An advisory group that oversees implementation of Albemarle County’s Places29 master plan will not take a formal position on alternatives to the now-defunct Western Bypass.
“We’re not offering them anything that they haven’t already strongly considered,” said Heather Stokes, chairwoman of the Places29 Advisory Council. “I think they are strongly considering a substantial amount that is in the [master plan].”
Members of the anti-bypass Charlottesville Albemarle Transportation Coalition who now serve on the Places29 council wanted to signify their support for reinvesting $200 million allocated to the bypass in a parallel road network.
“I think it’s important for the Places29 Advisory Council to make a recommendation,” said George Larie. “It seems to me that we should be supporting the Places29 parallel road plan.”
That is one of two scenarios being weighed by the Route 29 Advisory Panel led by former Virginia Department of Transportation Commissioner Philip Shucet.
The other is to use the money to dedicate lanes in the center of existing U.S. 29 to through-traffic. Shucet has displayed two versions of this throughway concept, the more intense of which would include grade-separated intersections at Rio Road, Hilton Heights Road and Hydraulic Road.
“It’s obvious the folks from Lynchburg and Danville are very concerned about through-traffic, so they’ve been very supportive of the throughway concept, but we don’t want the throughway,” Larie said.
L.F. Wood, a former member of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors, said many members of the Route 29 Advisory Panel have stated that they will not support the use of the $200 million in unspent Western Bypass funds for parallel roads because they believe that money should go to projects to carry through-traffic.
“This is to improve regional traffic moving through the corridor without doing harm to the local traffic,” Wood said.
Most members of the Places29 council said they feel it is not appropriate for the council to take a position on the matter.
“I don’t think the group is sufficiently well-informed,” said Places29 council member Peter Skoro. “I think there are too many contradictory facts out there.”
Also at its meeting last week, the Places 29 Advisory Council indicated it would not be opposed if Colonial Auto seeks to rezone land it owns on Berkmar Drive from residential to commercial. Such an action also would require an amendment to the county’s Comprehensive Plan.
Carter Myers Automotive Properties, Colonial Auto’s parent company, has held preliminary talks with the county about a rezoning to make way for expansion of Colonial’s showroom.
This was the first time the Places29 council was asked to measure a possible land-use decision against the goals of the master plan.
“This is a great moment in the life of this committee,” said Lee Catlin, the county’s spokeswoman. “You’re not here to vote it up or down. You’re just here to provide the kind of conversation and feedback that’s really helpful at this moment of the process.”
Peter Borches, president of Carter Myers Automotive Properties, said he thought building more homes on the 3.5-acre site would place too many cars on Berkmar Drive, a road that may be extended to become one of the parallel roads in the U.S. 29 bypass alternative.
“I think it would be wise for this committee and others to consider the future of Berkmar Drive realistically,” Borches said. “Berkmar Drive, whether we like it or not, is going to have more traffic on it. It would be wise to have an idea of what we think is right for Berkmar moving forward.”
However, member Elly Tucker said having more commercial uses on Berkmar might dilute its ability to become a parallel road that would take traffic off U.S. 29.
“Wouldn’t having more driveways and entrances on Berkmar make it kind of like the problem we have now on U.S. 29?” Tucker asked.
Stokes said she saw it differently.
“It’s for local people to visit local businesses,” she said.
No members of the group expressed significant opposition to the potential land-use change.
Either way, Borches thought the discussion was a chance for the Places29 council to begin considering what infrastructure will be needed in the future to support Berkmar.
“The long-term plan has Berkmar Drive going to four lanes, and with that would come a sidewalk on the east side, which is our side,” Borches said.
He added that a proffer was being discussed to build that sidewalk as part of Colonial Auto’s expansion effort.