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Albemarle moves forward with Rio Road small-area plan
Rio Road intersection, June 1, 2016
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Credit: Chris Suarez / Daily Progress
Rio Road intersection on the evening of June 1, 2016
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Sean Tubbs | Wednesday, June 01, 2016 at 5:56 p.m.

The intersection of Rio Road and U.S. 29 is currently ensnarled by construction, but Albemarle County is seeking ways to tie the area’s future together.

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday to approve a public engagement process for a small-area plan for the Rio Road intersection. Such a study was called for in the Places29 Master Plan, adopted by a previous board in February 2011.

“We want to use this as an opportunity to gather feedback on community desires for land-use alternatives,” said Lee Catlin, the assistant county executive. “We want to make sure that we are establishing and keeping on top of realistic expectations for the process.”

The plan will be conducted in two phases. The first will offer two or more land-use scenarios for the study area and will be completed by next June. The second phase will study and suggest transportation infrastructure required to support those uses.

The county will draw upon a grant from the Virginia Office of Intermodal Planning to conduct the small-area plan. The Renaissance Planning Group and Michael Baker International will serve as the consultants.

In April, supervisors adopted a budget that includes $250,000 for an “urbanization fund” dedicated to the area around the intersection.

“The small-area plan is really a catalyst for a lot of opportunity in an area that’s very strategic for us,” Catlin said, adding there has been a lot of public investment in the area.

The Virginia Department of Transportation has funded an $81 million project to elevate Rio Road over U.S. 29. The county recently spent nearly $12 million to convert a former building supply store into the new Northside Library.

“We’ll have a kiosk at the Northside Library so people can view the big boards and have opportunity for feedback,” said Emily Kilroy, the county’s community engagement specialist.

Albemarle also is exploring options to relocate the county office to an urban location, though no specific replacement areas have been named.

Two of the three Places29 Advisory Committees will serve as the plan’s oversight group.

“One of the first focus groups that we’ve been talking about [is for] the business interests in the area,” Catlin said. “Large landowners and developers who can really give us some insight on the economic opportunities in the area.”

The plan could lead to a comprehensive rezoning that would be initiated by the county.

“That is a top priority for early consideration,” said county executive Tom Foley. “We’re trying to form a team that’s going to think through different strategies on how we can accelerate some improvements, including looking at how we would implement some of these areas.”

Foley said this team will look at ways the county may amend its ordinances to incentivize redevelopment.

Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said she was concerned the consultants would start from scratch rather than investigate recent county history.

“They will have to learn what we’ve been doing for the last 20 years first,” Mallek said.

The county’s community development manager said the consultants will begin working with county docu-ments as a starting point.

“Some of that research has already started through the economic development efforts,” said Mark Graham. “This isn’t a cut-and-paste exercise.”

Rio Road is expected to be open to through traffic later this summer after completion of the grade-separated intersection. However, other work will continue, and final completion is not expected until the end of the year.

Meanwhile, private activity continues in the area despite the construction.

The county is currently reviewing a building permit for a new CVS in the northwest quadrant of the intersection on a site currently occupied by a former bank building. The project has an approved site plan and demolition permit.

A New York investor recently paid $1.575 million for the 9,105-square-foot Charlottesville Center at 1646 Seminole Trail. The property was appraised at $1.45 million in March, but that is down from the $2.4 million assessment in 2015. The property had previously sold in April 2014 for $3.5 million.
 

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