As Albemarle embarks on a new economic development plan, the Board of Supervisors was briefed Wednesday on a study that evaluates potential sites throughout the county.
“The importance of site readiness is really a foundation for economic development,” said Spencer Francis of Bowman Consulting, a firm hired by the county to investigate eight sites in the county to determine their potential for economic development.
“These sites are not the only location possibilities for target industries,” said Assistant County Executive Lee Catlin. “We know, for example, that redevelopment opportunities are being looked at very closely at Rio Road and [U.S.] 29, Crozet and other urban areas.”
Supervisors were taken through eight examples of undeveloped areas of land and told what the impediments and obstacles for developing each might be.
“These eight properties, combined, have boundaries of about 770 acres, but when we pull out environmental features, roadways and setbacks, we come up with 540 acres of potential building site areas,” Francis said.
“Their project essentially further refines the vacant land analysis that we conducted last year,” said Susan Stimart, the county’s economic development specialist.
“Twelve percent of our growth area is vacant and we have about 480 acres designated for industrial or industry use,” Stimart said, adding that supervisors had directed staff to come back with an analysis of parcels that could be assembled into bigger properties that could be attractive for businesses.
Land at the University of Virginia Research Park, north of the airport, was not included because Stimart said they chose not to be in the study.
“We’re having those conversations with UVa, but they’re happening in a little more confidential environment than them wanting to have it shared in a very public venue,” Catlin said.
Francis said the goal of the study was to look for properties that had close to appropriate zoning, access to utilities and appeal to businesses within a target industry study commissioned by the Central Virginia Partnership for Economic Development.
“The ultimate site-ready goal is to truly be shovel-ready and for a building being ready to come up,” Francis said.
Other considerations include whether the county has preemptively conducted traffic studies to determine impact of additional development. Another is how close the property is located to an interstate highway. The eight properties range from a parcel of land on U.S. 29 in the northern part of Albemarle to land owned by developer Richard Spurzem near the intersection of U.S. 250 and Interstate 64.
The main focus Wednesday was on property owned by Albemarle County around Mill Creek Drive.
“It is 45 acres near Monticello High School,” Francis said. “I understand the county purchased this property years ago as a landbank for a potential school or other uses. It does have attributes that make it appealing for economic development.”
However, any developer or business would need to investigate potential environmental factors, such as whether the land is contaminated, whether it is in a floodplain or whether there are any cultural or historic resources that need to be taken into account.
Supervisors also were taken through how the assessment process for site readiness would work by taking a specific look at the Mill Creek Area.
“Two miles from I-64 makes it a potential attractive site for users that are dependent on transportation,” Francis said. However, he also added, that might affect other intersections that would be impacted by additional traffic.
Francis recommended that the county initiate a traffic study in advance for that area to understand the development potential. He also said Mill Creek could use a small-area plan to determine its future and to possibly address zoning issues in advance.
“If the site has to go through a public process, it’s going to be seen as a negative, having that uncertainty and that added timeline in the public process,” Francis said. “The Mill Creek site requires a good bit of work in that regard.”
The Mill Creek analysis identified 27.9 acres of potential development spread among three locations. Francis included a site there that could be ready for construction within 45 weeks, but that doesn’t take into account the time it would take to conduct a small-area plan.
The analysis estimated the time it would take to get each site shovel-ready. For instance, the intersection of U.S. 29 and I-64 that had previously been associated with Deschutes Brewery would require a rezoning, a transportation plan and an extension of utilities.
“I-64 and U.S. 29 have a bit of work to be done,” Francis said.
Supervisor Diantha McKeel said the county should work with the city to find spaces for businesses.
“There are businesses in the city that may have left because they couldn’t find places to expand,” McKeel said. “[Charlottesville Mayor] Mike Signer and I have talked about the fact that it would be really great if, rather than working against each other, we could work together. As businesses outgrow the city, we might be the logical next step.”
Supervisor Rick Randolph said developers need to realize that the public plays a role in the process, as well.
“Consensus is oftentimes not easily understood by some developers who would like to get a project done overnight,” Randolph said. “I do think it is important that we be mindful that we try to move the yardsticks down the field as quickly as possible for the applicant, but the [decision] is not really in our hands, but it’s in the hands of all of the public.”