Lancaster County looks for ways to accommodate workforce housing

Jackie Nunnery

by Jackie Nunnery

LANCASTER—The Lancaster planning commission on Thursday, August 17, reviewed the residential community (R4) zoning designation in an effort to make workforce housing a reality. 

Planning and land use director Olivia Hall shared that a developer previously was interested in bringing an apartment project to the county with 28 units on a 5-acre parcel, needing six units per acre. “Even with the bonus zoning that’s provided, this project would not be possible,” she said.

Staff recommends increasing the base density from its current two dwelling units per acre to six dwelling units per acre, said Hall. Provisions for an additional two units per acre (up from one) could be provided if 10% of the total number of units are priced in a range that is “affordable to residents with incomes between 50% and 120% of the median family income.” Density could be increased by four additional units per acre (up from two) if 20% of the units are priced likewise. 

According to Hall, the current median family income in the county, based on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development figures, is $93,073, making the income range $46,536.50-$111,687.60. 

What would a 5-acre project look like? Hall said a base density of six units, plus two units for 10% workforce housing would total 40 units. With 20% of workforce housing, the project would be allowed 10 units per acre or 50 units total.

Hall provided a chart comparing densities across a number of counties. For those that allowed multiple family dwellings, most were comparable to what is being proposed, with Surry County at 10 units per acre; Mathews, six (more with conditional use permit); Essex, 10; Westmoreland, 12; Greene, 16; and Kilmarnock, 10.

With few R4 properties in the county, the first step would have to be rezoning, said county administrator Don Gill. “When you rezone you have adjoining property owner notifications at both the planning commission and board of supervisors. This is not something that could be done like that and be rammed down neighbors’ throats. But our maximum of dwellings per acre is four right now and that’s not going to enable us to get anywhere close to the affordable workforce range.” 

If a maximum of 10 units is too high, a base of four with one bonus unit at 10% and two at 20% may suffice, said Gill.

“When you start building apartments, that’s where you start getting opposition to that kind of building. A maximum of six might be where we want to start,” said supervisor Bill Lee.

The commission will review the ordinance with Gill’s suggestion to let the full commission comment. David Chupp and Ty Brent were absent. The District 4 seat is open.

Noise ordinance

The commission also reviewed noise ordinances from Essex, Northumberland, Westmoreland, Mathews, Middlesex, Sussex and Stafford counties as well as Virginia Beach in response to “continued requests from residents,” according to Hall.

District 1 member Latoy Davenport proposed increasing the fines. Lancaster’s ordinance currently states the Class 3 misdemeanor is punishable by a fine of $25 to $500. “Even though it’s not a lot of money, the first fine that you get is a warning. But I think at a certain point, if you get a certain amount of noise complaints, you should have to go to court. It’s an inconvenience, but it’s also an inconvenience for the people that are complaining. Nobody wants to go to court and waste a whole day.”

County administrator Don Gill suggested asking legal counsel whether requiring a court appearance is allowable under Virginia Code.

District 2 member Glendon Pinn wanted a more “tangible” definition of noise, such a decibel level “instead of leaving judgment.”

The current ordinance defines noise as “the playing of any radio, phonograph, tape or any musical instrument in such a manner, or with such volume, or at such hour of the day or night as to annoy or disturb the quiet, comfort or repose of any person. Also, the noise and disturbance by chain saws, automobiles, motorcycles or three-wheel or four-wheel motorbikes, barking dogs and other like noises in a residential area between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., daily (except Sunday) and between the hours of 11 p.m. Saturday until 9 a.m. Sunday morning is prohibited. There is an exception provided for “the normal practice of commercial farming or commercial waterman’s activity.” 

Board of zoning appeals member Steve Sorensen provided a summary of noise and shooting complaints from Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office dispatch during January 1 to August 15. There were 33 noise complaints, an average of 4.4 per month and 28 shooting complaints, an average of 3.73 per month.

Lee said the changes to the fines were good, but he was hesitant “to get down in the weeds with this. I don’t think there’s too much of an appetite to have deputies running around with a meter.”

The commission will discuss the ordinance at its September 21 meeting after getting guidance from the county attorney.