Rachel Falkenstein, senior planner for Albemarle, speaking with Steven Janes at Rio+29 Small Area Plan meeting Credit: Credit: Josh Mandell, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Shopping centers identified as potential sites for redevelopment

Albemarle County planning officials and consultants listened to residents’ ideas for the Rio+29 Small Area Plan and presented an update on the project at a recent meeting.

The small area plan aims to incorporate the new Rio Road intersection at U.S. 29 with future development and transportation projects in the surrounding area. It 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.

“We are not here to replace the Places29 Master Plan,” said Renaissance Planning project manager Mike Callahan. “We are here to take it to the next step.”

Renaissance Planning will create design concepts and 3-D renderings for several possible small area plans in the first phase of the project. The second phase will complete a more detailed plan, scheduled to go before the Albemarle Board of Supervisors in 2017.

About two dozen people attended Thursday’s community meeting on the plan at Jack Jouett Middle School, including Supervisors Norman Dill and Diantha McKeel.

Callahan said buildings and roads in the Rio+29 area prioritize car traffic over pedestrian comfort. He said the area could be improved with more “human-scale design” that would make it more walkable and bike friendly.

The study area includes few vacant properties or large parcels with a single owner. Fragmented property ownership could make redevelopment challenging, Callahan said.

Vlad Gavrilovic, principal at Renaissance Planning, gave an overview of demographic, economic and societal trends that the small area plan could anticipate. He said future development should prepare the area for “a battle for millennial workers,” while also attracting “active [baby] boomers” who will continue to work and start new businesses.

He said active boomers and millennials both tend to favor locations with transportation alternatives to driving and a strong sense of place. He identified the Albemarle Square and Fashion Square shopping centers as potential sites for redevelopment.

For the rest of the meeting, audience members divided into five groups and discussed what kind of land uses they would like to see in the study area, and what they wanted future development to look like. Several attendees referenced features of other cities that they thought the Rio+29 area should imitate — or avoid.

Audrey Kocher said she hopes new buildings alongside U.S. 29 would be kept at moderate heights. She said driving in New York City, where skyscrapers make the roads “feel like some sort of canyon,” was stressful for her.

Nina Getchell said she was intrigued by the design of Crocker Park, a mixed-use development near Cleveland, Ohio, that includes restaurants, shops and apartments. She said visitors usually walk through Crocker Park to avoid driving on its narrow streets.

Getchell said new developments in the Rio+29 area shouldn’t “compete with downtown Charlottesville” as a center of civic life.


Josh Mandell graduated from Yale in 2016 and has been recognized by the Virginia Press Association with five awards for education writing, health, science and environmental writing and multimedia reporting.