By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Thursday, August 13, 2009

In July 2007, the

Albemarle County Planning Commission

recommended

denial of a request to expand the designated growth area near Hollymead

. Two years later, a majority of Commissioners still recommend against the expansion, but agree with the idea’s supporters that citizens should have the chance to weigh in on the concept when the Commission holds a public hearing for the Places29 Master Plan.


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The issue had come back before the Commission because of the suggestion that the expansion could facilitate the extension of Berkmar Drive over the South Fork of the Rivanna River into the

Hollymead Community

. As the theory goes, landowners would be more likely to contribute proffers for the bridge and the road if they could develop their land in the same area.  Supervisor

David Slutzky

(Rio) has repeatedly encouraged the County to broker a deal with private developers to get funding for Berkmar Drive as a key ingredient in the road network parallel to U.S. Route 29.

Though his name was not specifically mentioned by staff or the Commission during the work session, developer Wendell Wood owns two large parcels immediately north of the river, but they are currently in the County’s rural area. Wood was in attendance during the work session, but did not speak during public comment.

Since 2007, the parameters of the proposed expansion area have changed, according to Albemarle County’s Chief Planner,

David Benish

. For instance, less area is being recommended for expansion, and urban mixed use is being recommended over urban residential. The new proposal from County staff would also allow for one 120,000 square foot “big-box” retail store. In all, just over 140 acres are being considered.

“The reason we made those changes is because we believe those land uses provide for better incentive for improvements and contributions towards the road network,” Benish said.





The areas shaded in white and below the dotted line is being considered for expansion into the growth area.

However, if the growth area boundaries were extended, Benish said the expansion area would not be considered a priority area under Places29. He said several transportation improvements would need to be in place before developments would be approved, including the widening of U.S. 29 to six-lanes from the South Fork Rivanna River to Hollymead Town Center. Berkmar Drive Extended and its bridge would also be prerequisites. Yet, Benish said that staff cannot model the traffic impacts of the new development at this time

During the public comment period, Jeff Werner of the

Piedmont Environmental Council

said the County does not need to expand the growth area at this time. He said in the past several years, the County has approved approximately 4.2 million of new retail space, with a majority of that in the U.S. 29 corridor. He said the County has approved over 15,000 new dwelling units since 2000, with the majority of those not yet built. But Werner said that developer Wendell Wood would be the sole beneficiary of the road, which would allow him to develop the two parcels he owns immediately north of the river, as well as others closer to the Hollymead Town Center.

“This growth area expansion is predicated on the interests of a single landowner and endorsed by the belief that this landowner would either fully fund or contribute some undetermined amount to the construction of a bridge over the Rivanna,” Werner said. Werner suggested deferring consideration of the growth area expansion to 2015, when the Places29 Master Plan will come up for its first review.

Morgan Butler of the

Southern Environmental Law Center

was equally adamant against the expansion of the growth area. He said doing so now would discourage redevelopment in the rest of the Places29 corridor, dismantling many of the purposes of the master plan.

Developer Cliff Fox said he thought the County should think deeply over what land uses it wants in that area. He said the County needs to worry less about increasing retail space, and spend more time focusing on how to reserve space for companies that provide non-retail jobs.

However, Neil Williamson of the

Free Enterprise Forum

said he felt this was the perfect time to consider the expansion. He reminded the Commission that

another landowner seeking a growth area expansion in western Albemarle

was encouraged to bring his comprehensive plan amendment forward during the 5-year review of the

Crozet Master Plan

.

After the public comment period, Commissioner

Cal Morris

(Rivanna) said he thought the public should have a chance to see the expansion area during the Commission’s public hearing on the full Places29 Master Plan.

But Commissioner

Marcia Joseph

(At-Large) said she did not think consideration of the expansion area should be before the public at this time, given the many other elements already in the Places29 Plan. She said expanding the growth area would send a signal that the area needs more retail space at a time when so much is already approved but not yet built.

“At this point in time, we don’t need this,” Joseph said.

Commissioner

Tom Loach

(White Hall) said he thought the public had had plenty of opportunities to weigh in, and that he had not yet heard a “hue and cry from the community to expand the growth area.” He suggested that the developer submit a comprehensive plan amendment at the same time he brings a specific project forward.

However, Commissioner

Linda Porterfield

(Scottsville) said she felt the expansion was necessary in order to help encourage the construction of Berkmar Drive Extended. Both she and Commissioner

Don Franco

(Rio) agreed with Morris that the expansion should go before the public.

Chairman

Eric Strucko

(Samuel Miller) said he was opposed to the expansion, but did support sending the issue through to the public. He said that the Commission would decide on the expansion after input from the public is taken in October. When the public sees it, it will be included as a separate question rather than included in the draft master plan itself.

Places29 will briefly come before the Commission again next week when County staff release a full draft of the entire plan. The Commission will have a final work session on September 15, 2009 before holding two public hearings in October. One of those hearings is likely to be held in the Hollymead area, but has not yet been scheduled.


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