Before a project to develop a new retail center south of the City of Charlottesville can go forward, members of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors want the developer to make a few more assurances. Chief among them: a guarantee that a road being built to connect the project to Avon Street Extended won’t disturb a landfill buried beneath.
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New Era Properties LLC and Avon Holdings LLC are seeking a rezoning of almost 87 acres from Light Industrial and Rural Area to Planned Development Shopping Center (PDSC). That will allow up to almost half a million square feet (476,355) of commercial space, to be distributed across two big box stores and several smaller stores. No specific tenants have yet been confirmed. A special use permit has also been filed for the construction of one or more parking garages.
The Cox Company is serving as the consulting engineer, and the applicant is being represented by LeClair Ryan. The Bond Company is serving as the main architectural firm. The property is located just north of the junction of Interstate 64 and Fifth Street Extended, with Moore’s Creek serving as the northern boundary. Part of the property is located on an abandoned landfill.
The Planning Commission recommended approval of the rezoning on a 6-1 vote in July 2007. The Board of Supervisors seemed pleased with changes that have been made since a previous work session on November 7, 2007. Since then, the development team has:
Adjusted the location of parking structures and reduced their size relative to the commercial buildings, and depicted them on the conceptual plan. Frontage buildings are now shown on the internal streets.
Shown a connection to the Willoughby subdivision on the conceptual plans
Relocated the proposed Bent Creek Parkway (which connects 5th Street Extended to Avon Street) to avoid a section of landfill, and agreed to maintain it as a private road until environmental assessments show that the landfill it does not pose a threat.
The plans are still at the conceptual phase, because the development will be tailored to suit anchor tenants, who have so far not yet been announced. But, the plans are far enough along for staff to recommend the project move forward because it conforms to the Neighborhood Model concept. At the beginning of their work session on January 16 meeting , the five Board members present raised further concerns they wanted to see addressed. Chairman Ken Boyd (Rivanna) was absent.
Stephen Blaine, an attorney for LeClair Ryan, said the development team has been responsive to feedback from the previous work session, and would continue to do so.
“I believe our proffers have been additive ever since we began this,” Blaine said.
SUPERVISORS RAISE FURTHER CONCERNS
Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) had questions about how much traffic would be generated by the retail center. The numbers were not presented to the Board at this meeting. Rooker said he believed previous staff reports had estimated the number at 12 to 15 thousand trips per day.
Wayne Cilimberg, the County’s Director of Planning and Development, said VDOT has accepted the Cox Company’s estimate of 13,240 trips per day, a number that influenced the proffered transportation improvements. Rooker said he was concerned that the interchange of I-64 and Fifth Street Extended could be overwhelmed. He wanted more analysis of how much the east-west connector road, known as the Bent Creek Parkway, would alleviate that congestion. The road, which will entirely be paid for by the developers, is estimated to cost between $5 and $6 million. Additionally, the Biscuit Run development contains proffers to expand the interchange, but not to widen the bridge that crosses over I-64.
Blaine says there has not been any increase in density since VDOT examined the applicant’s numbers. He added that the applicant has agreed to contribute to the City’s traffic signal synchronization program because of the additional lights on Fifth Steet Extended and Avon Street.
Supervisor Sally Thomas (Samuel Miller) brought up the question of interconnectivity to neighborhoods South of I-64, and wanted to know more about how transit would tie into the development. Cilimberg said the existing proffers contain specification for transit stops within the center, as well as extensive pedestrian connections. Thomas also wanted to know if the development would be able to make use of rainwater.
Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) said he was still concerned about the Bent Creek Parkway because it travels across the landfill. County Attorney Larry Davis said the road would be private until such time as potential liability issues are worked out, but the proffer language needed to be “massaged” to clarify.
Slutzky re-emphasized his concern.
“If the landfill proves to be more natty than we’d all hoped, and the clean-up takes forever, and the area of clean-up is extensive enough that it no longer is even realistic enough to build the private connection, are we approving a project that’s going to be populated with tenants and lots of traffic and there’s only going to be one way in and out?”
“We’re not going to start this road project until we’ve presented our plan to [the Department of Environmental Quality],” Blaine said. DEQ feedback led to the repositioning of the road.
Slutzky was concerned that would not go far enough to ensure the landfill would not present a danger in the future.
“We don’t know actually know precisely what’s in there and precisely where it goes until you’re digging at it,” Slutzky said. He wanted the final application plan to set up a contingency plan in case the landfill does prove to be more onerous.
