Planning Commission: Granny Pods by Right? Not so Fast!

Although a recent Virginia Assembly law has made Temporary Family Health Care Structures, also known as “granny pods”,  a “by right” land use across the state, the Clarke County Planning Commission is scrambling to figure out how to handle the health implications of the law. LED signage, parks, churches and other institutional uses in AOC zoning districts and the definition of floodplain “tracts” were also discussed by the commissioners.

Septic Requirements Could Cause Granny Pod Back-ups

When the Virginia General Assembly mandated that families need no longer needed to have local government approval in order to construct Temporary Family Health Care Structures for relatives needing special care it unfortunately failed to consider most of the details that go along with the decision.

For example, although the structures are considered “temporary” Planning Commissioner Bev McKay (White Post) asked how the county would determine how long the structures might be needed.

Planning Administrator Chuck Johnston replied that depending on the individual occupying a Temporary Family Health Care Structure, the need could continue for years.

“When an applicant is going to do a structure and for how long is part of the application process” Johnston said.  Johnston also noted that the Virginia Department of Health (VDOH) has determined that the Temporary Family Health Care Structure may only be erected subject to proper septic drain field requirements. A VDOH representative present for the discussion confirmed that the addition of a Temporary Family Health Care Structure would be considered as an additional bedroom to the home.

Current VDOH septic requirements assume each bedroom of a home will be occupied by two persons and requiring 150 gallons of wastewater per day.  VDOH said that by adding an additional Temporary Family Health Care Structure “bedroom” homeowners may also face the requirement of expanding the property’s drain field by two lines.

The prospect of requiring a drain field expansion to accommodate Temporary Family Health Care Structure sparked concern from Commissioner Richard Thuss (Buckmarsh).

“I feel that the additional septic requirement makes this far too stringent and will exclude these units from coming into the county” Thuss said. “By requiring an additional drain field line aren’t we also saying that there would also have to be additional reserve space for the drain field as well?”

Thuss recounted his own personal experience with an elderly parent who needed assisted care. The parent was faced with monthly costs of $6K – $7K that we unsustainable. Thuss believes that the Temporary Family Health Care unit option is a good solution for addressing the needs of aging parent who are unable to afford the high costs of retirement facilities.

“By prohibiting Temporary Family Health Care units we are creating a situation where elderly parents won’t be able to remain in the county” Thuss said. “The requirements need to be less restrictive.”

Commissioner Chip Steinmetz (Berryville) agreed with Thuss.

“We have a senior citizen population in this country that is will double over the next ten years and we need to try and address it somehow” Steinmetz said.

Steinmetz said that he believes that although VDOH regulations assume two occupant s per bedroom when computing drain field requirements, most homes only house one person per bedroom. If Steinmetz is correct, most homes in Clarke County are only using approximately half of the VDOH-mandated septic requirement.

Steinmetz said that he’d like to see the Temporary Family Health Care unit drain field requirement take into consideration the number of occupants in the house rather than a stricter “per bedroom” assessment.

LED Signs Receive Dim Reception

New high-tech, attention grabbing bill-board advertising is popping up in cities around the country. Clarke County’s lack of regulations for dealing with this new advertising channel has county staff concerned.

“Changes in technology is making LED (light-emitting diode) signs much more common “ Chuck Johnston told the planning commission. “This technology really allows a sign to become a full scale television.”

During the meeting the Planning Commission held a public hearing to consider limiting the variability and brightness of LED signs, however, no members of the public were in attendance.

Johnston told the Commissioners that under certain conditions LED signs can pose a dangerous distraction to drivers and may not be consistent with the rural atmosphere of Clarke County.

Johnston’s concerns regarding encroaching LED technology are well founded. The Upperville Volunteer Fire Department already has installed a large LED sign that greets drivers entering the west-end of the village. Also, a large LED display now can be seen in Frederick County at the SportsPlex facility south of Winchester on I-81.

Johnston noted that Frederick County did not have LED regulations at the time the SportsPlex sign was erected.

The Planning Commission has decided to extend the LED public hearing subsequent to a site visit to view the SportsPlex sign with the hope of shedding more light on the decision.

Zoning Map Standardization

The Clarke County Board of Supervisors and planning staff have spent considerable time over the last several months attempting to reconcile certain types of “institutional” uses in Clarke County’s rural FOC and AOC zoning districts. The County is attempting to address setback requirements, height requirements and define “principal use” for a wide range of museums in historic structures, parks, churches and other zoning applications, considered institutional uses.

Johnston told the Commissioners that institutional use in AOC and FOC districts has already received much consideration with the Board of Supervisors position in favor of more restrictive institutional use.

The Planning Commission took Johnston’s advice under consideration and deferred setting a public hearing on the issue until a Planning Commission sub-committee can collaborate on the issues with both the Supervisors and planning staff.

When is a “Tract” not a “Tract”

When a Clarke County tract of land is divided by a road it is really considered to be two tracts for zoning purposes. However, building restrictions in flood plains make the two-tract designation largely irrelevant.

On Friday the Planning Commission unanimously agreed to change the tract definition for parcels that are divided by a road in a 10-year flood plain.

Such divided parcels will now be considered a single tract.