Conservation Area

Conservation Areas are critical environmental areas where ordinary development practices would likely cause significant environmental damage. Lands surrounding or adjacent to Conservation Areas can also be sensitive, and development of these lands should consider negative impacts and methods to mitigate or eliminate these impacts. Wetlands, marshes, flood hazard areas, steep slopes, critical plant and wildlife habitats, and stream banks are types of Conservation Areas. Lands designated for conservation are intended to remain in their natural state. Examples of preferred land uses include hunting and fishing clubs, fish and game preserves, parks, and other open space that complement the natural environment.

Resource Protection Areas
The Conservation Area land use designation has been a feature of the County’s Land Use Maps since 1975. The map reflects only the Resource Protection Area (RPA) defined by the January 1, 2004 RPA rule of the Chesapeake Bay Act and does not reflect all conservation areas. Reasons for not mapping all types of conservation areas range from lack of detailed information (some wetlands need additional determinations), difficulty in mapping on a large scale (steep slopes), and the need to protect the location of sensitive resources (critical habitats). Therefore, staff has consistently relied upon the official Land Use Map in determining and analyzing properties’ general land use designations and has used other policies (Natural Areas Policy) and ordinances (Chesapeake Bay Act) to protect site-specific resources.

Unlike many other land use designations, the Conservation Area designation does not easily translate into a corresponding zoning district and density. In some respects, the Conservation Area designation functions as an overlay area, relying upon the surrounding land use designations to infer the general land use, density, and zoning district for the entire development, while using the designation itself to guide the development boundaries and master plan, the intensity of development, and the proffer negotiations. Various environmental policies, such as the Natural Areas Policy and the Powhatan Creek Watershed Management Plan, also factor into development review so that when combined with the Chesapeake Bay Act regulations, resource protections can be weighed against the proposed development and density.

Comprehensive Plan
Comprehensive Plan densities are given in ranges, and prior to 1997 when the Land Use Map was digitized as a GIS layer, it was difficult to calculate the acreage per land use designation on a given property. Most times, not even all of the areas that qualify as Conservation Area are known and identified at the rezoning stage. Therefore, gross densities have been the standard for establishing the upper limits of the density for the site and continue to be the standard used.