By Kurt Walters

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has denied a request from HMC Holdings, LLC for a special-use permit allowing the company to expand light-industrial uses at the former Badger Fire Protection site in a flood-prone area bordering the Rivanna River’s North Fork.

While debate centered over whether Albemarle should increase areas zoned for light-industrial uses in general, the board rejected this permit because it lies in a Federal Emergency Management Agency-defined floodway and held sizeable erosion risks. Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the board approved a project from Republic Capital, a light-industrial site adjacent to the Airport Acres neighborhood, also along U.S. 29.

“We talked about two light-industrial sites today,” said Supervisor Ann H. Mallek. “The first question we were asked was do we think that a floodplain is a good place to expand our light industrial and I would say ‘no.’”

“[Republic Capital] doesn’t have a river problem or a critical slopes problem or anything else,” she added.

Justin Shimp, who represented HMC Holdings, said he believes FEMA’s floodway classifications in the area were incorrect, but that he wanted conditional approval by the board before entering the expensive process to appeal the designation.

“To get FEMA approval beforehand costs about $100,000,” said Lane Bonner, who spoke in support of the project. “So you’re asking him to put the cart before the horse.”

County staff listed several concerns about the plan to add fill in the floodway area to allow construction of a 40,000-square-foot warehouse, associated parking and stormwater management.

County engineer Phil Custer said that the plan conflicted with existing county ordinance forbidding fill within floodway limits and the area’s designation as open space in the county’s Comprehensive Plan. He added that the site did not meet the typical criteria for a critical slopes waiver.

In August, the county Planning Commission recommended denial of the special-use permit and a related critical slopes waiver.

However, Shimp emphasized that his group was only seeking approval conditioned on FEMA reclassifying the area from “floodway” to “floodway fringe” and that the Comprehensive Plan is a “guide” rather than a zoning map.

Shimp also noted the plan’s possible economic benefits for the county.

“We could look at something like 75 jobs out of that and … conservatively, maybe $2 million in increased real estate assessed value,” Shimp said.

The board was not swayed and Supervisors Duane E. Snow and Mallek said the significant erosion risks made the site plan inappropriate. The board voted 5-1 first to deny the special permit and then to reject the appeal of the denied critical slopes waiver, with Supervisor Rodney S. Thomas as the lone dissenting vote.

During discussions, supervisors also clashed over whether the county needed to add to its stock of light-industrial properties.

“We continue to sit down with business leaders and businesspeople in this community and they say there is an absolute void of the proper type of industrial space [in Albemarle County],” said Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd. “[Available land] doesn’t have either transportation infrastructure or Internet infrastructure or power.”

“You can build all the houses you want. If you don’t have people there demanding to live in those houses, they’re not going to sell,” said Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker. “The same thing is true with industrial space.”

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