Master planning for Albemarle’s southern growth area takes shape
by Sean Tubbs | Sunday, May 06, 2012 at 1:14 a.m.
The ongoing review of Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan is giving officials and residents a chance to map a future for the county’s southern and western urban growth areas.
Unlike Pantops , Crozet and other growth areas, Albemarle’s southern and western urban areas have never been master planned. The plan review will send signals to property owners for how land could be developed to support county goals.
One question is what to do with an undeveloped section of land behind the University Heights apartment complex on Ivy Road .
“Our economic development people were asking if there is a use that could be allowed in that area to help some of our small businesses and industries,” said Elaine Echols, the county’s principal planner. “An office use or a very small non-residential use that has few impacts on the neighbors might be appropriate.”
County staff is also recommending that a parcel between Avon Street Extended and Route 20 be designated for light-industrial use to help add to the county’s inventory of that type of zoning.
However, one member of the public was opposed to that concept.
“That parcel is wooded and is in pasture,” said Roger Shickadance of Scottsville Road . “If that’s to change, it’s going to completely open up that whole [land] as an industrial site that could potentially be detracting to the residential area and to the current rural character of Route 20.”
Another resident, Janet Eden, said she moved to Mill Creek four years ago because she didn’t want to live in an urban environment.
“I want to keep the rural feel on Route 20, and when we talk about changing the zoning at different places … what are we going to turn it into?” Eden said. “We look at a lot of crappy stuff on Avon Street already and we don’t want to look at any more.”
Staff is also recommending that several industrial parcels in the county’s portion of the Woolen Mills area be designated as residential.
County planner Andrew Sorrell said staff is recommending the Biscuit Run area not be taken out of the designated growth area, even though the state of Virginia is planning to convert it into a park.
“It was felt that with the state park owning it and the potential of them wanting to have public utilities down there perhaps one day that it would be something beneficial to keep in the development area,” Sorrell said.
Sorrell said the county is also seeking to retain some flexibility about how to handle a 36-acre parcel inside the park that is privately owned. The Breeden family kept the property after they sold the land to developer Hunter Craig in 2005 for $46.2 million.
Craig, and other investors in Forest Lodge LLC , sold the property to the state of Virginia in December 2009 for $9.8 million and sought another $31 million in land preservation tax credits. The credits are now the subject of a legal dispute after the state found the property to only be eligible for about $12 million in credits.
“The Breeden parcel still retains the ability to have some residential development upon it,” Sorrell said. “We also want to keep some options open up there for potential recreational uses to complement what the state park is doing, as well.”
Sorrell said that as many as 100 homes could be built on the property under its existing zoning.
In 2011, the General Assembly passed a bill allowing the Virginia Department of Conservation to enter into negotiations with the Breeden family to swap their land with another section of state property.
However, one of the family members told the county Planning Commission that those negotiations are not a foregone conclusion.
“I represent half of the shareholders who are not as interested as developing as we are in exploring and researching recreational services to the state park,” Christian Breeden said. “It’s not a done deal that we are looking to trade out for land along Old Lynchburg Road .”
Breeden said he was interested in developing the land into a conference center or some other recreational facility.
In October, the commission voted 4-2 to oppose the extension of the growth area boundary to include 317 acres on the eastern side of Route 20. Developer Wendell Wood has proposed building as many as 1,900 homes on the land.
“We are still not recommending Somerset Farm be brought in,” Echols said.
Wood appeared before commissioners to ask them to reconsider their position at that October meeting.
“The timing is right to do this and if we let it pass, the development that could be put there by-right may not prove to be in the best interest of the county,” Wood said.
Wood said the property has ample access to public water and public sewer, is not in one of the county’s watersheds, is a five-minute walk to Cale Elementary School and Monticello High School and is one mile to Interstate 64 and Piedmont Virginia Community College .
The topic could be the subject of an upcoming joint meeting of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission.
“One supervisor has contacted me and we both agree that this would be an excellent topic,” said commission Chairman Cal Morris.
As part of the review process, citizens have submitted requests for what kinds of infrastructure they would like to see in the community.
“Greenways and trails are things they would like to have,” Echols said. “A library south of town is on their list. They wanted to make sure playing fields in or near the proposed Biscuit Run state park got in there.”
Other infrastructure requests have included bike lanes and sidewalks on Route 20 and Avon Street Extended.
Commissioner Tom Loach said the county’s ability to pay for infrastructure is currently constrained. He suggested planning should be limited to what can be afforded.
“There is a dollar value and that can be measured against what we’re going to receive in terms of funding for the state and extrapolate out how long it would be to get the infrastructure,” Loach said.
Commissioner Russell “Mac” Lafferty agreed that infrastructure should be in place before construction of units begins, but that he did not want to place limits on the Comprehensive Plan.
“What we’re doing here is planning for the future,” Lafferty said. “Whether we have the money or not, we have to go ahead and plan and set aside some of these things so we can do them in the future.”
The Planning Commission will next discuss the southern and western urban areas at a work session this summer, with a public hearing to follow in late fall.
The Board of Supervisors will approve the update of the Comprehensive Plan sometime in 2013.
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