Looking at the zoning map of Jefferson County, it’s clear that the rural land use designation covers the majority of the landscape even if much of the economic activity is concentrated around the various cities, towns and villages. Conversely, areas planned for residential growth are clustered around the existing concentrations, but in practice residential development dots the landscape well beyond the designated growth areas.
While it’s common to think of land designated with rural zoning as reserved for agriculture, it’s really a category with many allowed uses, not all directly related to agriculture — but the intent of the zoning ordinance is that these uses be compatible with continuing agricultural use. The uses allowed in the residential growth zone are mostly the same as those allowed in the rural zone (of the 100+ uses allowed in rural, only a few, such as airports and shooting ranges, are not allowed in residential growth). The difference is in the allowed density, driven by the general lack of public water and sewer in the rural zone.
The ordinance also distinguishes between “permitted use” (requiring planning staff approval only) and “conditional use,” which adds review by the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to the staff process. The “conditional use” designation allows for site-specific considerations to be addressed by the BZA. There are general standards the BZA can consider in reviewing a project, including compatibility with the county’s Comprehensive Plan, the effect on public safety, and buffering from the adjoining properties, but otherwise the BZA is limited to imposing reasonable conditions and restrictions that are directly related to the conditional use and the specific requirements defined in the ordinance.
Single-family housing is an example of a “permitted use” in both rural and residential growth zones, with specific requirements in the ordinance. In residential growth 100% of a parcel can be used for building lots, whereas in rural only 50% of a parcel can be used for building lots. Artist studio is an example of a “conditional use” allowed in either zone, but with no specific requirements to guide the BZA other than the general density and setback requirements. If the proposed ZTA19-03 amendment were to be adopted as allowing solar generation facilities as conditional use, that text could serve as the general reference conditions for the permit while still allowing the BZA to address site-specific concerns related to buffering, setbacks, and density.