Charlottesville Planning Commission members had a rare chance this week to weigh in on an action pending before their counterparts in Albemarle County.
“This is the first instance of us [jointly] talking about a county project that has a direct effect on a city neighborhood and other city resources,” said Genevieve Keller, a city planning commissioner.
Henrico-based Reality IX is asking the county for a rezoning to change the designation of 32,000 square feet of company-owned land in Woolen Mills from “preserved slopes” to “managed slopes.”
Reality IX is a subsidiary of TowneBank, a Hampton Roads-based bank. The company is being assisted locally by McLean Faulconer and Draper Aden Associates.
“This is the first time the county has had a rezoning of this type,” said J.T. Newberry, a county planner.
The 11.77-acre parcel is near the intersection of Broadway and Franklin streets, with Franklin serving as the city-county line. The land in the county is zoned for light-industrial use, whereas the adjacent properties in the city are zoned for residential use.
In March 2014, Albemarle supervisors adopted new rules for critical slopes in the county’s designated growth area.
Under the new rules, areas designated as preserved slopes can only be disturbed under limited circumstances. However, managed slopes can be disturbed if the landowner develops the property under its existing zoning as long as specific design standards are met.
“The issue now is whether the county had correctly or incorrectly designated this property as having managed or preserved slopes,” Newberry said. “Based on the aerial photography, the county elected to have the area designated as preserved.”
However, in looking at the rezoning application, county staff recommended allowing the change to managed slopes on the portion of the land that fronts Franklin Street.
The property is within Albemarle County’s designated growth area despite being land-locked and surrounded by the city of Charlottesville and the Rivanna River.
Rezonings in the county must take the Albemarle Economic Vitality Action Plan into account. The plan seeks to expand the county’s commercial tax base and create jobs for local residents.
The county Planning Commission delayed action in May until after the two commissions could meet.
Bill Emory, a city resident and active member of the Woolen Mills Neighborhood Association, urged both commissions to err on the side of the landscape rather than economic development concerns.
“We must turn towards the Rivanna River and consider how our planning actions affect the watershed,” Emory said.
“We’re not opposed to any and all development on this site,” said Morgan Butler, of the Charlottesville-based Southern Environmental Law Center. “It’s just clear that based on its proximity to Moores Creek, development has to adapt to the landscape as opposed to the landscape adapting to the development.”
Butler pointed out that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has designated Moores Creek as an impaired waterway.
Robin Hanes is a city resident who lives across the street from the property. She urged the county commission to keep the preserved designation.
“Our neighborhood is concerned about having a buffer between industrial areas and residential areas,” Hanes said.
However, Mark Mascotte of McLean Faulconer said discussions about impacts caused by future development should wait until the site has a new owner who comes forward with a site plan. There is no active development plan.
“A lot of the concerns raised are very interesting and very applicable but they’re not for this focused petition before the county,” Mascotte said.
City planning commissioners urged caution.
“I have never found it in my practice to approve a slope waiver for a project where there is no plan,” Keller said.
If the county Board of Supervisors eventually denies the rezoning, the applicant could seek a special-use permit to disturb the slopes in order to build a roadway to the developable parts of the property.
The Albemarle Planning Commission is expected to next consider the item July 14.
Reality IX purchased the property from MPJH Investments in January 2014 for $4,175,000. The land was assessed earlier this year at $755,200.
“This is an exception rather than the norm,” said county assessor Bob Willingham when asked in an interview to explain the discrepancy. He said he would look into the assessment next year.
Mascotte also said he was unsure about why last year’s purchase price is much higher than the assessment.