Chesapeake/Atlantic Preservation Area

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The Chesapeake/Atlantic Preservation Area (CAPA) applies to all of Accomack County, except for incorporated towns and Federal lands. Areas shown on the CAPA Map are subject to the requirements of the CAPA Ordinance. When reviewing development applications, staff conducts site visits to delineate or confirm the 100-foot vegetative buffer, prepares water quality impact assessments, considers buffer exceptions, and investigates buffer violations. The Department of Planning also maintains a Stormwater Management best management practices structure (BMP) database and administers the septic system pump-out notification program.


The Chesapeake/Atlantic Preservation Area (CAPA) provisions of the Accomack County Zoning Ordinance first came into being in Accomack County in 1990, following state legislation enacted in 1988. The ordinance imposes development standards that limit impervious cover in favor of trees and woody vegetation that protect Chesapeake Bay water quality. Originally the provisions applied to just the portion of the County in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. In 2009, most of the provisions were extended to include the portion of the County which also drains into the Atlantic Ocean.

Trees and vegetation intercept rainfall, absorb and filter pollutants, provide shade, offer wildlife habitat, and provide erosion control. Impervious cover creates a hard surface that prevents natural infiltration and increases the rate of stormwater runoff, thereby speeding the rate of delivery of nutrients (fertilizers), sediments, and other pollutants into the watershed and ultimately into the Chesapeake Bay. The CAPA Ordinance attempts to balance the competing needs for environmental protection and development by promoting best practices in preservation and use of native vegetation, while setting limits on development to preserve the natural environment to the maximum extent possible.

In general, the CAPA Ordinance regulates development by limiting impervious cover preserving native vegetation to the maximum extent possible requiring erosion and sedimentation controls for any land disturbing greater than 2,500 square feet, requiring septic tank pump-outs at least once every five years, requiring a Plan of Development for any land disturbance greater than 2,500 square feet, controlling stormwater runoff with Best Management Practices (BMPs), and strictly limiting development in the RPA buffer.


One of the main CAPA Ordinance tools is the Resource Protection Area (RPA), which consists of a 100-foot-wide vegetated buffer area that starts at the edge of water (or wetlands or mean high water) and continues landward for 100 feet. The RPA serves as a buffer between activities on the land and the water. Buffer functions include minimizing soil erosion, intercepting and taking up nutrients, intercepting rainfall, slowing stormwater runoff, providing habitat and shade, and serving as a protective barrier for the waterways that drain into the Bay.

The RPA is comprised of lands adjacent to water bodies with perennial flow that have an intrinsic water quality value due to the ecological and biological processes they perform or are sensitive to impacts which may result in significant degradation to the quality of state waters.

Another feature of the CAPA Ordinance is the Resource Management Area (RMA), which is that part of the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area that is not classified as an RPA with the exception of a small area of Captain's Cove development classified as an Intensely Developed Area (IDA).

Another component of the CAPA Ordinance is the Water Quality Impact Assessment (WQIA), a special environmental study that identifies and addresses environmental impacts for projects that will disturb any part of the 100-foot-wide RPA buffer, contain 10 acres or more for any use other than development of single-family detached residential lots, contain 25 acres or more for the development of single-family detached residential lots, or have unique characteristics.

CrabThe goal of the CAPA provisions is to protect and improve surface water quality and protect the living resources of our waters, ensuring their sustainability. These waters form part of Accomack's Blue/Green Infrastructure.

Property owners and developers can take many steps to protect these sensitive waters through simple means such as planting vegetative buffers, using rain barrels, or implementing concepts of low impact development on a site.

Additional links to sustainability and protecting our coastal waters may be found below:

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