Albemarle County’s ability to keep pace with new development and maintain a mix of land for residential, commercial and industrial uses all came into focus at this week’s Planning Commission meeting.
Residents in the county’s urban ring northwest of Charlottesville called Tuesday for sidewalks to connect existing homes to nearby businesses before more retail centers are built.
While commissioners lamented the lack of funding for such improvements, they also looked favorably upon new development opportunities in the southern urban area along Avon Street and Route 20, as well in the western urban area at the intersection of Georgetown Road and Barracks Road.
“We have stressed the construction of infrastructure before we do development,” said Commissioner Russell “Mac” Lafferty. “If we can’t make it a priority to put something in that will make people safe when they are walking to work, then we are going against what we have said is one of our priorities.”
Canterbury Hills resident Bob Garland gave one example of the lack of infrastructure.
“There is not one signalized crosswalk along Barracks Road at any intersection until you get to the shopping center itself,” Garland said. “Perhaps it would be better for the county to improve pedestrian access to the existing retail centers in the area rather than encouraging new ones to develop.”
The draft version of the Comprehensive Plan reviewed Tuesday had suggested a new commercial center for the intersection of Georgetown and Barracks roads.
Canterbury Hills resident Jeff Benage questioned the need for more retail at the intersection’s “Out of Bounds” parcel, the name of a nearby driveway.
“Georgetown Road and Barracks Road are both overwhelmed with traffic,” Benage said. “The last thing that that intersection needs is another shopping center.”
“What we need [is] a way to walk to the retail space we already have,” Benage added. “I drive because I am scared to try crossing Barracks Road.”
Commissioner Don Franco recognized the lack of sidewalks, but pointed to limited funding.
“There was a project to provide for sidewalks along Barracks [Road] from the shopping center all the way up to Georgetown [Road] on the Canterbury side of the street,” Franco said. ”It just hasn’t been funded over the years.”
Both Lafferty and University of Virginia senior land-use planner Julia Monteith said that they would like to see the Out of Bounds parcel become a park.
However, local developer Vito Cetta, a manager of Barracks Heights LLC, which acquired the 9.4-acre property in November, said his plan is to build 56 high-end townhouses.
“There is very, very limited land for high-density,” Cetta told the commission. “You are going to see a fancy plan coming before you very shortly. We do have a traffic study, and we have that light worked out. There is also going to be pedestrian access across the street.”
Albemarle County staff said after the meeting that the draft Comprehensive Plan would be changed to reflect the discussion and that the commercial center designation for the Barracks-Georgetown intersection would be removed.
When the commission took up another project of Cetta’s on the thin strip of land between Route 20 and Avon Street, it had to assess the need for more industrial land versus housing.
Some members of the commission, as well as the audience, deemed a parcel adjacent to Parham Construction as unfit for more light-industrial use due to its topography.
Cetta said he was interested in buying the Parham parcel, but voiced concerns over the site’s 110-foot grade change and the limitations that would place upon future light-industrial uses.
Additionally, Cetta presented a development plan that is contingent upon retaining the current residential zoning, while offering a compromise to the light-industrial rezoning recommendation by planning staff.
Cetta’s plan features buildings for potential light-industrial use adjacent to Route 20, while the majority of the parcel would be used for residential purposes.
“This is very much a neighborhood model, it has sidewalks, it picks up grade, it’s walkable,” Cetta said. “This [plan] may be a nice compromise with the combination of the two.”
Commissioner Don Franco agreed with Cetta’s take.
“The residential component seems appropriate, but I would lean more towards a mixed-use project allowing some office or non-residential uses,” Franco said.
Albemarle principal planner Elaine Echols pointed toward the parcel’s desirable characteristics for light-industrial uses.
“I’m not sure we have a surplus of light-industrial [land] that is easily accessible like this particular property is and that has proximity to the interstate,” Echols said. “But I understand that you think it could go mixed-use with a residential component.”
The next public hearing on the Comprehensive Plan will be held July 23.