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County development areas attracting growth, but homebuilders see room for more
Fifth St. Place- December 7, 2016
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Credit: Josh Mandell, Charlottesville Tomorrow
Retaining wall for Fifth Street Place, a future apartment complex in Albemarle County's urban ring.
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Josh Mandell | Wednesday, December 07, 2016 at 8:47 p.m.

A larger percentage of Albemarle County’s new housing in recent years has been contained in a small portion of its total land area, as directed by the county’s Comprehensive Plan. But some local developers believe that county government could do more to let them implement this growth management strategy.

Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan calls for most of the county’s development to be contained in Crozet, Hollymead, Piney Mountain, the Village of Rivanna and the urban neighborhoods surrounding the city of Charlottesville. These development areas contained 77.8 percent of 3,998 residential units constructed between January 2010 through September 2016, compared to 69 percent in the preceding decade.

“I don’t see any evidence that the Comprehensive Plan has been anything less than successful [at managing growth],” said Supervisor Rick Randolph.

Growth in development areas rebounded in 2010 after nearly stalling during the Great Recession. But rural areas have not seen a corresponding increase in growth since then. From 1997 to2007, rural Albemarle averaged 280 new residential units per year. Since 2007, the yearly total has not exceeded 179 units.

Albemarle County’s housing market has been highly active in 2016, according to the Community Development department’s third quarter building report. The county has issued building permits for 608 residential units through September— already 95 more than last year’s total. Nearly 80 percent of those units are in the development areas.

The county issued building permits for 124 residential units in rural areas through September, including 53 in the most recent quarter. That is the highest quarterly total since 2008, but quarters in 2014 and 2015 also approached this figure.

“There has always been variation, but the pattern has been stable,” said Randolph.

A Virginia law enacted this year has put restrictions on the proffers that Albemarle County can require for a rezoning. Randolph said the stability of rural area growth disproves claims by homebuilders that proffers had been driving more by-right development in the countryside.

“The numbers don’t lie,” he said.

But David Mitchell, construction manager for Great Eastern Management Co., said a long and costly approval process continues to discourage developers from building in growth areas.

“Development is like water: it goes through the path of least resistance,” said Mitchell, whose company owns the land for the future North Pointe development on U.S. 29 North. “If you want the growth to go through a certain area, you need to make it easier to develop that area. … If you want these landowners and developers to rezone their properties to fit the Comprehensive Plan, you have to make that easier.”

“The growth areas haven’t, in any meaningful way, removed the demand and growth of homes in the rural parts of the county,” Kyle Redinger, the developer behind the proposed Adelaide neighborhood in Crozet, said Wednesday in an email to Charlottesville Tomorrow.

Redinger was granted a deferral for his rezoning request in September when it became clear that the Board of Supervisors would not approve it. Supervisors Randolph, Ann H. Mallek and Liz Palmer said Adelaide would bring too much housing density to U.S. 250.

“[Redinger] did exactly what the Comprehensive Plan wanted, and he didn’t get it approved,” Mitchell said.

Redinger and his team have resubmitted its most recent proposal for Adelaide, which was recommended by county planning staff and the Albemarle County Planning Commission for approval.

He said he sees few incentives for developers to rezone residential properties in Albemarle that will contain fewer than 100 units, “given the time, cost, risk and marginal economic benefits.”

Redinger said Albemarle County could maximize development in designated areas by proactively rezoning key properties, implementing a form-based code, providing “density bonuses” for building affordable housing and “removing uncertainty associated with the rezoning process.”

 

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