By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Friday, May 08, 2009

In early 2009, Albemarle County leaders responded to the diminishing supply of the County’s industrial land, in part, by amending the

Economic Development chapter

of the

Comprehensive Plan

to set new goals for business and industrial growth . The Planning Commission kept this goal in mind on May 5, 2009 with the approval of a new building in the Earlysville Business Park. The decision came despite the protests from neighbors who say the industrial use will decrease their quality of life.

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The industrial park is in the County’s rural area, but is still zoned for light industrial uses

The Commission indicated it would approve a preliminary site plan that allows for the construction of an 8,000 square foot building to serve as a “machine shop” in addition to a contractor’s storage yard. The site plan will be technically approved once Commissioners have a chance to view last-minute landscaping changes that were offered by the applicant. The Commission also approved a critical slopes waiver. An existing public road will also be extended to serve two rural parcels also owned by the applicant. The property is zoned for Light Industrial, despite being in the County’s rural area. The business park is located on Reas Ford Road about a mile west of Earlysville Road.

The item was called up before the Commission by neighbors who were concerned that the expansion would go through without a public hearing. They felt that the buffer being proposed was not sufficient, and that the removal of mature evergreens was unnecessary and against the County’s Comprehensive Plan. The neighbors are also concerned about excessive lighting at the site.

Mark Keller of Terra Concepts LLC represented the applicant before the Commission. He said the property has been used for industrial purposes for more than 40 years, and predates the subdivision of the surrounding rural land into residential properties. He said the property’s owner want to maximize the use of light industrial land.

However, several people who live on adjoining properties appeared during the public hearing to complain about the impacts they would feel if the business park were allowed to expand. Luis Gutierrez said when he moved in to his house in 1998, the industrial park was more or less dormant. Since then, he and his family have had to deal with noise from tractor trailers, bright lights at night, as well as lingering concerns over water quality in their wells due to contamination from the industrial park.

Neighbor Tom Mancuso said the buffer being proposed by the applicant was “ridiculous” because it would replace a stand of mature evergreen trees with four-foot-tall trees that will take many years to be effective.

“A property owner is entitled to quiet enjoyment of his or her property, and we’re at a point now where this is going to be violated,” Mancuso said. In a letter to the Commission, he proposed that the public road extension  be moved so as to avoid the removal of the existing trees. However, Keller said the trees that will be used will grow quicker than the neighbors expect, but the applicant would be willing to commit to adding more landscaping if necessary. After the Commission offered some suggestions, Keller accepted them.

“The neighbors live next door to an industrial park, and I don’t think that the applicant is in a position to not work with them,” Keller said.

Commissioner Cal Morris (Rivanna) asked staff how long the property has been zoned for light industrial use. County Planner Bill Fritz said that the property was zoned B-1 (business use) prior to the County’s 1980 rezoning, and has been “light industrial” ever since.

“It may have been zoned [industrial] ever since the County has had zoning,” Fritz said.

Shortly before voting to approve the site plan, Commissioner Marcia Joseph (At-Large) told the neighbors that she understood their concerns, but that the County had a priority to hold on to existing land that can be used for industrial purposes.

“We have lost a lot of light industrial land in this County,” Joseph said. “I know there wasn’t a whole lot going on when you moved in but this is sustainable development in Albemarle. We’re trying to do it as much as we can to make it so that you can live there without terrible intrusion… What we’re trying to do now is make this work because we’re losing jobs to other counties.”



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