“We’re looking for a little bit more designated land to provide for more diversity for our targeted industries,” said Elaine Echols, principal planner for Albemarle County.
The Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development released a study in April that identified four core industries for Albemarle to focus on. They are bioscience and medical devices, business and financial services, information technology/defense and security, and agribusiness.
“Those are the four areas that have been endorsed by the BOS as places where we want to have business industry expansion and also attract some new ones,” Echols said.
However, county planning staff have also said there may not be enough available land to accommodate existing businesses wanting to relocate within the community or new ones wanting to move here. They have pointed to data that says Albemarle may need between 200 and 557 acres over the next twenty years to accommodate new jobs.
To begin to address the concern, County staff are recommending several changes to the Comprehensive Plan. These include the re-designation of 13 acres of land between Avon Street and Route 20, the inclusion of 21 acres south of Rivanna Station in the county’s designated growth area, and allowing certain agricultural uses at three interstate interchanges.
County staff are also recommending against expanding the growth area to include land at a fourth interstate interchange – at U.S. 250 and Interstate 64 at Shadwell. Staff recommend instead taking a wait-and-see approach and reviewing it in the next Comprehensive Plan update later this decade.
“The Virginia Department of Transportation is planning on changing this intersection, and when they do, the new off-ramps will affect [neighboring properties]”, Echols said. “Until we know how the ramps will be developed, designating it as industrial is not wise at this time.”
Echols also said the Thomas Jefferson Foundation is not in favor of the expansion because the area is within the viewshed of Monticello.
Echols said the staff recommendation is to designate the Avon land for office and research purposes. Many citizens spoke against the idea at a work session in May.
“This is not a proposal that is universally endorsed by [neighboring] residents… but nevertheless we think there is value because of its access to Interstate 64,” Echols said.
Julia Monteith, senior land use officer for the University of Virginia and an ex officio member of the commission, said it was important to keep the impact on residents in mind.
“We [should] be really thoughtful about new industrial designations,” Monteith said. “We have to be thoughtful about the impacts they can have on the communities around them.”
Commissioner Richard Randolph said he could not endorse the re-designation of the 13 acres until there was some buy-in from neighboring residents.
“It would be absolutely essential we conduct a public meeting with that item before we come out with a recommendation,” Randolph said.
The commission supported Echol’s recommendations, but one commissioner suggested the county’s review of future industrial land should have a broader focus than one study.
“I think it’s useful to use the target industry, but in the end what we want to be able to say is that we have a diverse array of sites,” said Commissioner A. Bruce Dotson. “We’re in a good position to have a conversation with people who would like to relocate in the community or relocate to the community.”
The Commission will next take up the Comprehensive Planning at an Aug. 28 meeting where economic development priorities will be discussed. Both the Albemarle and Charlottesville commissions will meet at a joint work session on Sep. 18.