Watershed Moments in a Suburbanizing County: Environmentalism, Exclusion, and Land Use in Albemarle County, Virginia, 1960-1980

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0003-2330-5424
Knuppel, Andrew, School of Architecture, University of Virginia
Wilson, Barbara, Department of Urban and Environmental Planning, University of Virginia
Bassett, Ellen, Department of Urban and Environmental Planning, University of Virginia

The last major reorganization of Albemarle County, Virginia’s zoning ordinance was adopted on December 10, 1980, substantially downzoning Albemarle’s rural areas. As of 2020, this zoning regime and the growth management policy it implements remain largely the same. This paper explores influences on the development of Albemarle County’s land use and growth management policies between 1960 and 1980 through the lenses of land use and planning policy, environmentalism, and the civil rights movement. The case study approach included a content analysis of archived meeting minutes, planning documents, and newspaper articles; oral history interviews; and analysis of demographic information, electoral activity, and the geographic location of planning proposals.

While the 1980 ordinance addressed emerging emphases on rural and environmental conservation, preceding political battles and land use proposals suggest that controversies about annexation, race, and growth influenced its development. Following a major annexation dispute with Charlottesville in 1960-1963, Albemarle pursued utility and zoning programs as a means to combat future annexation efforts. However, by the mid-1970s, dissatisfaction with unchecked growth, environmental issues, and a development-aligned county government led to the emergence of a politically dominant environmental-conservative coalition and strengthened growth management policies. Although race and exclusion were not explicit motivations for the 1980 ordinance, opposition to annexation was underlaid by anti-integration attitudes, and exclusionary and no-growth interests likely found sympathies in policies that were “pro-environmental” or “pro-character”. Anticipated revisions to Albemarle’s comprehensive plan provide an opportunity to acknowledge and redress a history of exclusionary motivations and impacts through updated policy.

MUEP (Master of Urban and Environmental Planning)
Albemarle County, land use, exclusion, environmentalism, growth management, urban planning, annexation, zoning
Issued Date: