County Planners oppose Pantops sports and auto complex

At their meeting on March 25, 2008, the

Albemarle County Planning

held a work session to consider a project
proposing a major indoor/outdoor sports complex, a two-story retail and
office building, and an auto dealership on Route 250 East near the
Interstate 64 interchange at Shadwell.  The

East Pantops Complex

is on
three parcels totaling 58.2 acres which includes the South Lego Farm.

The majority of the commissioners expressed strong concerns about the
scale and location of the sporting complex and additional Highway
Commercial activity. In the view of the Commission, the overall
project was not seen as compatible with the County’s Comprehensive
Plan.  All of the commissioners were opposed to the seven additional
residential lots proposed for the property.  Chairman Cal Morris was
not in attendance at the meeting.

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The staff report identified numerous challenges the proposal presents for the County’s consideration.

The centerpiece of the proposed project is the 93,750 . indoor sports complex.  The applicant, Mike Harding, said it would include three indoor soccer fields, four indoor basketball courts, a health club, and a restaurant.  Modeled after a smaller facility in Rockville, MD, the building would cover acres.  Harding said it would be the biggest indoor sporting facility of its kind in Virginia.  The Commission was skeptical such a facility could be done in accordance with the goals of the County’s Comprehensive Plan.

Harding was encouraged to consider applying for a Comprehensive Plan Amendment (CPA) which would lay the foundation for the County to consider an appropriate application in the future.  However, given the tenor of the commissioners comments about the proposal and the concerns presented by staff, the likelihood of such a CPA being approved in the County’s rural area by the Planning Commission seems remote.

Harding described his request for the Highway Commercial rezoning along Route 250 as appropriate development that would be “linear infill.”  He questioned the County’s designation of that land as rural dating back to the great rezoning of 1980.  “To refer to any part of this project as rural in character, I’d have to say that our forefathers that did that were putting lipstick on a pig,” said Harding.  “There is nothing here that is rural in character where the rezoning is being asked for.”

The newest Commissioner, Linda Porterfield (Scottsville), told her colleagues that she could support additional Highway Commercial uses along Route 250 East given the numerous commercial properties between I-64 and Route 22 at Shadwell.  “What I am looking at on this side of [the Interstate] is that this is land that is very close in proximity to the other land that is being used commercially….I am also looking at land that…I don’t think has been used for rural [purposes] in a very long time.”

“What do we do to make this productive land for the County of Albemarle?” asked Porterfield.  In recent years, some of her fellow Commissioners have taken what they describe as a principled approach in opposition to the expansion of the county’s designated growth areas, whether through a master planning process or through rezonings like this for the proposed auto dealership.  Land left rural and undeveloped is a “productive” use of the land in their interpretation of the Comprehensive Plan’s goals.  Commissioner Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller) observed that the parcel was bordered by other non-commercial land with conservation easements and historic district designations.

Wayne Cilimberg, the County’s Director of Planning, summarized the Commission’s discussion at the conclusion of the work session.  He told the commissioners he heard them saying they could not support the creation of new residential lots nor could it support a rezoning of rural land to Highway Commercial to support the proposed auto dealership.  He also said that the sporting complex was not ruled out if it could be done on a smaller scale, but that the Commission would need to see more detailed information in a revised plan.

Next, developer Mike Harding will have to make a determination as to what type of revised request he plans to bring back to the County for further consideration.

Brian Wheeler