The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has unanimously voted to approve a new retail development south of the City of Charlottesville. The Fifth and Avon Center will bring 470,000 square feet of retail space just south of the City of Charlottesville, in a configuration that will include at least two “big-box” retail stores, as well as a five-story parking structure to serve the site. The property is being developed by Hunter Craig in collaboration with investors who include Coran Capshaw.
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In addition to the site, the County will get a new road called the Bent Creek Parkway that will connect Avon Street with Fifth Street on a route that runs the northern perimeter of the new development along Moores Creek. However, part of the road will traverse an old landfill site.
The approval came despite proffers that were dated March 10, two days before the advertised public hearing. According to its own policy, the Board is supposed to receive final proffers nine days before the public hearing to give both staff and the public the opportunity to review them. However, state law allows for proffers to be updated up until the time when a public hearing is called.
The staff report lists several changes that have been made to the proffers in response to the Board’s work session on January 16, as well as other information requested
However, staff recommended denial of the plan despite these changes, pending resolution of several issues. First, there were a series of technical errors that prevents the proffers from being legally acceptable. County Attorney Larry Davis said the March 10 revisions corrected those mistakes. Cilimberg said the revisions did not address staff’s outstanding concerns.
Those remaining concerns included:
Before Chairman Ken Boyd (Rivanna) opened the public hearing, Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) asked if the public hearing would need to be delayed if a new proffer was suggested by developer in response to staff concerns. That prompted some discussion of whether the people who had signed up to speak should be heard, if the Board was forced to delay the public hearing to satisfy its policy. Boyd invited Stephen Blaine of LeClair Ryan, counsel for the developer, up to the podium to discuss staff concerns before the public hearing was called.
Blaine waived the traditional presentation, and instead used his time to address the concerns. He told Slutzky that the proffers require the landfill mitigation work to be conducted according to the DEQ work plan. He added that the development would meet or exceed the requirements of the ARB, and that the ARB would have to approve each sign.
Eight people spoke during the public hearing. The first six all reside in the southern end of the County, and welcome the chance to have a grocery store and home improvement store closer to their home.
Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center said his organization has been following the development closely, and could not recommend it unless the big box stores were required to be two-story. He added the development would increase traffic, and that the developer should be required to contribute to a fund to pay for improvements elsewhere in the road network. Butler also said he was troubled by the Board’s practice of allowing proffers to be altered up until the public hearing is called.
Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council said the project would end up impacting the County due
to increased traffic, and could hurt the City as well.
“It’s frustrating as a City resident to watch Albemarle County just sort of slowly change the perimeter of the beautiful City of Charlottesville into a sort of Anywhere USA Big Box,” Werner said, lamenting what he perceives as the region’s transformation into Northern Virginia.
After the public hearing, Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier (Scottsville) said he supported the project because it would mean more money would be spent in Albemarle County, rather than Augusta County. One speaker during the public hearing had mentioned her neighbor travels to Waynesboro rather than shopping along Route 29 in Albemarle.
Slutzky said he did not think the project would generate traffic, but instead would transfer traffic away from Route 29 by giving residents of southern Albemarle more choices. He praised the developer for proffering green roofing technologies, which was not required. “a particularly high quality project,” he said.
Rooker said the project is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan, and took issue with Werner’s characterization of the project.
“If you drive around Route 3 in Fredericksburg, you’re not going to see anything like this project, which is surrounded by a significant green buffer, is very sensitive to the streams, incorporates trails, has a good pedestrian plan within the project,” Rooker said. He added that the site could allow multi-story buildings.
Thomas said she lost the battle with her fellow Supervisors when the County changed the Comprehensive Plan designation for the property in 2004 to allow for this use. “So, having lost it, I think I’m about to vote for my first big box, because I think the transit provisions, the pedestrian, the bike network, the other environmental aspects. Have we pushed as hard as we could? Could we have gotten something even more special? We’ll never know, but this is certainly the best that we’ve seen and I’m excited that it’s going to set a good standard.”
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