Members of the Places29 Rio and Hydraulic Community Advisory Committees got a first look at the scope of the Rio-29 Small Area Plan at their meeting Monday.
“It’s an opportunity to develop a vision for this [U.S.] 29 North Area,” said Vlad Gavrilovic, of Renaissance Planning, which is consulting the county on the effort.
The small area plan was called for in the Places29 Master Plan adopted in 2011 and is supported by a $65,000 grant from the Virginia Office of Intermodal Planning.
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors approved a public engagement process in June for developing the plan.
The proposed study area discussed at Monday’s meeting included the four quadrants surrounding the Rio Road intersection at U.S. 29, as well as the existing portion of Berkmar Drive.
“We weren’t initially going to include this area along Berkmar up to the [Rivanna] River,” said Mike Callahan, of Renaissance Planning. “Looking at Places29, it really called for a focus on these four quadrants through this small area plan … but there’s just a lot going on here.”
A $54.5 million project is currently underway to extend Berkmar Drive by 2.3 miles from its current end at Hilton Heights Road to Towncenter Drive near Hollymead Town Center.
Callahan said they avoided single-family residential areas in the proposed study area as they aren’t as likely to be redeveloped anytime soon.
A new model of economic development is emerging really that is based on attracting a workforce rather than attracting an industry.
The Rio-29 Small Area Plan will be developed in two phases.
“In this first phase, what we are really trying to get to is an overarching vision for the area, a vision that can be fleshed out in the second phase,” said Callahan. “We’re trying to get to two or three land-use alternatives so we can discuss those and discuss the trade-offs and try to arrive at a vision, a preferred future for this area.”
Phase I is expected to be finished by early 2017 and lead into a second phase, which would involve developing plans for future land use and transportation.
Rachel Falkenstein, a senior planner for Albemarle County, noted that the county’s comprehensive plan and Places29 master plan will guide the development.
“In that context, we’re not starting from scratch,” Falkenstein said. “We’ve got a base land use plan we’re going to start from and hopefully refine that a little bit more, provide a little bit more detail for as to what this area might look like.”
Callahan said they have been studying past and present conditions in the area and have found it to be largely built for cars.
“A new model of economic development is emerging really that is based on attracting a workforce rather than attracting an industry,” Gavrilovic said.
Callahan and Gavrilovic said some of the qualities for attracting people include walkability, interconnectivity and human-scale design.
“What we find is that the main streets in this area — Rio and 29 — are not especially comfortable,” Callahan said. “There may be a sidewalk there, but it’s … not something you would say is ideal walkability.”
Gavrilovic said some of the impediments to redevelopment that have been noted by the business community include existing lease agreements, parcel fragmentation and zoning.
“How can the county be a partner? How can they create incentives? How can we make this a public-private effort?” Gavrilovic said. “That’s what we heard from them.”
Audrey Kocher, a member of the Places29 Rio Community Advisory Committee, asked how homeowners and residents are being engaged in the public input process.
Gavrilovic said there will be a public meeting Sept. 15 at Jack Jouett Middle School.
Rio committee member Nancy Hunt said she thinks it’s important to consider broad trends in retail and technology, and also said she feels there’s needs to be more discussion of what urbanization looks like.
“When you say you want to urbanize an area … what does that mean? What kind of anchors [do you want]?” Hunt asked. “What makes a downtown?”