On Tuesday, the Albemarle County Planning Commission recommended approval of a permit that would allow the developers of the proposed Fifth Street Station shopping center to fill in the Moores Creek flood plain in four locations.
The development team lobbied local officials that Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps were inaccurate and that a waiver would allow them to avoid an extended re-evaluation by the federal government.
Staff had recommended allowing two of the locations to be filled in, but held back approval of the other two, pending a determination from FEMA.
County engineer Glenn Brooks said FEMA maps show the two locations as being in the flood way, which is defined as a section of a river channel where water travels fast during a flood. That contrasts with a flood plain, which is where flood waters pool temporarily.
“Under other circumstances we would have done another review, but they wanted to move ahead with their deadlines,” Brooks said. “My reading of the zoning ordinance says I don’t have the authority to recommend approval of those.”
The last time FEMA published a map showing flood plains and flood ways was in 2005, according to Brooks.
However, an attorney representing developer S.J. Collins said her client is convinced that FEMA’s maps are inaccurate and the two locations will be redrawn as flood plain, and not flood way.
“The flood way maps that FEMA publishes are in essence approximate locations,” said Valerie Long, an attorney with Williams Mullen and the new board chair of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce. “They are not as precise as they are when civil engineers get into the field.”
Some commissioners asked what the Board of Supervisors’ policy is regarding getting FEMA to take a second look.
“The Board of Supervisors has taken the position that they want the applicant to go through the FEMA process first before they will consider allowing the flood plain to be filled in,” said deputy county attorney Greg Kamptner.
However, Long requested the permit be granted to show FEMA that Albemarle supports the project and is willing to grant a waiver.
“We cannot submit to FEMA until we have something that shows the county’s support,” Long said. “That can’t happen until we have Board of Supervisors approval, which is scheduled for March.”
Brooks said FEMA would hire a consultant to investigate the developer’s claim.
“They’ll look at the modeling, update the modeling, make sure [we’re] using your model and they’ll look at what the new data is,” Brooks said.
Long said FEMA’s review will then take between eight and 10 months.
The county also will have to approve a site plan before construction can proceed.
Planning Commissioner Bruce Dotson asked what would happen if FEMA did not agree with the developer’s interpretation.
“It would have a significant impact,” said Daniel Hines with Bohler Engineering, a firm working on construction plans. “We’d have to go back to the drawing board for the site layout.”
Three people from the adjoining Willoughby neighborhood spoke during the public hearing.
“I would like to ask that careful consideration go into minimizing the disturbance to the flood plain for the removal of trees and the buffer between our neighborhood,” said Joan Albiston, a member of the Willoughby Property Association.
“This will be one of the heaviest areas of disturbance on Moores Creek, so it’s important that we get it right,” Albiston continued.
“We are also very focused on the health and aesthetics of the stream and are bound by the provisions of the proffers,” Long said.
The original recommendation was to not include the two disputed areas, but commissioners unanimously agreed with Long’s interpretation.
Long said the developer hopes to break ground on the site in late 2013 with the first stores opening in 2015.
“There’s a lot of site work that needs to be done,” Long said. For instance, when the Board of Supervisors approved the project in March 2008, one of the conditions was that the developers would build a road connecting Fifth Street Extended and Avon Street. That road will pass over a former city landfill.
The only confirmed tenant is Wegmans. Long said other tenants have been confirmed, but she could not divulge the information at this time.