By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

At their meeting on June 16, 2009, the

Albemarle County Planning Commission

continued reviewing the

Places29 Master Plan

with further discussion of how future land use decisions will be shaped by the plan. Staff presented design guidelines for how buildings and properties should be developed along major roads and gave further detail about land use goals in the various “centers” called for in the plan.

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The work session covered

Chapter 4


Chapter 7

. For this work session, County Senior Planner Elaine Echols said staff wanted feedback on how buildings should be placed in connection with roads (frontage conditions), as well as what kinds of boundaries should be placed between different place-types.

“[Frontage conditions are] a very important part of the plan because when the [Architectural Review Board] reviews projects on the Entrance Corridors, they really need some guidance on what [the Place29 Master] Plan’s expectations are for that road,” Echols said. “How should the buildings be oriented? Where should sidewalks be? Where should street trees be?”

The Commission reviewed five frontage types:

Wiegand showed this conceptual image as an example of how the urban frontage condition would look, with buildings oriented close to the street

Ex Officio Commissioner Julia Monteith (University of Virginia) asked how realistic it would be to expect the urban frontage condition on U.S. 29. She asked if that would involve traffic calming to slow down vehicles so that café patrons could enjoy their meal. Echols responded that some approved developments, such as

Albemarle Place

, already include urban frontage in their site plans. Senior Planner Judy Wiegand said the expectation is that buildings will be built up to the road, but that pedestrians will likely spend more of their time on parallel and perpendicular roads as they travel to the future neighborhood centers. Wiegand said the pedestrian traffic at Albemarle Place is generally expected to be internal to the development.


Marcia Joseph

(At-Large) said she thought that 80 to 100 feet was too deep for a forested buffer. She said land in the growth area was too expensive and it was too unrealistic to expect developers to use that much of their land for a buffer. But Commissioner

Bill Edgerton

(Jack Jouett) said that the community had clearly expressed a desire to preserve the forested areas on U.S. 29 and he defended the depth called for in the forest buffer frontage condition..

“They put a lot of pressure early on in the [Places29] process that these residential communities not be really part of this plan,” Edgerton said. “I think it’s safe to say that this plan has responded to that.” He reminded the Commission that the idea of a parallel road on the eastern side of U.S. 29, the Northern Free State Road, was removed due to opposition.

Echols said she would bring back more specific descriptions in order to address the concerns expressed by Joseph and others.

During the public comment period, Neil Williamson of the

Free Enterprise Forum

said he thought the urban frontage condition should not apply to Airport Road, given that the area contains a lot of the County’s remaining parcels of land zoned for light industrial uses. Williamson said he had a hard time envisioning the area being redeveloped with restaurants, shops and other retail uses.

Echols explained that the area around Airport Road is being planned as the “Uptown” for the Places29 area. She said she thought airport employees would walk to those restaurants.

“We wouldn’t want to have along that entrance corridor just a strict industrial look,” Echols said.

Echols also asked for the Commission’s opinion on how to manage boundaries between the urban and rural portions of the Places29 area. “The Neighborhood Model suggests that we should have a hard boundary between the development areas the rural area,” Echols said. That means that there would be no transition zone because that would mean land would not be as developed at the density called for in the Master Plan. One reason why this is relevant is because West Rio Road marks the boundary between the two areas and large portions of it are expected to be developed or redeveloped in the coming years.

As with frontage conditions, there are six suggested boundary conditions:


On March 31, 2009,

the Commission held a previous work session on Chapter 4

, which deals with land uses in the various center types that will be defined in the Places29 Plan. Senior Planner Judy Wiegand said she had further revised five items based on Commissioner comments from that meeting:

On that last point, Wiegand said much of the way to discourage such development would come in the form of design guidelines that will be included in an appendix to Places29. She said the County’s comprehensive plan already relies on the use of the Neighborhood Model in the growth area.

Wiegand showed this as an example of how a “destination center” might look. The “uptown” area is being slated as one of these place types

We’re looking to make sure that these centers are more densely developed and walkable,” Wiegand said. “That will help avoid the suburban style if [developers] will come in and concentrate the buildings and the parking and the open space… We have these centers oriented towards parallel and perpendicular streets so they can be more walkable and a suburban style is not going to be attractive in those locations.” Interconnectivity is also being encouraged so that people can walk between and within centers.

On the topic of two-story grocery stores, Wiegand said she doubted whether any developer would be willing to build such a structure in the near future given the current lack of density. However, Commissioner Cal Morris (Rivanna) noted that he has recently seen a grocery store in Chester, Virginia that offers restaurant-seating on the second floor.


Don Franco

(Rio) said he remained skeptical that neighborhood service centers would realistically develop the way County planners envisioned. Using the Westfield area as an example, Franco said if redevelopment occurs with multiple owners, there could be a lack of coordination that could prevent “meaningful open space” from being reserved. He said he could see a situation where developers are forced to buy up an entire street to carry out the County’s goals.

County Planner Echols said the Places29 narrative acknowledges that large areas of open-space will be hard to achieve if neighborhood centers are developed on a parcel-by-parcel basis. However, she said developers may have the 10% requirement waived or reduced if their property is within walking distance of a County park.

“We’re trying to accommodate those concerns realizing that redevelopment could come in as one small parcel, [or] it could come in as several parcels being redeveloped together,” Echols said.

During the public comment period for Chapter 4, Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum warned that sales tax revenue would decline if retail stores move out to surrounding counties in order to avoid the various requirements called for in Places29.

Free Enterprise Forum’s Williamson softens statement on recent report

Neil Williamson

At the beginning of the meeting, Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum read a statement that defended his organization’s recent “Reality Check Report” but also recognized that the use of the word “deceitful” in its accompanying press release was out of line. He said his group continued to encourage the Planning Commission to use inflation-adjusted figures in calculating cost estimates, rather than current-year figures. “While disagreeing vehemently with that approach, the Free Enterprise Forum regrets what was an inartful characterization of it,” Williamson said. “The Free Enterprise Forum recognizes there are positive elements to the Places29 plan. [We] will never shy away from highlighting policy disagreements with the [Planning Commission] or any other governmental entity.”

At the end of the meeting, Commissioner Don Franco read a statement indicating that he resigned from the Board of Directors for both the Free Enterprise Forum and the

Blue Ridge Home Builder’s Association

when he joined the Commission.

“I stepped back from my leadership role in these organizations because of the required time commitments and to help ensure that as a Planning Commissioner I was equally accessible to all citizens,” Franco said. He said he continued to support the goals of the Free Enterprise Forum, but stood by the Planning Commission’s decision to use current year dollars to calculate cost estimates for the transportation components of the Places29 Master Plan.



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