Albemarle developers seeking to make changes to rezoning conditions can often wait a year while their applications make their way through the county’s planning process.
However, the Board of Supervisors has agreed to consider ways to speed that process up.
“A developer or a land prospect could move on because a proffer is sitting there that we agree shouldn’t be there, but it will take a year for us to decide that,” said Supervisor Brad Sheffield on Wednesday.
When a locality in Virginia grants a rezoning, they frequently do so in exchange for voluntary contributions from land developers called proffers. These can range from specifics of where trees should be planted to infrastructure requirements.
Sometimes developers seek changes to these conditions. For instance, Stonefield developer Edens & Avant sought an amendment to their rezoning that would allow for a roadway in the development to be private instead of a public road.
“There were good reasons for it and staff supported it and it was never controversial but it took a long time,” said Valerie Long, an attorney with Williams Mullen.
County staff said there is already a way to speed up that process. The General Assembly passed legislation in 2012 that allows for a shorter amendment process for proffers as long as the land’s use or the project’s density would not be affected by the change.
Albemarle updated its decision-making process for land-use applications in early 2013 and included the streamlined review option.
Supervisors can choose to have amendments skip review by the planning commission and instead come directly to them. They can also waive a public hearing.
The streamlined process would reduce the time for a rezoning from a year to as much as four months.
However, the landowner still has to pay all the fees, hold a work session and hold community meetings if deemed necessary by the community development director.
Wayne Cilimberg, the county’s planning director, said the county could further streamline the process by dropping the work session requirement and lowering fees.
Deputy County Attorney Greg Kamptner said not many landowners have taken advantage of the expedited process.
“Usually when somebody is putting forth the effort to amend proffers, we’re also seeing changes to codes and plans,” Kamptner said. That means the expedited process can’t be used.
The question of whether to further streamline the amendment process comes at a time when cash proffer expectations, the amount a developer pays for each unit of housing, are also under review.
Vito Cetta, of Weather Hill Development, will file a rezoning application next month to change the cash proffer amount for Spring Hill, a 100-unit development on Avon Street Extended approved by supervisors last October. He said he can’t afford to pay the cash proffers for the project.
“The single family proffers as approved were over $20,000 for a single family lot and over $14,000 for a townhouse lot,” Cetta said. “Much of the competition for finished lots has no cash proffer requirements.”
Earlier this year, the county’s Fiscal Impact Advisory Committee recommended lowering cash proffers to about a quarter of their existing value, but supervisors have not yet implemented the suggestion.
Previous developments will have to go through the rezoning process to qualify for the lower amount.
Supervisor Liz Palmer said she wanted to wait to see how supervisors would address the cash proffer policy before further streamlining the process.
“I think we really need to think about that,” Palmer said. “We’ve got a lot of [cash] proffers out there that we haven’t collected.”
In all, the county has a total of $49.9 million in pledged cash proffers but has only received about $9.1 million, a differential that can be caused by developments not being built immediately. Many proffers are targeted for community infrastructure needs around the new construction.
The total amount would be reduced if supervisors also allow developers of previous rezonings to pay the lower amounts.
Albemarle collected over $306,000 in cash proffers in the first quarter of the fiscal year from units that are now ready to be occupied. Some of the money is to be used for affordable housing while others are dedicated to the capital improvement fund. Around $65,000 must be spent on infrastructure projects in the Crozet area.