Albemarle Supervisors to vote on growth area expansion in September

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has approved an expedited review process to determine if land southwest of the U.S. 29-Interstate 64 interchange should be added to the county’s designated growth area.

“This issue is before you because of the county’s stated goal of expanding job opportunities and capital investment,” County Executive Tom Foley said. “The primary outcomes we hope to achieve are creating job opportunities for local residents and generating additional revenues for critically needed services.”

Last month, supervisors voted to consider expanding the growth area to include an 82-acre property to the west of the Virginia Eagle Distribution Center. Farther to the west are 340 acres donated to the county for the future Hedgerow Park.

However, the adopted resolution of intent directing the study covers a larger area than previously stated.

“What we have identified next to the Hedgerow property is additional property that could be part of the analysis,” said Wayne Cilimberg, Albemarle’s director of planning.

All of the property is owned by Sweetspot of Albemarle County, a Virginia-registered company based in Atlanta.

Economic development staff have recommended expanding the growth area to increase the amount of land that could be occupied by companies that want to relocate or grow here.

“We’re pleased to see that you’re interested in taking another step towards helping those homegrown companies and other companies having a place to locate here,” said Helen Cauthen, the president of the Central Virginia Partnership for Economic Development, a nonprofit organization of which Albemarle is a member.

In 2012, Cauthen’s organization conducted a study of industries that the region could attract. The report concluded that bioscience, financial services, information technology, defense security and agribusiness were among the best chances for attracting and growing new and existing companies.

Foley said the county has been unable to meet the needs of 19 existing businesses over the past five years and has potentially lost as many as 785 jobs. Additionally, another four prospective companies in the target industries were not able to find suitable locations.

Foley said county staff do not believe there is enough land to accommodate target industries and claimed there are only 105 acres available.

“Of those 105 acres, the vast majority are sites of 3 acres or less and offer little flexibility for targeted industries,” said Foley.

However, no information has been shared publicly about what company might be looking at the site. Supervisors have met at least twice in closed meeting to discuss the expansion area.

“We are bringing this forward with some urgency due to the board’s interest in being responsive to a potential business interest,” Foley said. “However, because this business is only the most recent in a number of inquiries that we are struggling to accommodate, this is a critical conversation for the board regardless of whether we have a prospect or not.”

The lack of information has prompted concern from some in the environmental community.

“This community has been through entirely too much fighting and debating and arguing over U.S. 29, including our strained relationship with our downstate neighbors,” said Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council. “Clearly someone is dangling a huge carrot in front of you all. Please think twice before taking any action that would lead to a signalized intersection on U.S. 29.”

The expansion is supported by a former member of the Albemarle Economic Development Authority who also lives south of the interchange.  

“There may be those will stand before you who say traffic at that intersection is a reason not to allow business growth,” Lowry said. “There may eventually be yellow blinking lights and slower highway speeds but [there will be] no highway traffic lights for sure.”

The Virginia Department of Transportation will consider traffic impacts on the U.S. 29-I-64 interchange as part of the study. A project to rebuild the interchange is in the region’s long-range transportation plan with a cost estimate of $158.7 million.

The 82-acre parcel is within the jurisdictional area of the county’s water and sewer authority, but the actual lines have not yet been installed. Other adjacent properties owned by Sweetspot LLC are not currently within the jurisdictional area and would have to be added by the Board of Supervisors in order to be connected.

The property would have to be rezoned as well for industrial use. Supervisors have the option to initiate the rezoning rather than the property owner. That would have the effect of
removing the possibility of proffers.

“We’re not there yet,” Supervisor Jane Dittmar said. “That’s a hypothetical that we can’t even get to until we follow a good process to see if we want to have an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan.”

Supervisor Liz Palmer said her vote to support the resolution of intent is not an indication of her support to expand the growth area.

“I am very concerned about the traffic issue but I do want the Planning Commission to vet this,” Palmer said.

There will be a community meeting in late June or early July to discuss the issue. The Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a work session on July 21 followed by a public hearing on Aug. 18.

“That is accelerated over what we might normally do, but it is tailored to the desire we understand the board has to be able to consider this in September,” Cilimberg said.