First phase of Northtown Center approved on 29N near Carrsbrook

Members of the Albemarle Planning Commission look on

On June 17, 2008, the Albemarle County Planning Commission voted 6-1 to approve the final site plan for phase one of the Northtown Center development on Route 29 North across from Kegler’s. This approval allows for construction of about 89,000 square feet of commercial and retail space, the first part of an eventual 200,000 square foot development.

The preliminary site plan for the project, presented by developer Wendell Wood, was approved by the Planning Commission in 2005, but in order to begin construction the applicant also had to satisfy several conditions and get final approval from the Planning Commission.

Woods submitted a final site plan in time for the June 3, 2008 Planning Commission meeting, but asked for a deferral from the Commission after County staff recommended against approving the plan. Staff determined that not all of the 2005 conditions had been met, specifically those concerning the impact of construction on the streams and ponds of the Carrsbrook neighborhood that adjoins the development site.

The Carrsbrook Neighborhood Association had expressed significant reservations about the impact the project might have on their quality of life. The initial plan called for the burying of a stream that runs from the opposite side of Route 29 through the construction site and into Carrsbrook; residents were concerned that the development might either choke off the flow of water, or fill the stream with silt and runoff that would flow through to the ponds of Carrsbrook.

At the June 17th meeting, Chief of Current Development Bill Fritz reversed staff’s earlier decision and recommended approval, citing significant changes made by the applicant to satisfy Planning Commission requirements. The new site plan incorporates fully redundant storm water management facilities that will process 100% of the runoff from the property not once but twice, above and beyond county requirements. In the new plan the stream will no longer be completely buried and it creates a larger forest buffer between the development and neighboring property owners.

Mr. Fritz ended his summary by stating that, looking at the full list of conditions, all of them had either been met or conceptually met, meaning the applicant and staff agreed on the necessary course of action to be taken. Bill Edgerton (Jack Jouett), the only Commissioner to vote against the plan, didn’t see “the need for the Commission to grant approval before the conditions that we put are completed,” said Edgerton.  “When you say that it has been met, that’s fine, no questions asked, but conceptual is not the same.…If there are issues that need to be resolved, why aren’t we waiting until then?”

Several Carrsbrook residents were on hand to voice their concerns about the project, including Carrsbrook Neighborhood Association President Dean Wenger, who asked the Commission if they could require the applicant to meet with the Carrsbrook neighborhood and step them through the process. Carrsbrook resident Leon Gorman worried aloud that once the plan was approved, the conditions might not be enforced, and urged the county to monitor water quality and flow for the stream both during and after construction. Peter Cefarrati questioned whether or not a 10 year projection of the impact on the neighborhood was sufficient, and John Erdwurm asked whether or not any assessment of the traffic impact had been completed.

Carrsbrook resident and former Commissioner Randy Thomas

Only one resident of Carrsbrook spoke in favor of the plan. Rodney Thomas, the former Planning Commissioner for the Rio District, said that the site “is a dump right now, and something needs to go in there.” He asked the Commission to approve what “seems to be a good project.”

Mark Graham, the County’s Director of Community Development, stepped in to clear up some areas of confusion, beginning by explaining a term that had been confusing both citizens and commissioners alike throughout the entire approval process–flocculants. Flocculants are a synthetic material that grabs onto sediment, weighting it down so that it drops out of the water flow while it’s still in the sediment control basin. Wood has agreed to use flocculants, but the company that makes the flocculants will determine which specific compounds to use once construction begins, and they can analyze the soil.

Graham also addressed resident concerns about the possibility of the developer ignoring water quality during construction, explaining that every developer must put up a bond that the County can use to pay for cleanup if the applicant does not do the necessary cleanup on their own. He mentioned that if the County determines that the developers are not fulfilling the requirements of the stormwater management agreement, staff has the ability to carry out the necessary repairs and then bill the developer.

Pat Enright of Dominion Development Resources, representing Wendell Wood

Graham pointed out that since the land is zoned for commercial use, the by-right project only needs to satisfy the relevant ordinances, and there is little room for consideration of potential off-site impacts like traffic.

Commissioner Marcia Joseph asked Graham “how many other site plans do we see coming in that have two levels of the water quality [controls] with rain gardens and biofilters and then sediment basins?”

“Very very few,” answered Graham. “This is one of the highest levels of treatment and removal that I’ve seen, either here while I’ve been in Albemarle County or working in Northern Virginia.…They have redundancy for 100% of the runoff, that’s almost never heard of.”

The stormwater management system was cited by Commissioners Jon Cannon (Rio) and Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller) as the primary reason for their votes to approve the plan. “I’m voting yes here with the assurance from staff that this is an adequate treatment,” said Cannon.  According to Strucko, “What was compelling for me was to hear that there’s this double mitigation effort.” The final site plan for Northtown Center was approved by a vote of 6-1, with Mr. Edgerton voting against.