Location of proposed Branchlands assisted living facility

The Albemarle County Planning Commission on Tuesday recommended approval of a 90-unit assisted living facility on Branchlands Drive despite opposition from neighbors who claimed the new building will be too large.

Cambridge Healthcare Management plans to build a four-story building on a one-acre parcel of land within the Branchlands community off Hillsdale Drive. The neighborhood mostly consists of retirement homes and has been under development since the land was rezoned in December 1980.

“A building on this site has been part of the master plans for Branchlands since the very, very beginning,” said Valerie Long, an attorney with Williams Mullen.

A special use permit for the assisted living facility approved in 1996 had expired and must be renewed before Cambridge can proceed with construction.

Several dozen residents of the retirement village signed a petition asking for the commission to require several protections from the new facility.

One nearby resident said she was concerned about how her quality of life would be affected during construction.

“We do not leave home in the morning to go to work during the day while the loud machinery is operating with constant vibration,” said Mary Dickens. “Day after day of this will take its toll on us.

“This proposed development is too large for this small lot,” she added.

But other neighbors encouraged approval to expand the region’s stock of senior housing.

“There is no question that building the facility will create some inconvenience for a few months,” said Sue Liberman, who is both a homeowner in Branchlands as well as its former executive director. “Those inconveniences will be well worth it once we have passed them.”

The commission voted 6-1 to recommend approval to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors. Commissioner Bruce Dotson cast the dissenting vote. He said he had no issue with an assisted living facility in the location, but said the building would loom over existing structures that are nearby.

“I’d like to see some flexibility on the part of the applicant in terms of considering a greater setback,” Dotson said.

But other commissioners indicated their support.

“There was always an expectation that there would be a building there and a building that would serve this purpose,” said Commissioner Tom Loach.

The commission also recommended two other rezonings Tuesday. 

It voted unanimously to recommend rezoning of 13 acres between Avon Street Extended and Route 20 to the “neighborhood model district” to allow developer Vito Cetta to build up to 100 homes as well as up to 60,000 square feet of commercial space. This project is known as Spring Hill Village.

The commission also voted 6-1 to recommend rezoning nearly 12 acres nearby to allow Riverbend Development to build the second phase of its Avinity development. The commission also supported amending the first phase to replace a 24-unit condominium building with eight townhouses. 

Rezonings require developers to designate 15 percent of residential units in a residential development  as homes that can be afforded by families who earn 80 percent of the annual median income.  Loach voted against this rezoning because a Riverbend representative said the company would buy its way out of that requirement by paying into a fund used to subsidize housing elsewhere. 

All three proposals will go before the Board of Supervisors later this year at dates to be determined.