The Albemarle Planning Commission’s regularly scheduled meeting for August 28, 2007, came just moments after the Commission concluded a work session on the Places 29 Master Plan. After spending two hours considering how the northern urban section of the County might look in 2025, the Commissioners applied some of that deep focus to this week’s agenda.

Treesdale Park

The location of Treesdale Park, a proposed development to be built by the Cox Company for the Albemarle Housing Improvement Program

Treesdale Park is a proposed development to be constructed by the Albemarle Housing Improvement Program (AHIP) on Rio Road, squeezed in between Towne Lane and Stonehenge Road.  AHIP wants 6.6 acres to be moved from R4 zoning, which would allow 4 units per acre, to Planned Residential District which would allow between 3 and 34 units per acre.
“What the applicant is proposing is 90 units,” said County Planner Sean Dougherty. The plan is to have three multi-story buildings, with parking underneath.  By right without a rezoning, 39 homes could be constructed. “The applicant has proffered to do 15 percent affordability, but that’s in case the developer is not able to get federal tax credits.  If they’re able to do it with federal tax credits, it would be more like 100% affordability.”

Mike Fenner is with the Cox Company, which is doing the engineering work on the site for AHIP.  Since the project last appeared before the Commission in October 2006, Fenner said the plan has changed to limit access to Rio Road to right-in, right-out. He said the buildings have also been realigned in response to the neighborhood concerns.

“Our intent here is to try to respond to neighborhood concerns and minimize the exposure in terms of what they see and hear,” Fenner said. “And at the same time, try to achieve our objective to bring 90 affordable rental housing units to market.”

Fenner said a key component of the plan is to connect the Treesdale complex with the proposed Stonewater subdivision, which is to the south of the Treesdale.  The Cox Company is also helping with that project, and so, any Treesdale resident wishing to make a left hand turn on to Rio Road would do so through the Stonewater entrance. Cox is proffering one-third of the cost for a proposed traffic signal, and will also construct a pathway that would connect to the proposed Meadowcreek Parkway multiuse trail.
One concern brought up by staff before the meeting was the amount of traffic that would be created on Rio Road. Fenner responded by saying that when the Meadowcreek Parkway is built, Rio Road will be a different road. County Planner Dougherty said VDOT recorded a traffic count of 25,000 vehicles a day on that portion of Rio Road in 2005, in a portion where the road has a rural character with no shoulders.

Though not technically a public hearing, citizens had the opportunity to speak during the work session.

Artist’s rendering of how Treesdale Park would be configured

Mary Dickens lives across from the proposed Treesdale project, and she said the project would be inconsistent with its surroundings. “We have three schools and a residential homes with no more than two stories high with a basement.  Zoning from R4 should not be  changed for Treesdale Park or any other project on East Rio Road before the proposed Meadowcreek Parkway has been completed and traffic flowing to relieve overburdened traffic on this narrow, two-lane curvy road. You can control adding to the traffic problem by keeping the R4 zoning.”

Dickens said she was also concerned about the blasting that will need to be done to excavate.  “To get underground parking, you can not set off dynamite charges to blast out the rock – the houses are too close.”  Robert Daniel lives on Towne Lane, and says he is concerned about the erosion that might occur during the construction, and added that he’s also concerned the multi-story buildings will stick out.  Lisa Hoy also lives on Towne Lane, and said she is concerned that the project’s storm water management solution could end up in her backyard.

After the public comment, Commissioner Marcia Joseph (At-Large) asked Teresa Tapscott, the Deputy Director of the Albemarle Housing Improvement Program, for more information about federal tax credits they will apply for to help pay for the costs of developing the affordable complex. “The longer this drags on, the less likely we can hold on to [the land], but we are fairly confident the tax credits will be forthcoming,” she said.

Addressing the traffic issue, Albemarle County Chief Planner Wayne Cilimberg said that funding is in place for the Meadowcreek Parkway, for a scheduled completion date of 2010. “I think for this project with it going through a tax credit process, and then needing to through a site development process with the County, the timing of this project actually being underway and completed with an availability of units is probably going to be very close to that schedule for Meadowcreek Parkway.”

Frank Cox told the Commission extensive geological work has not been conducted yet to determine the amount of bedrock that will need to be removed, but that his team will follow safety guidelines to mitigate the impact. “There are protocols for setting up blasting activities, and we’ve done that quite a bit,” he said. “In this day and age where you’re dealing with an enormous amount of in-fill sites all over Albemarle County, it’s something that’s going to be a standard practice for most of us in the engineering and construction field.”

Commissioner Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller) said he was concerned that a rezoning to double the amount of housing would be a detriment to the community, given the impact on roads and schools.  Commissioner Pete Craddock (Scottsville) wanted to know what sort of a need for affordable housing there was in the community. Albemarle County’s Chief of Housing, Ron White, referred Commissioners to the State of Housing report that states that there is a projected regional shortage of more than 4,000 affordable rental housing units. He added that all of the 9 units in Avon Park have already sold. “[Treesdale Park] is  the type of rental unit that we’re likely not going to see built by the for-profit sector. This project will be restricted to 100 percent of the fair market rents if its gets tax credits.”