Davis said occupancy of the buildings would be contingent on the construction of the parkway, so that
issue will need to be resolved sooner rather than later.
ADJUSTMENTS TO LAYOUT SINCE LAST WORK SESSION
After the November work session, the Bond Company hired the Bethesda-based firm Street Sense to make adjustments to the plan to allow for a mixture of retail types, as well as to integrate pedestrian and transit elements.
“We felt like there were some missing lifestyle components to the southern part of the county that we felt would be well suited on a site of this nature,” said Street Sense’s Jon Eisen. Feedback from the work session led his firm to break the plan into two components. The north section features smaller shops, and the south will feature room for two anchor stores. There are now roundabouts controlling vehicular access on the periphery, and the interior streets are being arranged in a block system.
“We tried to address creating more of a main street type of lifestyle environment,” he said. “We also want to create an environment where you can have clustering of uses around public open spaces so that you have the ability to capture people, like if there was a clustering of restaurants and you created an outdoor cafe environment that was married up to some other tenant types.” Eisen said the pedestrian trails on the periphery of the property could also accommodate bikes.
But Eisen said the exact configuration for the center would not be known until tenants have been finalized. “Until you know something, it’s hard to lock something down,” he said. He also said that the plan would be built in such a way to reduce light pollution.
On the subject of sustainability, Eisen said Street Sense has a lot of experience developing centers with green roofs, subterranean cisterns for rainwater harvesting, and other mitigation techniques. Slutzky said he wanted a lot of what Eisen described to be written in the proffers, and suggested that some hard requirements be codified in the proffers, in case the property is sold to another owner in the future.
On the subject of two stories, Eisen doubted that Albemarle County has the density to attract a large tenant that would be willing to rent a two-story large facility. “This market just doesn’t have the volume and the density to warrant a lot of second story single tenants,” Eisen said. He did say it might be possible to have one tenant on each floor if that type of construction went forward.
Supervisor Ann Mallek (White Hall) asked if construction on the project would be phased. Eisen said the goal was to build the entire project at once.
“You have to build, in a way, a believable environment if you’re going to convince the market that this place is authentic,” he said. But Rooker suggested the addition of a proffer to ensure that all the developer has promised would be built.
“My worst nightmare here is that we end up with two big boxes and that’s it, and a parking area,” Rooker said.
That prompted Chris Pine of the Bond Company to point out that the project’s backers, who include Coran Capshaw, are locally based and want to build an environmentally sustainable project the community will be proud of.
“We are not casual visitors to this concept,” Pine said. “We’re committed to it, and we’re comfortable proffering the things that we talked about,” but added they would need to do some work to make sure they could deliver on everything they promised. He also said the project could only work economically if it were fully built out, due to the scope of the transportation improvements and the engineering work.
Supervisor Thomas also raised the issue of water and sewer, pointing out that several developments in the County are on hold pending additional sewer capacity.
“We are learning that we should ask stiff questions about sewer and water capacity to the projects, so even though that’s not completely or even slightly under our control, I’d still like to be reassured that there is the water and sewer capacity.”
Frank Cox told the board he was certainly hoping the capacity would be there. “We assume that’s one of the reason we’re paying taxes,” Cox said, only to have Thomas point out that the area’s water and sewer facilities are not funded by taxes.
Mark Graham, the County’s Director of Community Development, said the center would be built on the same trunk line that will serve the Biscuit Run area.
“We still do not have results of an interceptor study, and so we don’t know the capacity,” Graham said. He added that the developer will need to obtain confirmation from the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority that there will be enough capacity before building permits can be given. He said Cox has had to contend with this requirement with other developments.
A final application will need to be delivered to the County, and a public hearing can be scheduled 23 days after that. The development team had hoped to have that hearing in February, but Wayne Cilimberg said there would not be enough time to review the new proffers before then.
Blaine said his team would make several changes to the proffers after careful consideration. They include:
More detailed information on how the Bent Creek Parkway might alleviate congestion at the I-64 interchange.
A guarantee that the Center will be built in one phase, though some pad sites could be developed for later use
Specific targets for environmental mitigation techniques such as green roofs
Add language to proffers to address Supervisor Slutzky’s landfill concern
Add language to transit subsidy proffer to reflect inflation
Change pedestrian access plan to add bike accessibility