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County approves leash ordinance

Dogs are now prohibited from running at large — not on a leash or lead — in Albemarle County.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to stop owners from letting dogs run off leash when not on their owner’s property.

Dog owners also can get written permission from other property owners to let their dogs off leash on their properties. That permission would need to be presented in court after an incident.

During public comment, one resident said a loose dog recently ran at her and she now no longer walks in her neighborhood.

“We’ve been walking in our neighborhood for 20 years and we’ve been fine, but you never know when it’s not going to be fine,” she said. “It just seems like for our area, which is a pretty concentrated area, and not a rural area it would be a good thing.”

In December the board deferred a vote on a running-at-large proposal and preferred making the ordinance different for properties by zoning districts and size, similar to what the county did for homestays.

County Attorney Greg Kamptner said the county considered having a leash law that would encompass the development area and rural area subdivisions, but that the police questioned whether it could be enforced.

“There are questions of signage and dealing with the boundaries as dogs move in and out of those areas that are subject to the leash law,” he said.

There are seven exemptions, however, for when a dog is not considered at large — when it’s in the company of a licensed hunter or the dog is participating in an organized fox or other game hunt; is a hunting dog exercising; is participating in field trials or training; is in a fenced dog park; is a service dog; is in public service training or a working farm dog.

The board also unanimously approved for the county executive to sign a five-year lease for the Department of Voter Registration and Elections to move to the Albemarle Square shopping center on U.S. 29. The department’s offices currently are located in the 5th Street County Office Building.

Legislators passed a seven-day window for no-excuse absentee, in-person voting, known as early voting, during the 2019 session, but now are looking at extending the ability to cast absentee ballots even further to possibly 45 days. County staff said the move of voting services is necessary to meet even the current needs.

County Registrar Jake Washburne said that there will likely be about 80,000 registered voters in the county by the presidential election. He said he estimates that there will be about 60,000 voters who vote in the Nov. 3 election.

“If you just take 20% of 60,000, that’s 12,000,” he said. “If you just take half of that, 6,000, that’s about twice as many [voters] as we’ve ever seen, come through our office in-person to vote in a prior election.”

Parking currently is limited at the 5th Street County Office Building.

“We looked at all potential locations that had available space and took into consideration the amount of parking that we can expect to have available,” said Lance Stewart, the county’s director of facilities and environmental services. “Albemarle Square was one of two viable alternatives and the one that we deemed to be most appropriate in the end.”

The county expects initial capital costs to be up to $610,000. Operating costs are estimated to be approximately $11,600 in FY20 and $225,000 in FY21, and include rent, utilities and facility and information technology maintenance.

Board Chair Ned Gallaway said the county needs to get transit options for Albemarle Square sorted out before the operations get set up, and he was open to all ideas.

“That does not mean just looking at [Charlottesville Area Transit],” Supervisor Diantha McKeel said.

The board also unanimously approved a special exception request for a homestay, the third request submitted and approved under regulations approved in August.

The Thompsons’ request was to reduce setback requirements, as their property on Ipswich Place does not meet the distance requirements set out in the code for the front of the house, and the front and side of the spaces used for parking. County staff said there have been no complaints or concerns regarding this homestay use from neighbors since it began in 2019.

The property is less than 5 acres in the Rural Areas zoning district, which the county’s regulations require to have minimum yard setbacks of 125 feet from neighboring lots for parking and structures used for a homestay.

In addition to setbacks, special exceptions can be granted to allow more than two guestrooms, the use of an accessory structure if not otherwise allowed and the use of a resident manager.

The property is in McKeel’s district; McKeel said she had no problems with this request, but she and Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said they “had no idea” that special exception approvals stayed with the property no matter who owns it in the future.

“I’m horrified by that,” Mallek said.

“A special exception runs with the land…,” said county principal planner Rebecca Ragsdale. “A new owner would need to come in and get a new homestay [zoning] clearance.”

McKeel said it was something to keep in mind in the future, but said she was still in favor of this request.


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