The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has deferred consideration of the rezoning of the Berkmar Business Park, in part because staff did not have adequate time to review proffers submitted by the developer, Frank Stoner of Stonehaus. Stoner requested deferral after a two and a half hour public hearing on July 2, 2008 at which the project’s impact on traffic congestion and Stoner’s corresponding mitigation were discussed in detail.
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To recap, Stonehaus is seeking the rezoning of nearly six acres of land off of Berkmar Drive near the site of the former Planet Fun. If granted, the firm could build up to 275,000 square feet of commercial and residential space under Neighborhood Model District zoning. At this time, Stoner has not indicated what mix of uses would be contained in the development. The general development plan shows a series of blocks with an internal street in the middle, just uphill from Kegler’s Bowling Alley, Schewel’s and Better Living.
Planning Commission recommended denial
of the rezoning in part because Stoner did not offer to pay for the full construction of a connector road from the development to US 29.
Stonehaus will proffer the standard 15 percent of affordable units, a cash proffer for all residential units, dedication of right of way for the connector road, as well as $363,000 in cash to pay for transportation improvements. County Planner Elaine Echols said staff found that the Berkmar Business Park would meet the County’s preference for compact development, and was in conformance with the County’s Comprehensive Plan as well as the yet-to-be-adopted
Places29 Master Plan
. However, Echols said staff did not believe the proffers were worded correctly, and did not do enough to guarantee construction of the connector.
“The traffic study the applicant provided showed that the connector road was needed to mitigate the impacts of the development when you get over 60,000 square feet,” Echols said. However, Echols said that the owners of the Better Living facility are unwilling to participate in the construction of the road, which would need to cross their property in order to reach US 29.
“We understand from our conversations with [John Nunley] that if the circulation could be reworked so he is not losing the opportunity for his delivery trucks to get in… then perhaps there might be something in the future that he would agree to,” Echols said. The Places29 Master Plan calls for an eventual connector road in the location
(Rio) said he didn’t think that Stoner’s application should be held up because of his inability to construct the connector road. He supported the idea of using money that Stoner otherwise would have spent building the road on other transportation improvements. Slutzky also asked County Engineer Glenn Brooks if extending Berkmar Drive across the Rivanna River up to Hollymead Town Center would be an adequate replacement for the connector road, and Brooks responded that it might relieve congestion on Route 29, but would not necessarily improve access to the site. Stoner said he could not reach an agreement with Nunley to participate in its construction. However, he said the site on which Kegler’s bowling alley is located will one day redevelop, and there could be an opportunity to connect the Berkmar Business Park to Route 29 through that location.
(Jack Jouett) asked staff how traffic would be impacted after the Berkmar Business Park exceeds 60,000 square feet. County Engineer Glenn Brooks said that turning movements from US 29 onto Hilton Heights, Woodbrook Drive and Rio Road would all begin to fail.
Stoner said he could not afford to proffer more than $363,000 to address transportation impacts because he is anticipating having to build structured parking in order to meet the County’s parking requirements once the development crosses 60,000 square feet.
Bill Wuensch, a traffic engineer with Renaissance Planning Group, presented a report on how the project would impact traffic volumes on Route 29. Wuensch assumed the most car-intensive use for the plan – all 275,000 square feet built out with office use generating an average of 3,200 vehicle trips a day at the site. Based on that number, Wuensch recommended several specific steps detailing how the $363,000 would be spent to increase capacity on Route 29, as well as the developer’s pro-rata share of the cost.
For instance, Stonehaus proposes that a decline in the level of service for the intersection of Route 29 and Woodbrook Drive be mitigated with a 2nd westbound turn lane for which Stonehaus would contribute $62,300, or 43% of the total cost. However, in the case of Route 29 and Hilton Heights Road, Stonehause would contribute 100% of a $72,000 project to increase the length of a southbound right turn lane in order to allow more vehicles to queue into the turning lane. Wuensch said this concept of a pro-rata share is based on Florida law and practice, which relies on impact fees for funding.
“The overarching concept here is to have the development pay for the capacity of road that it uses, and then take those funds and apply them in a transportation planning sense,” Wuensch said. He said this approach would give the Board the opportunity to answer questions about the long-term transportation goals of the 29 Corridor, and that they could choose to spend the money elsewhere.
“This is an opportunity to take some money from this development and apply it to these long-range goals for a true multimodal corridor,” Wuensch said.
(Rivanna) asked his colleagues if they would support using this concept. Rooker said he did, though he questioned the cost estimates Wuensch used. Wayne Cilimberg, the County’s Director of Planning, said he will obtain cost estimates from VDOT for the specific projects mentioned in the mitigation report.
None of the $363,000 would be required until after the development reached 60,000 square feet. Slutzky asked Stoner how fast he thought that would occur. Stoner responded that he could not make any predictions because of the uncertain economy.
The Board was also satisfied with Stoner’s claim that the right of way for the connector road’s northern entrance would be set aside and set up as a private driveway.
Echols said that County staff also wanted more information from the Board on two other outstanding issues.
First, Stonehaus has indicated that they do not want to be required to build a minimum of two stories on Berkmar Drive, though they have agreed to build to a minimum of 20 feet. The County recently changed the zoning ordinance in Crozet to require two-story buildings, and Echols said staff would prefer to have that requirement on Berkmar but it was an aesthetic question for the Board to settle. Stoner said he was also reluctant to commit to building two stories on Berkmar, given the uncertainty about what will ultimately happen on the other side of the road. Development of that side is restricted given that VDOT purchased much of the property for the right-of-way for the Western Bypass. Stoner said the plan with Berkmar Business Park would be to focus in on the internal street rather than on Berkmar Drive. The proffered transit stop would be on Berkmar.
“We’d like to see two-story development on Berkmar,” Stoner said. “We just don’t want to be mandated in the short-run.”
The Board agreed that Stoner should not be required to build two stories on Berkmar, though the requirement that he build at a minimum of 20 feet will stand.
Second, Stonehaus has asked for an exception to the County’s requirement under the Neighborhood Model District guidelines that 10 percent of a development be set aside for “amenities.” Instead, Stoner would like to set aside only 2.5% for amenities in order to preserve more area for structured parking, which Echols said she disagreed with. Supervisor Slutzky asked if it were possible to reduce the amount of parking required. Echols said the County’s zoning inspectors are reluctant to do that at the time of a rezoning, given that Stonehaus is not certain what the ultimate uses will be for the property.
In order to justify the reduction request, Stoner showed examples from around Charlottesville where outdoor areas are set off as “outdoor rooms” such as the courtyard outside the Michie Buildings on East Market Street.
“The most effective amenity areas in a commercial context don’t need to be 10 or 15 percent of your total area,” Stoner said. He pointed out that Barracks Road Shopping center has over 400,000 square feet, yet only has 2,000 square feet in what could be defined as “amenity” space. His project, he said, would feature at least 2,000 square feet on each block with the reduced requirement.
Rooker said he would be willing to reduce the requirement to 5% but only if he could be made comfortable that staff would work with Stonehaus to provide clear definitions in the project’s code of development.
“The difficulty is we’re being asked to accept a lower square footage based on a proposal of some kind of quality for those amenities, and in order to do that, we have to have some degree of specificity as to what it is that that judgment is being based on,” Rooker said.
The Board decided that the item does not have to go back to the Planning Commission. The item will not be scheduled before the Board until after a new proffer statement is received. A new public hearing will need to be held at that time.