Commissioner Duane Zobrist (White Hall) told his fellow Commissioners he found himself in a difficult position.  “I’m very cognizant of two very strong principles we’re trying to impose here – to not get the infrastructure way too far behind the building, and we’re also trying to get neighborhoods kind of looking alike, and these are very imposing structures. My sense is that we would probably not be considering this application if it were a private developer.”

If the federal government does not grant the tax credits, the project would not likely go forward as planned, and AHIP would need to sell the property to another developer. The Commission was worried about granting approval of a rezoning  without significant proffers to help cover infrastructure. Deputy County Attorney Greg Kamptner said more study would be necessary before the public hearing.

“They could put proffers in here right now that are very restrictive, that pretty much proffer the project that they want to do assuming they get the tax credits,” Kamptner said.

The public hearing before the Planning Commission is scheduled for October 7. Commissioner Zobrist said he did not think he would be ready to vote for it at that time.  “I want to know how you’re going to deal with the infrastructure issue and the Meadowcreek Parkway, I want to understand how we’re going with the proffers for affordable housing,” he said.  County Planner Elaine Echols responded that she was still not so worried about the timing of the Parkway.

“Okay, but, we’re still waiting for Jarman’s Gap in Crozet, and how long ago did you approve Old Trail?” Zobrist asked. “I don’t know what to tell you, but we had a work session on Places29 this afternoon, and we made it very clear that we don’t want to be looking at rezoning without infrastructure.” Frank Cox said the rezoning needs to occur by early February so that the federal tax credit application can be filed.

The Commons at Albrecht Place

The Commons at Albrecht Place would be built behind Shopper’s World Plaza

Plans to build an additional shopping center behind Shopper’s World Plaza moved one step further. The Commission held a work session on Albrecht Commons, which is envisioned as two buildings with a total of 32,364 square feet of commercial space.  The project originally appeared before the Commission at a work session in March.  Since then, the developer has reduced the amount of commercial space.

The area was zoned as Planned Development Shopping Center in 1980, without any applicant in mind. Even though this isn’t a rezoning, the developer needs the Commission to examine the plan to make sure it does not adversely affect the health, safety and welfare of adjacent neighborhoods.  The Commission also needs to determine if the site plan complies with County regulations. County Planner Sean Dougherty said the developer has not submitted a site plan, but that staff has conducted a review of the developer’s concept.

“ Staff has not identified any detriment to health, safety and welfare,” said County Planner Sean Dougherty. “Staff has identified three things they would have to do to conform to the site plan ordinance.”  Those include making sure that a buffer between the  rear of the proposed center and the edge of the Berkeley neighborhood is not disturbed. The developer’s conceptual plan currently  has a retaining wall in this portion.  A critical slopes waiver will also be required because of the steep topography.

Residents of the Berkeley subdivision were concerned about the impact of the center.  Cheryl Lawson lives on Williamsburg Road, which is just to the rear of the property. “I’m surprised to hear all the talk about by-right, and that it’s already zoned,” she told the Commission. “I would beg you to please review the impact on the neighborhood when you set something that close. There’s going to be a lot of lights and trucks and a lot of activity.” She asked the Commission to look into the history of the property to find out why it had not yet been developed.

The Commission asked the developer to return to the table with a plan that better integrates with Shopper’s World Plaza.

Commission grants permission for new driveway on Dick Woods Road

Albemarle County resident Michael Webber is dividing a six acre parcel of land into two lots, and sought permission from the Commission to allow driveway access for one of the lots onto Dick Woods Road. Under the county code, the second lot would need to share access with the first lot, which has  driveway onto Dry Bridge Road. Webber told the Commission that the rough topography of the land would require significant excavation to do that, and would alter the character of the land.  To coax the Commission into granting him the waiver, Webber gave up a development right which would allow for further subdivision.

“If you walk the property, you see that the best way to preserve the quality of the land is something approximating what we did,” Webber said. “My family and I have put a lot of effort and money into trying to preserve the rural quality of this area.

Commissioners voted 6-1 to grant the waiver, with Duane Zobrist (White Hall) as the sole vote against.

Mermac Crossing

Infrastructure issues also came up during the next work session, which involved rezoning 3.198 acres of land between Forest Lakes and North Pointe from R-1 to PRD. R-1 only allows for one housing unit per unit, while PRD would allow the developer to build up to 26 units on the site.  Eight would be single-family, and the rest would be townhouses. All would be within walking distance of the existing and proposed shopping centers.

One of the questions Senior Planner Judy Wiegand had for the Commission was whether the developer should be required to begin participating in plans to build a road network between his parcel and surrounding ones.

“We would like to see a more coherent network of roads in this area that would allow all of these parcels to have primary access out onto Worth Crossing, and possibly secondary access out through the development on the public road  that’s part of the proposal.” She also added that there also concerns about the townhouses being oriented too close to Proffit Road, which is scheduled to be upgraded to four lanes between Worth Crossing and US 29.