When the Albemarle Board of Supervisors holds a public hearing on the Comprehensive Plan this week, it also will consider a proposal to expand the county’s designated growth area to include an 82-acre property near the interchange of Interstate 64 and U.S. 29.

“Based on legal advice, because we have posted notice of our intention to look at the U.S. 29 and I-64 interchange during our public hearing and adoption next week, we must do that,” Supervisor Jane Dittmar said last week.

Last month, the board agreed to consider staff’s recommendation to designate some parts of the land as an employment center and other portions as “parks and green systems.”

The action caught some in the environmental community off guard.

“Growth area expansions are big deals,” Tom Olivier said at a Board of Supervisors meeting last week. “Normally, the Planning Commission, staff and the public have ample opportunities to review, analyze and comment on the proposals, but not so this time.”

Dittmar said the board might decide at its meeting Wednesday to separate the expansion area from the adoption of the Comprehensive Plan to allow for that review.

“We thought we might ask staff if they would look into other processes should we decide not to continue to consider [expansion] during our Comp Plan adoption,” she said.
The county executive agreed.

“That [would be] alternatives to what is in the proposal right now that might address the industrial needs of that area,” said county executive Tom Foley.

When Supervisor Liz Palmer asked if the Planning Commission would be involved with that review, Foley said yes.

“We’ll have to look at the timelines on that but we’ll bring back some options for you to consider,” Foley said. “Typically, we would put together a resolution of intent. Staff will work on that and provide an overview with some ways to approach that.”

Growth area expansions usually are considered as part of updates of localities’ comprehensive plans, which the state requires be done. Albemarle’s plan was last updated in 2011.

The county has been studying ways to overcome what economic development staffers say is a shortage of land to accommodate light-industrial uses.

The land near the interchange and adjacent to the Virginia Eagle Distribution Center is owned by an Atlanta-based company registered in Virginia as Sweetspot of Albemarle. The land is worth $2.4 million but is only assessed at $300,900 because it is in land use taxation because of timber harvesting.

In 2012, the Planning Commission considered the 82-acre parcel during a work session on possible areas that could be added to the growth area for industrial purposes.

The property is within the service area of the county’s water and sewer authority despite being currently designated as being in the county’s rural area. Staff has suggested this is one reason why the property should be added to the development area.

The property is zoned for residential use with low density. If it were to be added to the growth area, it would need to be rezoned for industrial development.

The board has met in closed session twice to discuss “a prospective business or industry or the expansion of an existing business or industry where no previous announcement has been made of the business’ or industry’s interest in locating or expanding its facilities.”

Olivier asked if the closed sessions were related to growth area expansion.

“After all the assurances that have been made in the past by county economic development staff that their programs would be compatible with existing county policies and procedures, is this expansion of the growth areas … being done to lure a company here?” Olivier asked. “If so, that’s a terrible precedent.”

Morgan Butler, an attorney with the Charlottesville-based Southern Environmental Law Center, also asked for the expansion request to be further studied.

“It is absolutely essential the board does not make a decision until after all pros and cons of the expansion are put on the table and the potential impacts and mitigation strategies are fully explored with the Planning Commission and the public,” Butler said.

Specifically, Butler wanted to know what the scale of industrial development might be and what impact additional vehicle trips would have on the existing interchange of I-64 and U.S. 29.

Neither Butler nor Olivier’s questions were answered at last week’s meeting but a county spokeswoman said they would be in due time.

“All of this would be carefully considered as part of the study process,” said Lee Catlin, Albemarle’s assistant county executive for community relations.