Albemarle County elected officials want to be able to expand the use of photo-speed monitoring devices, require minimum building standards for farm buildings used by the public and issue civil penalties in lieu of criminal penalties for violations of local ordinances, and they’re hopeful state elected officials will support them.
On Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors voted on its legislative priorities for the 2022 General Assembly session.
Virginia is a Dillon rule state, which means that it prevents localities from exercising any power not explicitly allowed by the state code. Supervisors meet annually with local legislators to discuss the board’s priorities for future laws. County Attorney Greg Kamptner said county staff members are in the process of setting up a meeting with the local delegation, likely in November.
Supervisors have been successful asking for legislation around local control over monuments — and removed the county’s Confederate statue last year — and for the ability to require removal of snow and ice from public sidewalks, which the county has not yet enacted an ordinance to enforce.
This year, the board has three priorities that it has been discussing since July.
The first is to allow localities the option to adopt an ordinance to enforce its ordinances by a schedule of civil penalties instead of criminal punishment, with the intention of decriminalizing some violations.
Kamptner said civil penalties would be replacing only those that are identified as misdemeanors, and the county’s proposal would allow civil penalties of up to $500 for the initial summons with increasing amounts, up to a total of $5,000.
He used the example of loud music.
“If the board were to make that in a civil penalty, it might be that for those types of violations, the practice is going to be to ask them to turn it down,” he said. “If they turn it down … and it doesn’t recur, then a summons won’t be issued. If the noise, the music, does pop up again, and there’s another complaint then the next time out, the expectation might be that they would cite them, issue a summons, that time.”
Another priority is to be able to require agricultural buildings used by the public, such as those at farm wineries, breweries, distilleries and other agricultural operations, to be subject to minimum safety standards.
Currently, in general, farm buildings are exempt from the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code, including those used for “display, sampling or sale of agricultural, horticultural, floricultural or silvicultural products produced in the farm.”
Supervisors, at work sessions, had suggested requirements such as posting exit signs at doors and installing panic bars on doors to help facilitate escape during fires and other emergencies.
“I think if a building is being renovated from an old packing shed to something else where events are going to be hosted, we still need the authority to be able to require something as simple as that electrical inspection,” Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said.
Supervisors Donna Price said if someone is going to take a barn and turn it into an event space it “needs to meet the same requirements as any other facility.”
“The last thing we want is to have one of these structures, have a fire and potentially dozens of people die because we did not have adequate safety standards in the bill,” she said.
Kamptner said a state study three years ago decided to continue an exemption for farm buildings and structures.
“So .. these were the gentle incursions into building safety,” he said “They’re the first steps.”
Supervisor Liz Palmer said they need to think small to “get a foot in the door.”
“There is a certain amount of strategic positioning here as to what we can get through,” she said. “Having talked to representatives about this, and I know Ann’s been involved in this for years, it’s been rejected outright, even though there is a lot of need for it.”
The final priority is to expand the authority to use photo speed monitoring devices, which can currently be used in school crossing zones and highway work zones.
On segments of state secondary roads with posted speeds above 35 miles per hour and where speeding has been identified as a problem, supervisors want to be able to use photo speed monitoring devices. Secondary roads generally are numbered 600 and above.
“One reason why we went with above 35 was to make certain we stayed clear of residential areas, which was a concern with the original legislation,” Kamptner said.
Supervisors also support legislative positions and policy statements around impact fees for residential development and erosion and sediment control standards for agriculture and forestry operations.