The Stafford Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission will hold a joint public hearing Tuesday on a new ordinance and map outlining where cluster subdivisions can be built in the county.

The map would become an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan and zoning ordinance and help enforce the board’s efforts to limit cluster subdivisions, which is being challenged in court by developers.

The county’s cluster subdivision ordinance decreases the minimum housing lot from 3 acres to 1.5 acres on agriculturally zoned land if developers preserve at least 50 percent of the property. In theory, it results in the same number of homes as a traditional subdivision, but critics say that does not happen because developers include land unsuitable for houses to meet the open-space requirement.

Last year, supervisors voted to drastically reduce the amount of acreage countywide on which those cluster subdivisions could be built and to prohibit retention ponds and a large portion of utility easements from counting toward the open-space requirement.

That led to lawsuits from developers, which claim the changes go against a state law that mandates using the same formula to calculate the density of cluster and traditional subdivisions.

Developers also questioned whether the revised cluster ordinance met the state requirement that cluster developments be allowed on at least 40 percent of available land zoned agricultural or residential.

Stafford officials say the new map sets aside almost half of that land in the county for cluster development, but it is all inside or adjacent to the Urban Services Area, where public sewer and water lines and higher-density development already exist or is planned. The map and ordinance do not affect conventional subdivision development.

The public hearing on the proposed map and ordinance, which is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at the government center on Courthouse Road, is just one step toward the board’s strategic goal of creating “healthy growth” that aims to preserve some of the county’s rural character.

With the help of a consultant, the county also plans to seeks public input in developing a growth-management strategy. The timetable for that larger effort calls for holding a pair of discussions with stakeholders in March and April that will include up to 10 participants representing a cross-section of viewpoints on growth and development.

According to a county news release, the meetings will be open to the public and will be recorded and documented as part of the process.

Those will be followed by two larger open sessions at which the public can learn about the information gathered and take part in further discussions on the issue. To encourage participation, one meeting will be held in North Stafford and the other in the southern end of the county, the news release said.

The timetable calls for information from those meetings to be presented to the full Board of Supervisors March 7, followed on May 21 by recommendations on what steps the board should take.

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