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Albemarle planning commission briefed on growth area expansion
Sean Tubbs | Tuesday, July 21, 2015 at 9:26 p.m.

Albemarle County officials revealed more details Tuesday about the prospective business interested in land just outside the county’s designated growth area, but stopped short of revealing the specific identity of the firm.

Faith McClintic, the county’s new director of economic development, described the company as a “beverage producer” that wants to take advantage of the site’s unique location.

“The proximity to downtown is a significant asset for us, so this is what makes this particular interchange so attractive,” McClintic said.

McClintic also said the state government is helping to pursue this business.

In all, the county is considering the potential expansion to include 223 acres owned by the Atlanta-based firm Sweetspot of Albemarle.

Staff estimates about 80 acres of that land southwest of the interchange of U.S. 29 and Interstate 64 is developable.

The mostly undeveloped property is between the Virginia Eagle Distribution Company and land recently donated for a future county park.

The property currently is zoned for single-family homes and would need to be rezoned for any commercial uses.

However, the county’s review is proceeding as if there is no potential business.

“We don’t know who might use the property for what purpose,” said Elaine Echols, a principal planner with the county. “We have been reviewing this property for any use that might fit in with our targeted industries, and not the business prospect that is interested in us.”

County staff has identified several reasons why the expansion should be considered. These include providing additional land for light industry, access to water and sewer and the possibility that development could complement the new recreational park.

Unfavorable factors include the possibility that the forested land would be clear-cut, but the staff report points out that timber on the property currently can be harvested at any time.

“There is no plan of development at this time, so it is difficult to assess how the properties would be developed and the particular impacts,” Echols said. “All of these items would need to be reviewed, though, at the rezoning stage.”

The Planning Commission last reviewed the property for inclusion in the growth area March 20, 2012 and found “no compelling reason” to include it at that time. Supervisors voted to study the expansion again at their June 10 meeting.

According to officials, some details about the proposal were shared with some commissioners beforehand but not with the public.

The operation could begin in fiscal year 2018, Commissioner Richard Randolph said.

“The contribution of an anticipated $2.4 million to the receipts of the county in the first year of operation is not peanuts,” said Randolph, who was briefed on the details.

Randolph, a Democratic candidate for the Scottsville District seat on the Board of Supervisors, also said the business could employ 104 people.

“Many residents of a neighborhood just east of the site I have spoken with during canvassing were less than impressed when they were told the project would generate a maximum of just over 100 jobs,” Randolph said.

Randolph’s said he could support the expansion but only if several conditions are made to ensure a precedent is not set.

“By Aug. 18, the commission needs to receive a statement from the Board of Supervisors that they consider this rezoning and Comprehensive Plan Amendment as an isolated, single-case study,” Randolph said.

Randolph also wants to see a site plan that includes 100-yard buffers and wants assurance from the Virginia Department of Transportation that a full traffic impact analysis will be
conducted.

Echols said a traffic signal at Gold Eagle Drive is unlikely given its proximity to the interstate.

McClintic said the expansion request is intended to “set the stage” for increasing the county’s commercial tax base by increasing the acres of available land.

Several speakers called on the commission to proceed carefully.

“I agree with the new economic development director that this is a unique location, and because it is unique, we have one shot at how we do it and we can only do it with detailed analysis,” Christine Davis said.

“The community and staff have spent years trying to preserve aspects of the landscape that personify Albemarle County,” said Marcia Joseph, a former planning commissioner.

Joseph asked if the prospective business has looked at any of the county’s vacant buildings in the portion of U.S. 29 that travels through the development area.

County staff said the prospective business had been shown other sites but is interested in the Sweetspot land.

“What it came down to when they got to the site visit were the assets in that location,” said Lee Catlin, the assistant county executive for community relations.

The only two speakers who were in favor the expansion both work for pro-business groups.

“In our region we need more high-wage career ladder jobs,” said Helen Cauthen, executive director of the Central Virginia Partnership for Economic Development. “The partnership strongly supports this boundary adjustment.”

Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum also supported the expansion because he said it would return land to the development area that was lost when the Biscuit Run State Park was created.

McClintic assured the commission that the prospective business would be a good fit.

“While I can’t disclose the details of this particular user for whom we are asking this process to be accelerated, I can assure you that they share the same values and principles that many of our citizens share,” McClintic said. “They have been good stewards in other places where they have had their operations.”

Commissioner Bruce Dotson said he would like to see a more targeted expansion area that just focused on the developable land.

Commissioner Calvin Morris said he felt the location was ideal from a transportation perspective, but he was not sure if it was ideal from other perspectives.

Commissioner Tom Loach said he found it odd that the county is initiating the comprehensive plan amendment.

“I find that problematic and it puts a lot of pressure on staff that shouldn’t have been there,” Loach said.

Staff will take input from the commission to draft a Comprehensive Plan amendment.

Another community meeting on the expansion area is scheduled for 5 p.m. July 30 at the County Office Building on Fifth Street.

The commission plans to hold a public hearing Aug. 18 in Lane Auditorium. The Board of Supervisors is ste to hold a public hearing Sept. 9.
 

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