Planning commission endorses continued protection of most rural interstate interchanges

After evaluating the inventory and location of land zoned for light industry, the Albemarle Planning Commission concluded Tuesday that the county’s rural interchanges on Interstate 64 should not be targeted for further development.

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County staff had presented possibilities for expanding industrial land outside of the development area to encourage target industries to locate in Albemarle. Citizens provided feedback both for and against the zoning changes, with particular emphasis on the highway interchanges.

County resident John Chavan encouraged the commission to consider the business opportunities south of the Shadwell exit on I-64, just past the growth area boundary.

“My neighbor has a 250-room hotel and my property comes right in front of [U.S.] 250 and [the Virginia Department of Transportation] says there are between 30,000 and 50,000 cars [passing every] day,” Chavan said. “To me, that is not rural.”

A rezoning request from Chavan was unanimously denied by the Albemarle supervisors in 2008. When the Pantops Master Plan was developed, Albemarle officials intentionally left the land in the rural area .

“Taking into consideration the economic downturn … our county faces, I would think that it would be prudent to put something like a mini-warehouse where the traffic is,” Chavan added. “There is a place for a tree, also there is a place for a business, especially at our interchanges.”

Morgan Butler, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center , said he did not see the need for increasing industrial-zoned land outside of the development area.

“As for strategies that involve letting industrial development creep into the rural areas, we just don’t see a compelling reason to consider them in this Comprehensive Plan update,” Butler said.

Butler added that current inventory of land for industrial uses meets the community’s projected needs.

“From a prudent planning standpoint, this ‘Goldilocks area’ is not a bad place to be,” said Butler. “There is no pressing need to go looking outside the development areas to designate more land for industrial use right now.”

Staff stated that the need for more industrial land was based on the size and quality of the parcels currently available to support desired businesses. Industries such as information technology, defense, security, bioscience and medical devices will need high-speed Internet, are large power users and have large water needs.

Staff said there are not many industrially zoned parcels offering these services. In addition, information technology, defense and security industries could need up to 25 acres for their facilities and there are only two parcels of that size available in Albemarle’s undeveloped industrially designated parcels.

The Crozet interchange on I-64 was a hot topic of discussion for both commissioners and the public.

“[The people] are asking this body to once again emphasize the fact that we do not feel that the interchange area in Crozet needs any further consideration,” Commissioner Calvin Morris said.

“The Crozet interchange has been like the walking dead zombies. You shoot it. You stab it. You do everything to it. It gets back up. And if you don’t cut its head off, it bites you,” Commissioner Thomas Loach said.

“I think we should protect the rural interchanges,” Loach said. “People want to maintain the rural character of Albemarle County and I think the decisions we’ve made have been consistent with that.”

Julia Monteith, an ex-officio member of the commission representing the University of Virginia, suggested permanently removing the Crozet interchange from the plan because of its previous consideration in the Crozet Master Plan . Richard Randolph of the Scottsdale District recommended that the Boyd Tavern and Ivy interchanges be removed, as well.

A telephone survey conducted in January by UVa’s Center for Survey Research and commissioned by Charlottesville Tomorrow assessed residents’ opinions on the importance of the rural countryside and whether new places for business should be created in Albemarle’s rural areas specifically.

The survey found that 96.5 percent of area residents believe the rural countryside is important to their quality of life. Among Albemarle residents, 65.6 percent said they opposed having new businesses on land currently zoned as rural.

The commission asked staff not to modify the interstate interchanges policy for rural interchanges, except for Shadwell, which will be given further consideration for new development. Final recommendations will come back to the commission for a public hearing this summer before being sent to the Board of Supervisors for review late in 2012.