A potential route map for JAUNT's proposed Hollymead commuter routes Credit: Credit: JAUNT

Residents of Albemarle County’s northern growth area soon will have the option of commuting to downtown Charlottesville or the University of Virginia on a bus line.

The Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 last week to formally begin a process that will compel a developer of the Hollymead Town Center to contribute $50,000 a year toward a JAUNT service that would run weekday mornings and afternoons.

“We’re hoping to make the service as efficient as possible and as fast as possible,” said Karen Davis, JAUNT’s assistant director.

Supervisor Brad Sheffield recused himself from the vote and the discussion because he is the executive director of JAUNT.

The vote came despite the opposition of developer Wendell Wood, who now owns the section of the town center that contains the proffer from a September 2007 rezoning that requires a yearly contribution of $50,000 for 10 years to help pay for a transit route as soon as one is established.

“[Octagon Partners] were the ones who went through the process, offered the proffer, and it was not feasible to do the project,” Wood said. “They defaulted. I had to take the property back, cover the debts and cover most of the proffers they had.”

In September, supervisors directed county staff to look into how such a service would operate.

Transportation planners checked with both JAUNT and Charlottesville Area Transit to see how much it would cost to provide the service.

“At this point, we’re considering doing the service under our relationship with JAUNT because [they] have more flexible funding,” said Supervisor Diantha McKeel.

JAUNT anticipates an annual operating cost of $113,411 for the Hollymead route, based on a $1.50 fare each way.

That would be paid for with the $50,000 proffer, $49,146 in federal revenue and about $15,000 from the farebox.

JAUNT could begin the service as early as January.

Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd said he thought the property required the area to be built-out to a certain percentage before the proffer could be requested. County Attorney Larry Davis said otherwise.

“The proffer simply says that once the service is provided to the shopping center, then the county can demand the $50,000 cash payment,” Davis said. “There was no other qualifying restriction on the proffer.”

Wood successfully amended the proffers to make other changes in 2013 but was not able to alter the language regarding transit service. He signed the changes and Davis said that makes him legally responsible.

Wood said he has spent $4 million to build Hollymead’s internal roads, as well as to extend water and sewer service to the property. He said other property owners in Hollymead were not required to help pay for transit service even though they will benefit from it.

“It’s simply not fair when I’m trying to build out the property and a person across the street can rent his property for less money because he’s not under this restriction,” Wood said.

The county will need to put up more than $57,000 to get the service going. That would be $5,000 for benches, about $2,000 to allow the service to be fare-free for the initial two months and $50,000 that would be reimbursed by the proffer when it is paid.

Boyd was the lone vote against initiating the service.

He said he frequented public transit when he was growing up in Washington.

“We had the density and we had the population to afford [the service],” Boyd said. “We don’t have that here, and I don’t think this bus is going to fill up.”

Supervisors agreed to proceed with the service but would need to officially make the appropriation at their Dec. 2 meeting for the service to begin in January.