Stafford Votes to Change Rural Zoning Density to Six Acres

Stafford County’s Board of Supervisors moved forward on March 2, 2021, with a change in how property may be subdivided in the A-1, Agricultural Zoning District. Previously, residential development on rural land zoned A-1 was allocated by how many three-acre lots could be achieved on a piece of property The Board amended the zoning ordinance to allow a gross density of one dwelling unit for every six acres. The Board also voted to grandfather any subdivision plans that have already been fully submitted and allow the five properties who applied to the Purchase of Development Rights program in 2017 to be evaluated under the previous requirements. They also voted to ask the Planning Commission to begin the review process to exempt family subdivisions from the zoning change.  This decision comes after a long three-year process that included public outreach and public hearings with the Planning Commission.

“Our growth projections show that the County will not be able to sustain the current rate of growth in our rural areas,” said Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Crystal Vanuch, Rock Hill District. “This was an extremely tough decision for the Board, but we believe the value of rural land is better preserved by maintaining its intended agricultural use.”

Under the ordinance change, which goes into effect immediately, land located in agricultural zoning areas has a gross density of six acres with a minimum lot size of three acres, or 1.5 acres, if located in a cluster subdivision. Gross density is determined by everything located on the land, whether it is usable or not – like wetlands. For example, someone with 30 acres could create five residential lots allotted across the 30 acres. That person could subdivide in any combination of acreage as long as the minimum lot size is three acres. If the person chose to develop a cluster subdivision, 50 % of the land would have to be subtracted and lot sizes would be a minimum of 1.5 acres.

The Board cited the higher expense for the cost of roads, utilities, schools and other infrastructure, as well as public safety expenses associated with reaching rural areas as a vital factor in making the decision. The Comprehensive Plan considers a ratio of 20% rural development compared to 80% for suburban and urban areas of the County as a ratio that will manage growth and maintain our rural character.  Residential subdivision plan approvals exceeded this goal and it was determined that new zoning requirements were necessary to meet the Board’s desire for Healthy Growth into the future.