Around three dozen people attended an open house Thursday to get the latest on a draft plan to guide the redevelopment of the area around the intersection of U.S. and Rio Road in Albemarle County.
“People want to see this become a great place and don’t want it to become another generic place,” said Mike Callahan, of the Renaissance Planning Group.
The county has hired the firm as part of an overall look at the area’s potential for economic development, as well as a possible new site for the county’s main government office building.
The firm Stantec is working on a companion study of the financial feasibility of such a move, which also could include a relocation of some of Albemarle’s courts as part of a public-private partnership.
“We heard from a lot of our stakeholders about the importance of the county being a partner either as a tenant or a landowner,” said county planner Rachel Falkenstein.
One idea is to give property owners more flexibility as they seek to transform existing shopping centers and buildings into more of an urban scale. People who live in the area would benefit from the creation of a more walkable community. Albemarle government potentially would gain more tax revenue and would continue a tradition of trying to keep development within the county’s designated growth area.
“The purpose of planning is to explore and prepare for the future,” said Vlad Gavrilovic, a principal with the Renaissance firm.
The origins of the plan date back to the development of the Places29 Master Plan, which was adopted in 2011. Since then, the Virginia Department of Transportation has overseen construction of a grade-separated intersection at Rio Road and U.S. 29 and the county has built an $11 million library just to the west of the crossroads.
The work of the Renaissance Planning Group was last before the public in August. Since then it’s been modified slightly to incorporate feedback from the public.
“We heard from the public quite a bit that it was important to have parks, trails and green space here,” Falkenstein said.
Another question is about the height of future buildings. Many members of the public have stated they do not want tall buildings that block mountain views, but Callahan said that could hinder the economic potential.
“If it stays low, then it’s hard to justify redevelopment,” he said.
Callahan said one problem with the existing transportation conditions is a lack of connectivity. The concept now is to realign the end points of Berkmar Drive and Hillsdale Drive so they become better connected to existing traffic signals.
Another concept would be to build a double roundabout at the grade-separated intersection at Rio Road and to include a stop for a future bus rapid transit line.
“This would not change the tunnels or the platform you have above it, but on that platform we could build a roundabout so that no one would have to stop for a traffic light,” Gavrilovic said. “We need to model it and study it a little more.”
The Board of Supervisors will hold a joint meeting with the Planning Commission to discuss the plan at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Lane Auditorium at the Albemarle County Office Building-McIntire. They will be asked to give feedback to help staff and the consultants develop the next phase of the plan.
“In order to allow the development, we’d like to see if we would have to change our zoning,” Falkenstein said. “We’re looking at the possibility of a form-based code. Along with that, we recognize our review process can be lengthy, so we need to look at that.”
Nancy Hunt, chairwoman of the Places29-Rio Community Advisory Committee, said she thinks the plan is moving in the right direction.
“We’ve got a pretty serious retail crisis and retail structures are changing,” Hunt said. “The parking lots in the core quadrants are generally empty except for the library. That’s part of the 5 percent of the land that we can develop in the county, so we need to do something really awesome.”