Albemarle County Planning Commission discusses building sizes in Places29 Master Plan
By Fania Gordon & Sean Tubbs
Monday, April 6, 2009
(first of two stories)
Almost four years have passed since Albemarle County began work on the
Places29 Master Plan
, which will guide future development in the County’s northern development area. During that time, County planning staff have worked with the Oakland-based firm
Community Design + Architecture
to develop a twenty-year plan that can help future decision-makers as they respond to the area’s growth. After a hiatus that lasted over a year, the Albemarle County Planning Commission has recently begun a series of work sessions to review the plan.
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The most recent work session was held on March 31, 2009. However, two key documents for the plan were not yet available to inform the discussion. The first of these was an “implementation table” that gives the timing and cost estimates for the many road improvements to both US 29 and surrounding roads that planners say are necessary, even if Places29 is never adopted. This implementation table was handed out to Commissioners and the public shortly before the meeting. The second document is Chapter 7, focusing on design guidelines, which will not be ready for the public to review until May.
The absence of these elements of the draft plan was noted frequently during the work session. Commissioners requested that staff develop visual representations of how the different types of centers proposed in the Places29 Master Plan might actually look. They also lamented the lack of details about how much the transportation improvements would cost, which they said would affect their ability to discuss how those improvements would be prioritized.
COMMISSIONERS DISCUSS SIZE OF BUILDINGS ALLOWED IN PLACES29 ‘CENTERS’
Much of the framework for how the Places29 area might look is contained in Chapter 4, which features land use tables which will give landowners or developers a tool to determine the appropriate uses for specific pieces of property in the event of a rezoning. Places29 relies on the creation of “centers,” each of which has different guidelines to attract different forms of development. These are broken down into
Neighborhood Service Centers, Community Centers, Destination Centers, and an Uptown. The idea is to create places that have a mix of uses, allowing Places29 residents to “live, work and play” in their own neighborhoods.
Senior Planner Judith Wiegand took the Commission through a presentation of how the land use tables would translate to future development. For instance, in a “Neighborhood Service Center”, buildings could have a footprint of up to 15,000 Square Feet with up to 3 stories. Wiegand said that would be sufficient for a small neighborhood grocery store. To put that into perspective, Reid’s Grocery Store on Preston Avenue is just under 13,000 square feet, while Foods of All Nations on Ivy Road is around 12,000 square feet.
Buildings in a “Community Center” could have a footprint of up to 60,000 square feet, with 4 stories total. Wiegand said this would support a full-sized grocery store. “Destination Center” buildings could have up to a 50,000 square feet footprint, and could be up to 5 stories. Wiegand said a good example of this might be Barracks Road Shopping Center, with smaller stores.
“The Uptown” area, which consists of the area located by Airport Road and the University of Virginia’s North Fork Research Park, could see be as large as 25,000 square foot buildings with a maximum of six stories. Wiegand said this would be to encourage a ‘fine-grained pedestrian network” in that area.
If a landowner or developer wishes to develop a piece of property by-right, they do not need to conform to the uses listed in the Land Use Table.
development will be grandfathered and could feature buildings that are slightly larger. When the development was rezoned from Commercial and Light Industry to the Neighborhood Model District in October 2003, building heights were limited to 75′ for retail and 90′ for residential. In an interview with Charlottesville Tomorrow, Cilimberg pointed out that the building heights called for in the Places29 Master Plan are meant to guide future decisions by the Planning Commission and Albemarle County Supervisors.
“That doesn’t mean that in actual ultimate development that you couldn’t have buildings that would be taller if they were approved as part of a prior rezoning,” Cilimberg said.
COMMISSIONERS ASK FOR MORE DETAILS
In her presentation, Wiegand had used Westfield Road between Commonwealth Drive and Route 29 as an example of a Neighborhood Service Center. Commissioner Don Franco (Rio) asked if it would be a worthwhile exercise for the Commission to go block by block as a test to see if Places29 would really yield the desired results. Would parking requirements result in space being taken away from structures? Wiegand said that would be up to the developers, and if they needed more space for parking, they would have to purchase adjoining property, perhaps, or work with adjoining developers to build shared lots. Franco pressed on, and asked if the resulting streetscape would be in the County’s interest.
“Do you end up with a big building right here on the corner and then a couple hundred feet of parking before you get to the next building?” Franco asked. Wiegand said the County would have to address each property at the site plan phase, but added that the design guidelines in Chapter 7 would offer more information. She said in general, parking is to be relegated, or behind buildings facing a street. But Franco said the Commission needed to know now whether that would be realistic. David Benish, Albemarle County’s Chief Planner, said Westfield Road is relatively wide and could accommodate parallel parking to address any parking needs.
Julia Monteith, Senior Land Use officer at the University of Virginia and ex officio member of the Commission, said that nothing in the proposed land use table prevents the style of development that has occurred on Route 29.
“I’m less concerned about the building height than the building massing,” said Monteith. “I’d rather see less footprint on the ground and more building height myself.” Commissioner Edgerton agreed, and said that it was hard for him to visualize how the land use tables would translate into reality. He also warned about being too rigid in the land use tables.
“I would hope that when this master planning study is complete we have something that’s going to be useful as a guide to direct the development away from the suburban shopping center model,” Edgerton said. County Senior Planner Elaine Echols again referred to Chapter 7, which would include guidance on how buildings would be laid out in relation to roads. She suggested that the Commission consider putting language in the plan to address the massing issue.
Edgerton also pointed out what he called a “lack of logic” about how the different land use categories do not necessarily match the actual property lines in some cases. He said he would find it helpful to see more visualizations of how Places29 might look if development were vertical. Wiegand said the consultant had developed a scenario for how the Shopper’s World Plaza might be redeveloped, and that she would redistribute that information back to the Commission.
During the public comment period, Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council told the Commission that he thought the proposed Land Use Tables were not restrictive enough in their limitations on building footprints or specific enough in their requirements for open space.
“What I hear us discussing is just distribution of what we’ve already got,” said Werner.
Commissioners also discussed requirements for open space in the land use tables. Each center has a different requirement, with a general minimum of 10 percent open space in each one. Commissioners, as well as Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum and Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center, also questioned the wording of the requirements for open space.
“It seems tough to square the minimum open space requirement with the very small minimums we have allocated within the individual columns,” said Butler. For instance, the land use table calls for a minimum of ¼ acre for Neighborhood Center. Bill Edgerton was concerned being so specific would allow a developer with a 40 acre parcel to go to the smaller number, rather than the 10 percent minimum.
Wiegand agreed that the wording should be clarified, but that more information would be available when Chapter 7 is released.
Julia Monteith said that she wanted more definition of what open space means, and she called for the creation of urban open spaces where people could congregate.
After a discussion of the land use tables, Commissioners moved on to discuss the prioritization and cost of transportation improvements. Charlottesville Tomorrow will report on that discussion in a future story.
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