Brian Wheeler

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

With Albemarle County and the city of Charlottesville both working on updates to their comprehensive plans, new reports on the local housing market are informing discussions about housing choices and availability.

Area housing market analysis




by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Local officials and environmental activists both say the reports raise important questions about the types of homes people want to buy, their preferred location in the community, and whether the county should adjust its growth area to accommodate more homes and jobs.

Tom Olivier is the chairman of the

Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club


“There are built-in conflicts between some of the things being proposed in [Albemarle relating to] economic vitality, namely the promotion of job growth, which, of course, usually ends up meaning promotion of population growth,” Olivier said at Tuesday’s meeting of the

Albemarle County Planning Commission

. “Population growth is the great destroyer of open space resources.”

Albemarle County staff said Tuesday that the continued pace of new homes being built in the rural countryside was “the thorn in our flesh.”

“We have concluded there is a base demand for rural-area housing that we can’t really impact,” said

Wayne Cilimberg

, the county’s director of planning. “It is too easy to live in the rural area and drive in to work.”

Albemarle County Planning Commissioner

Don Franco

called for a better understanding of how to direct more people to housing in the 5 percent of the county designated for growth.

“We want to make sure opportunities are there so we don’t put additional [development] pressure on the rural area,” Franco said.

Where do people in the community want to live? Albemarle staff say that question was recently examined in a non-scientific questionnaire by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission on jobs and housing preferences.

Most of the 508 respondents “said they would prefer to live in the rural areas of Albemarle County if there were no barriers in choice of housing.” Sixty-one percent said they commuted from outside the Charlottesville-Albemarle area because they found housing elsewhere more affordable or a better value.

“Although national trends would suggest that walkability to mixed-use centers is highly desirable … commuters continue to have a preference for larger houses on large lots in nearby counties,” wrote Albemarle staff in their report. “If expense were not a barrier, many of these commuters would prefer to live in Albemarle’s rural areas.”

Meanwhile, the pipeline of approved housing in the county’s

designated growth areas

is significant. The commission received a report indicating that 7,771 of the homes it has approved since 2001, in rezonings and by special-use permits, have not been built.

The total number of homes approved now stands at 9,500, thus only 1,729 units, or 18.2 percent, have been constructed.

Another housing market analysis was also released this week by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It indicates that the city and county only need 1,050 new homes to be built over the next three years to satisfy demand.

Jim Duncan, a local Realtor who closely tracks the housing market, said he found the federal report informative because it separated Charlottesville and Albemarle data from the larger region, which includes Fluvanna, Nelson and Greene counties.

However, Duncan questioned the demand projections.

“They may be underreporting the demand for housing for people that want to build or buy,” Duncan said. “I think some folks are finally starting to come out of the woodwork.”

When the commission reviewed preliminary housing data

last October

, it decided there was sufficient housing supply and it tabled consideration of a dozen requests to immediately expand the county’s designated growth areas.

A. Bruce Dotson

, At-Large Member

Albemarle County Planning Commission

Franco voted against that recommendation, preferring to collect more information on the types of housing thought to be in the pipeline. Franco said Tuesday that the various projections from staff indicate to him that there could be a shortage of housing later in the 20-year Comprehensive Plan.

“There is plenty of opportunity and [housing] inventory for the next several years,” Franco said. “But 10 years out, we may have some issues”

“There appears to be a gap for [single-family detached] housing starting in 2020,” Franco told his fellow commissioners.

Morgan Butler, an attorney with the

Southern Environmental Law Center

, countered that the housing types in the pipeline were flexible and that plenty of land in the growth area remains undeveloped.

“There is flexibility in a number of the rezonings approved to date to allow those housing types to shift,” Butler told the commission. “There is also roughly 2,500 acres within our existing growth areas that … can accommodate future development.”

Bruce Dotson

attended his first meeting of the commission as the newly appointed at-large member. Dotson is a professor and chairman of the planning department at the

University of Virginia School of Architecture

. He formerly served on the Planning Commission representing the Samuel Miller District from 1994 to 1997.


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