At their June 24, 2008 meeting the Albemarle County Planning Commission approved a preliminary site plan for the University of Virginia’s Long Term Acute Care Hospital (LTACH) on Ivy Road. The project, a 50 bed hospital facility for patients staying longer than 25 days, can move forward as long as the final site plan addresses several conditions identified by the Commission, including completion of a new traffic study.

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Commissioner Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller) began the proceedings by recusing himself from all proceedings relating to LTACH, as he is the Chief Financial Officer for the UVA Health Services Foundation. Thomas Harkins, UVA Chief of Environmental Care, explained that the new facility is not a nursing home, but rather a hospital designed to serve the needs of patients who need to be monitored for long periods of time

The UVA hospital is a state agency, and as such would normally be exempt from all local land use regulations. However, as part of the three-party agreement between the County, the City, and UVA, signed in 1986, the University agreed to voluntarily comply with local regulations in certain parts of the region, including the land for the proposed hospital which will share parking with the existing Northridge medical office building on Route 250 West.

The first task before the Commission was to determine whether the development would be in “substantial compliance” with the County’s comprehensive plan. Nearby development includes car dealerships and businesses, and are zoned either commercial or light industrial. These zonings pre-date the current comprehensive plan, which designates the land as “rural area.”

Thomas Harkins, UVA Chief of Environmental Care

Chairman Cal Morris (Rivanna) was troubled by the intrusion of further development into the rural area.

Commissioner Linda Porterfield (Scottsville) stated that in her opinion, a hospital certainly did not constitute rural use, and as such was not truly in substantial compliance with the comprehensive plan. However, she was concerned that if the hospital didn’t move into the space, something even larger and more intense could take its place as a by-right light industrial development. Despite these concerns, the Commission voted 4-1 to find the site plan in compliance; Morris opposed the motion.

UVA next had to obtain critical slope waivers allowing it to develop on soil areas with an angular rise or fall of 25% or more. Staff recommended approval without condition of the waivers because of a provision in the ordinance that recommends critical slope waivers be granted in situations where such a waiver “would serve a public purpose of greater import than would be served” by enforcing the regulation. County planner Gerald Gotobu presented staff’s reasoning on the matter, pointing out that many of the critical slopes on the properties are not natural, but were actually created by parking lot construction for the Northridge medical office building.

The Commissioners had a number of concerns about the traffic impact of the project on Route 250 West. The applicant proposed a design wherein there were two entrances to the LTACH; one would be the existing Northridge entrance, for staff and visitors, and the other would be a side road reserved for ambulances to drop off and pick up patients. County staff, the Route 250 West Task Force,  and the Commission agreed that it would be desirable to add a traffic signal at the existing Northridge entrance.  Engineers for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) concurred with this assessment. However, VDOT said a “complete warrant analysis” had not been conducted to approve the signal.  The engineer for VDOT expressed concern that, if the nearby Seig warehouse, Northridge office building, and LTACH each had their own entrance, it could result in insufficient volume at Northridge to warrant a signal.

The commission placed a condition on the site plan’s approval that UVA construct a vehicular connection between the Seig warehouse and the Northridge building, to funnel traffic to that entrance. Final site plan approval was also made conditional on submission of a traffic study from VDOT fully evaluating the need for a new traffic signal.

Madison Spencer, a landowner whose property abuts the Seig warehouse to the north, expressed concern about the impact the proposed sewage plan would have on his property. He urged the Commission to expand the area UVA is allowed to pump sewage through, so that it will not be routed through the trees that currently serve as a buffer between his property and the warehouse. Staff pointed out that there is an ordinance governing screening buffers in the area, but the Commission agreed to place the creation of an adequate buffer as an additional condition on the plan’s approval.

Commissioner Bill Edgerton (Jack Jouett) asked about whether the lighting at the Northridge parking lot, which would be used for LTACH visitors, would need to be upgraded to meet current lighting code regulations. Staff explained that although Northridge parking spaces are being counted towards those required by code for the new LTACH construction, there is no actual development taking place on Northridge property, and therefore the lighting currently in place does not have to be modified.

Edgerton characterized this as “a very generous interpretation…they’re asking for something, and in return perhaps we could ask for something back from them.” Harkins explained that they were already planning on replacing the lighting in question to meet current code. Fulfillment of this promise was added as a condition to site plan approval.

Edgerton also expressed confusion as to why County staff was planning on granting an exemption from regulations governing the allowed grade of connections between parcels. Current ordinances mandate a maximum slope of 10% for such connections, whereas the connection between Seig warehouse and Northridge office building proposed by the applicant has a slope of 14%. Staff replied that they were planning on allowing an exception due to the desirability of a connection and the difficulty of implementing it at the 10% slope with the existing topography. Edgerton was not convinced, and the final condition placed on the approval was the compliance of the connection with the 10% slope regulation.

Ben Doernberg

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Charlottesville Tomorrow

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