County planners grant waiver for 125-unit complex on Pantops if developer provides affordable homes
Albemarle County Planning Commission
has granted a critical slopes waiver that will allow a 125-unit condominium complex to be built on South Pantops Drive. The Commission granted approval despite the project’s lack of conformity with the
Pantops Master Plan
, which calls for open space to be preserved at the location. The comprehensive plan designation for the land changed when the
County Board of Supervisors adopted the Pantops Master Plan in March 2008
. However, the existing zoning is R-15, allowing for Charles Hurt’s Virginia Land Trust to construct 7 buildings at the location.
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County staff recommended a denial of the critical slopes waiver. The application was called before the Planning Commission because a portion of the preliminary site plan involves the disturbance of critical slopes. That requires an applicant to ask for a waiver.
County Planner Patrick Lawrence told the Commission that the County’s open space policy discourages the disturbance of critical slopes so close to streams and waterways. He added that the retaining walls that will be required “may present an aesthetic problem looking up from the river to the property itself.” However, the Planning Commission previously approved a different site plan for the property back in January 2005.
The applicant is proposing that the project will connect trails that are currently not linked to the rest of the Pantops area. Lawrence said the County’s Parks and Recreation Department are working to finalize how the project’s trails and other amenities would be connected.
Kelly Strickland of Dominion Development Resources represented the applicant and said the project would be close to two major employment centers – State Farm Insurance and the new Martha Jefferson Hospital. He referred to the Pantops Master Plan’s call for housing units to be located close to jobs to encourage people to walk to work.
“There’s going to be a proportion of affordable units in this site plan,” Strickland said. Because the developer is not seeking a rezoning, the County cannot seek a proffer, or voluntary contribution, that 15 percent of the units be designated as affordable. He said the plan conformed to the spirit of the Pantops Master Plan because it protects views of Pantops from Monticello, it would construct a greenway along the Rivanna River, and because of the access to jobs.
Commissioner Bill Edgerton (Jack Jouett) said that because the site plan needed a critical slopes waiver, he could not consider it a by-right development.
“You could avoid building on the critical slopes by building a smaller project,” Edgerton said. He asked Strickland if he would be willing to proffer that 15 percent of the units be designated as affordable. Strickland said he could not make that decision on behalf of the property owner, who was not present at the public hearing.
Commissioner Cal Morris (Rivanna) said the property owner never came forward to protest the fact that the land was designated as open space during the Pantops master planning process.
Illustrative rendering of how the condos will look (Source: County staff report)
“That concerns me, especially when we do not have compliance with the affordable housing element of it,” Morris said. Commissioner Marcia Joseph (At-Large) said she was concerned that affordable housing elements could not be guaranteed. She said County planners have been anticipating the property would undeveloped ever since the County developed its open space policy in the early 1990’s.
Commissioner Linda Porterfield (Scottsville) said she could support the project because of the need for housing for those with moderate incomes, and because other condominium complexes are nearby. She said the project’s trail connections would be a benefit to the County.
“I don’t know that it does the County a lot of good to keep the whole space unbuilt,” Porterfield said.
However, Joseph was unwilling to take Strickland’s word that there would be affordable housing. Edgerton said he would prefer to see an application that did not disturb critical slopes.
“I personally do not want to give them permission unless they’re willing to give us something back in return,” Edgerton said. “I would be willing to go against our opinion in the Pantops Master Plan because I think there would be a benefit to the community to have a component of affordable housing in this complex.”
Chairman Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller) said he would also be open to going against the Pantops Master Plan if the affordable housing provision could be guaranteed. “We’ve seen condominiums of this sort sell for upwards of a million dollars a unit,” Strucko said. He also added that he would like to see sidewalks along South Pantops Boulevard so residents could walk to jobs at State Farm and Martha Jefferson.
Strucko suggested granting the waiver with conditions. Edgerton made a motion to grant the waiver with the condition that 15 percent of units be affordable. Morris seconded and the vote was 6-0. Commissioner Jon Cannon (Rio) was not present. The proposal is not expected to come before the Board of Supervisors unless the applicant appeals the conditions.
Though he voted to grant the waiver, Commissioner Tom Loach (White Hall) said it was disingenuous for the County to have a master plan that did not conform to the property’s zoning. “I hate to think that the people in the Pantops area were depending on this remaining green space when in fact it was zoned R-15,” Loach said. “It seems to me that master plans should be based on reality.”
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