The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has overruled the recommendations of its planning commission, and the wishes of many in the Woodbrook neighborhood, by requiring the developer of a luxury apartment complex to widen a proposed trail and connect it to public property.
The 212-unit Arden Place development was approved by the planning commission in September and is located on land off of Rio Road behind the Albemarle Square Shopping Center. Coleway Development agreed to provide open space and a trail in order to qualify for a density bonus of 25 additional residential units.
On Wednesday, the board accepted Coleway’s proposal, but not before making modifications. Supervisors added requirements that a pedestrian trail be widened from 5 feet to 8 feet and be connected to a planned stormwater management project called the Woodbrook Lagoon Project.
At the public hearing in September, many Woodbrook residents voiced opposition to a wider trail and any connection in the vicinity of their neighborhood. No residents were present at the Wednesday morning meeting.
Some Supervisors thought the 5-foot wide pathway would be too narrow to be effective.
Supervisor Sally Thomas (Samuel Miller) noted that a pathway would need to be at least 8 feet to accommodate bicycle traffic.
“Someone’s going to be sorry if we don’t make this wide enough to make it usable,” said Thomas.
“If you want to create an access that allows people to get from this area into the commercial areas to the north and west, [then] you don’t want it to be what would be considered a narrow sidewalk,” said Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett). “It needs to be a width people can push a carriage on easily, bicycles could go on.”
Woodbrook residents have previously lobbied against any connection from Arden Place to the nearby Woodbrook Lagoon Project. Even a trail, they said, would diminish the safety and security of their neighborhood.
However, several Supervisors felt that blocking access to public property by the broader community was a more significant concern.
“I do have some reluctance to endorsing that a particular piece of county-owned property is really only available to one neighborhood,” said Ann Mallek. “It is public property and we are making a significant improvement to it for many good reasons.”
In an interview, former Woodbrook Association President, John Gallagher, expressed disappointment over the Board’s decision, especially in regards to the re-establishment of a connection to Woodbrook. He said residents had made headway in a long battle to remove what was once proposed to be a vehicular connection.
“Our neighborhood has one way in and one way out and it has been that way for 40 years or so,” said Gallagher. “What this pathway does is breach our security. That pathway is going to dump people into a place without sidewalks or streetlights. [The Board] is creating a safety issue.”
Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) reiterated the concerns he had heard from Woodbrook residents in his district.
“One of the reasons why the Woodbrook community seemed to react so strongly to that connection is that there are no public facilities other than the street for people to walk on,” said Slutzky. “They were worried about a lot of kids now walking down the streets of Woodbrook where they don’t have sidewalks.”
Andrew McGinty, developer for the Arden Place project, noted that the Board’s decision will certainly come as a surprise to the majority of Woodbrook residents.
“[The Board’s decision] was a departure from what was negotiated in the planning commission meeting,” said McGinty. “You have to sympathize somewhat with Woodbrook.”
“We worked very closely with the Woodbrook residents throughout this process trying to implement and incorporate their suggestions,” said Valerie Long, Coleway’s attorney.
Pending easement agreements and other signed documentation with Gardens Shopping Center, the proposed Arden Place development will also have vehicular access to the Carmike Theater. Although this connection will be gated and limited only to Arden Place residents, Woodbrook residents still worry over the potential for strangers to access their neighborhood.
“[The pedestrian connection] blows a hole into the commercial area, the outside world,” said Gallagher.
In an initial motion, Slutzky moved to grant the dedication of open space with the only added condition that the path be widened from 5 feet to 8 feet. After that motion failed on a 2-4 vote (Slutzky and Ken Boyd in favor), the motion was revised to include the condition that the path also connect to the Woodbrook Lagoon Project. That motion passed by a 5-1 vote with Ken Boyd (Rivanna) voting against.
In an interview after the meeting, Boyd said he supported the development, but wanted the neighborhood’s input on the changes from the board.
“I am in favor of the project as presented and agreed to by the Woodbrook neighbors,” said Boyd. “I couldn’t vote in favor without first giving them a chance to weigh in again.”