By Jean Feroldi

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Monday, July 19, 2010

After three years of negotiations with Albemarle County over development proposals for the Fontaine Research Park, the University of Virginia Foundation says it will offer an expansion plan that is less than half its original size when it goes before the Planning Commission later this month.

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Fontaine Research Park – Photo: Megan Lovett, Daily Progress

Meanwhile, county officials and neighbors in Charlottesville’s Fry’s Spring neighborhood are holding out hope that the rezoning will help build the Fontaine-Sunset Connector Road.

First recommended in September 2004, the Fontaine-Sunset Connector Road would link Fontaine Avenue to Sunset Avenue, passing through the Fontaine Research Park and the Granger property, a 69.5 acre tract of undeveloped land.

At Wednesday’s meeting of the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association, Fred Missel, director of Design and Development of the UVa Foundation, presented updated plans for the research park’s expansion. Missel cited the county’s indecision over the exact route of the connector as one reason for the revised plans.

“The county actually came back and said … that may not be the best alignment,” said Missel. “It’s important for us to move forward with [our expansion].”

One of the alignments developed as part of the Southern Urban Area B Study. Click for a larger image.

Peter Hedlund, president of the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association, said he was concerned about the lack of support for the road by the UVa Foundation.

“You’ve definitely identified the issue that’s of the greatest concern to the neighborhood,” said Hedlund. “The more commitment there is to that road being built, I think the more you find neighborhoods like ours in full support of your proposal.”

“We are not dropping the connector,” Missel responded. “We’re simply unable to move forward because there hasn’t been a decision as to where the location of the connector would be finally.”

Elaine Echols, the principal planner for development areas in Albemarle County, said in an interview that the county’s preferred alignment for the Fontaine-Sunset connector would run along the eastern edge of the research park connecting with Stribling Avenue.

“The one that was agreed on is the extension of Stribling but the alignment is not really settled,” said Echols.

The UVa Foundation’s original 2007 proposal sought to increase development size of Fontaine Research Park by 725,000 square feet and included a second entrance on Fontaine Avenue along with other road improvements to deal with a greater volume of traffic.

The new plan seeks an additional 310,000 square feet and would eliminate the need for a second entrance to the park based on traffic studies. The Fontaine Research Park houses offices, clinics and research facilities for over 1,000 employees.

In a May 2009 Planning and Coordination Council Meeting, Leonard W. Sandridge, UVa’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, told county officials that the university is prepared to build the road up to its property line, but would not commit to funding off-site transportation improvements such as the bridge over to the Granger property.

Fontaine Research Park – Photo: Megan Lovett, Daily Progress

If the rezoning is approved by Albemarle County, the UVa Foundation would install some transportation improvements such as traffic signals and turn lanes to ease traffic flow and would continue with planning for a future Fontaine-Sunset Connector on its property.

Albemarle County has said it expects voluntary developer proffers from both the UVa Foundation and owners of the adjacent Granger property to help pay for the connector road and mitigate the impact of new development.

The county’s comprehensive plan calls for construction of the road to support new development. It would alleviate traffic congestion on Old Lynchburg road and provide additional linkage to the county’s designated growth areas south of Interstate 64.

However, Missel said Wednesday that the UVa Foundation sees less need for the connector road now that the Biscuit Run property is no longer being developed and will become a future state park.

“Biscuit Run is no longer the big development that it was going to be and so a lot of the traffic that was going to be coming through [the Fry’s Spring] neighborhood … won’t be there now because Biscuit Run is gone,” Missel said.

Missel also commented that traffic studies revealed most vehicles accessing the research park do so via U.S. 29 and I-64. As a result, he said, traffic in the city is not as significantly affected by the park’s users.

The UVa Foundation is scheduled to present its plans to the planning commission on July 27, followed by a public hearing with the Board of Supervisors in August.

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