By Chris Ettel (Contributor for Pilot Online)
May 18, 2019
If the thought of having to deal with a compliance board in one of our area cities strikes fear in your heart, it shouldn’t. All of us in Hampton Roads are, or should be, stewards of our coastal environment, and these folks serve as partners in that process. Below, with information provided by WPL Site Design based in Virginia Beach (www.wplsite.com), I will walk you through the basics.
As a body, each Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area Board is tasked with reviewing various requests to the CBPA Ordinance with the goal of enhancing water quality and protecting environmentally sensitive buffers adjacent to waterways, like tidal shores and wetlands. These areas, known as RPAs or Resource Protection Areas, are closest to the shoreline. In contrast, RMAs or Resource Management Areas are all other lands in the watershed.
In Virginia Beach where I live and work, the ordinance affects all property that drains into the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which equates to approximately the northern one-third of the city. And that equates to many property owners here and in the surrounding area who would be affected should they seek to take on certain kinds of projects from room additions to decks and gazebos to pools and more.
Here are some things you need to know:
• First, your local planning department can let you know if your home is in a CBPA.
• Approvals and variances are site-specific and individually-based. Some may be reviewed and accepted administratively by staff, while others may require CBPA Board review and sanction. An exception are minor projects within the landward 50-feet of the RPA buffer.
• Think of administrative staff members as your partners. They are knowledgeable professionals with degrees in related fields who want to help you create a successful project that meets your needs within the requirements of the CBPAO.
• The magic number is 2,500 square feet. If your project has a construction footprint less than or equal to that number and any portion is located within the RPA, the project can be reviewed administratively by staff.
• However, if land disturbance is greater than or equal to 2,500 square feet and located either in the RMA or the RPA, CBPA Board review and approval may be required.
Following are the steps you will most likely need to follow for your improvement project in the RMA and RPA, though the process may vary from city to city and/or depending on the specifics of your project (available in brochure form from WPL):
• Topographical survey. City staff must be able to make an environmental impact vs. gain assessment about your project. The topographical survey, which depicts existing elevations and existing vegetation, will be required for most projects.
• A master plan, which is a graphic representation of your proposed improvements in relation to existing elements on your property, is highly recommended.
• The master plan is helpful for a preliminary project review with city staff but may not be necessary — and there is no fee charged by the city if it is — if it is assumed that your project is of significant enough environmental impact to require a hearing with the CBPA board.
• A variance to The Chesapeake Bay Act will conditionally relax restrictions that prohibit development within a certain distance from the water’s edge, usually with a list of board conditions. If your project represents significant environmental impact, as outlined above, a CBPA site plan exhibit (which does not obtain a building permit) will need to be reviewed by the board for a fee. Neighbors are notified of the variance request, which is also published in the newspaper, and property owners are required to post “variance hearing” signs notifying the public about the variance request and hearing date/time to which the property owner or their representative is required to attend.
• If the project is approved, many property owners think they have crossed the only hurdle. Not so fast. The creation of a site plan is next. Necessary for both city approval and for a building permit, the Site Plan is reviewed for compliance with city code and with the Chesapeake Bay board conditions.
• Following review, city staff typically generate a list of comments or requests that adjustments be made to the site plan prior to approval. Most can be addressed right away, though others may require further discussion.
As you might imagine, all of this takes time, e.g. 30 days for certain aspects, 45 days for others. Both WPL and we at VB Homes have decades of experience and successful track records when it comes to shepherding property owners through the process.
Don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of service. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.