areas for the placement of fill, require additional setbacks and limit the fill activity area to a maximum of two acres. All operational activities would be limited to the hours of 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

During public comment, Neil Williamson, president of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local business advocacy group, said he had multiple questions about the proposed regulations, such as if property owners would be limited to a maximum of two acres forever.

“The nature of the rural area is an active agricultural area, and I get concerned when I hear folks upset about the trucks and things that are on the road, maintaining that agricultural integrity,” he said. “It seems like some of the residents believe the rural area is a public amenity that they should be able to control. This measure seeks to reduce the economic viability of rural area land, and it could be a backdoor to making that land less viable economically.”

Rex Linville, with the Piedmont Environmental Council, said PEC believes that the proposed changes will improve the protection of rural resources and will lessen the impact of “these unrelated commercial activities” in rural areas.

The proposed changes are set to be considered by the Board of Supervisors at its Sept. 16 meeting.


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