The developers of the proposed Brookhill neighborhood have spent the last several months meeting with adjacent neighborhood groups to address their questions and concerns. In June, the development team submitted the application plan for a rezoning to county officials.
The mixed-use development would border Forest Lakes South and extend to the corner of U.S. 29 and Polo Grounds Road in northern Albemarle County.
The plan’s submission triggered a community meeting Monday which was attended by about 140 people. The meetings are a requirement of major rezoning proposals in Albemarle and are intended to resolve concerns before a project comes before the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.
“Let’s talk about the problems so that we can find a solution,” said Alan Taylor, president of Riverbend Development. “That’s why we’re here.”
Brookhill is planned to contain between 800 and 1,500 housing units, made up of both multi-family and single-family homes. Other elements of the conceptual design include a neighborhood retail center, green space trails, and community amenities like a pool and splash pad. Developers recognize that the large site will become a significant part of the landscape.
“The Brookhill development accounts for about a half square mile of the total 35 square miles of land in the county’s growth area,” said Ashley Davies, a planner with Williams Mullen, the law firm representing Riverbend. “At almost 300 acres, it will become a neighborhood unto itself.”
Developers see a need for additional housing in this area as the county continues to grow.
“Since 1960, Albemarle County has more than tripled in population,” Davies said. “Every year, about 1,400 people move to the county. There’s a steady growth, and those people are looking for places to live.”
Residents in attendance voiced their concerns about the high housing density planned for the site.
“This is the new way that communities are developed,” Taylor said. “If I tried to build a development like Forest Lakes now, … it wouldn’t be allowed to happen.”
Riverbend is requesting a rezoning to Albemarle’s Neighborhood Model zoning, a form of development Taylor said follows many tenets of New Urbanism, a design movement focused on walkable communities, a variety of housing types and other strategies.
“There are 10 tenets of the neighborhood model that we would be implementing, including interconnectivity, small lots and sidewalks to get people out of their cars and onto the streets,” Taylor said. “Density is actually seen as a good thing. It’s not the sprawling neighborhoods that were created 20, 30 years ago.”
Another major topic of discussion was the interconnectivity of the Brookhill site to other neighborhoods. Specifically, some residents expressed concerns about decreased safety for children and increased traffic both on their neighborhood streets and U.S. 29.
The development team pointed to a traffic study recently completed for VDOT. According to the study, most of the vehicular traffic in Brookhill is expected to enter and exit using the main arterial road that will run through the neighborhood.
“Route 29 will be the front door of the development,” Taylor said. “It’s getting a quarter of a billion dollars in improvements right now. If there’s a place to put traffic, it’s onto 29.”
Along with building the community facilities first to attract homebuyers, the site will also feature large areas of natural preservation that encourage residents to get outside and be active.
“One of our first moves was to preserve and celebrate the stream corridors on the property,” said Davies. “That’s really the direction of planning these days. You really want those natural areas to be preserved and enjoyed by the community through trails and parks. This also creates more walkable neighborhoods and better access to the retail area.”
Albemarle County anticipates that the rezoning review could take one to two years to complete. The developers plan to reconvene with community members after receiving preliminary comments from the county.
“It’s a good time to get all the problems out on the table,” Davies said. “Hopefully we can work together and use the momentum to find solutions.”