At a work session on June 5, 2007, the
Albemarle County Planning Commission
approved a draft version of the Pantops Master Plan. The framework will now go before the Board of Supervisors in early August.
Commissioners examined several proposed revisions made to the plan since a public hearing in April. The largest of these changes involve the Wheeler property, a 77-acre parcel of land located in the northern section of the planning area (diagram below). Even with a 2006 resolution from the Board of Supervisors implying their support for Wheeler’s 77 acres to be removed from the growth area, the Planning Commission decided not to adjust the Pantops Master Plan’s designated growth boundary.
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The staff report recommended:
“The property has features that are more rural than urban in character,
with historic and natural resources, and the owner may wish to place
the property under conservation easement. It is currently zoned Rural
Areas and is designated Neighborhood Density Residential (3-6 dwelling
units per acres) in the current Land Use Plan for Pantops.
“A change in the boundaries to the Pantops Master Plan was considered
comprehensively as part of the master plan study and was not applicant
driven by the property owner. It was intended to be responsive to the
property owner’s desires to possibly seek a conservation easement,
public comment received during the initial master plan meetings, and
for land use planning purposes.”
The Wheeler parcel is linked to the
May 2006 decision by the Board of
Supervisors to facilitate the expansion of the National Ground
Intelligence Center (NGIC).
.PDF of the resolution
) In the Board’s discussion at the time, the
switch of the Wheeler property from growth area to rural area zoning
was envisioned as an offset to the arrangement with developer Wendell
Wood. He asked that 30 acres of land he owned in the rural area in the
Route 29 North corridor be switched into the growth area. This
arrangement, Wood argued, would allow him to sell some other land below
market value to the federal government to help NGIC.
At the work session, the Albemarle County Planning Commission did not
discuss the resolution approved by the Board of Supervisors. Clara Bell Wheeler has told Charlottesville Tomorrow that she never made a commitment to the County to have her land moved from
the growth area as part of the NGIC deal nor was there ever a written request to have that considered.
Planning Commissioner Bill Edgerton said he was concerned about two
issues involving the proposed removal of the property from the growth
“First of all, taking the property out of the development area could
lead to exacerbating the bigger problem that we’re fighting all the
time, which is not getting as much development in the development area
as we want.” Edgerton said to take land out of the growth area would
put pressure on rural areas. “I’m sure the neighborhood would like her
land to remain rural forever, but it was an area that for whatever
reason back in the seventies was designated as a target for
David Benish, Chief of Planning for the Albemarle County Department of
Community Development, told the Commission that staff made this revision
in response to various issues expressed by community members.
“Scenic mountain views, open space, there was the issue of impact to
Route 20, along with the understanding that there was a property owner
that did not have an interest in [developing] this property.”
In a move counter to the understanding outlined in the NGIC
arrangement, the Commissioners reached consensus to reject the
revision, and suggested that if Mrs. Wheeler wants to take her property
out of the development area in the future, she could seek an easement. Wheeler told Charlottesville Tomorrow that the commission did what she had asked them to do.
Bill Edgerton said he didn’t want to set a precedent, especially during the master planning process.
“There will come a time when there will be a lot of political pressure
applied to the Board and the Commission to start adjusting the
development areas. We are setting ourselves up for a greater challenge
if we take it out. Let Mrs. Wheeler make her decisions about what she
wants to do one way or another. There’s good road access, there’s lots
of reasons it’s in there.”
Commissioners accepted a revision to the plan to indicate the
possibility for more future connectivity in the road network in Peter
Jefferson Place and Martha Jefferson’s new facilities. They also
approved new language to indicate more protection for the Rivanna
River, as requested by the Southern Environmental Law Center. The added
passages strengthens the plan’s inclusion of the Rivanna as “an
important resource to protect and and as an asset to serve as focal
point for Pantops.”
Commissioners also agreed to amend the Community Facilities provision
of the Pantops Master Plan as well as its implementation plan to stress
that any new schools, libraries and community meeting spaces should be
built in the priority areas.
“What we beefed up was the recommendation for the [Jefferson-Madison
Regional] Library to reconsider their space allocations for facilities,
and to look at other innovative ways to provide for smaller, direct
service to this area,” said Benish. He also said the Plan now reflects
that the county should continue to monitor the Pantops region’s
population growth for future school sites, though the county’s
long-range planning currently does not forecast a need for any such
Commissioners asked if the Community Facilities section of the Plan
could also be readjusted to discuss the possibility of adding
sidewalks. Benish said they would take into consideration before the
Plan goes before the Board of Supervisors.
Sean Tubbs & Brian Wheeler*
* Note: Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Brian Wheeler is not related to Clara Bell Wheeler, the owner of the 77 acres of growth area land near Pantops.