Property owner wants to add missing piece to Avinity neighborhood

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Avinity is a neighborhood of townhomes next to Paul H. Cale Elementary School in Albemarle County. Tucked into the subdivision is a single-family house, its driveway connected to Avinity Drive.

The Moss family has owned the 1-acre piece of land since 2003, before Avinity existed, and now owner James Moss wants to build apartments there and incorporate them into the neighborhood.

“Avinity is missing this particular product — a small apartment building with 20 percent affordable units,” said Justin Shimp, the engineer for the project. “We’re filling in that piece. Just because we’re not the same developer, we don’t have the HOA to tie us together.”

However, Shimp said the development team would like the apartment building to be able to join the homeowner’s association so tenants could use Avinity’s common areas, like the clubhouse and dog park. In return, the owner would contribute to road maintenance.

The two three-story apartment buildings, which would have 12 apartments each, will even look like the townhomes on the other side of Avinity Drive.

“You drive past the Avinity sign to get to this place, which would naturally make somebody believe they’re going into Avinity,” said Avinity resident Paul McArtor. “I’m happy to hear that they’re discussing the possibility of joining the HOA.”

McArtor said the decision about whether to include the Moss apartments in the HOA was up to Avinity’s developer, Riverbend Development.

Shimp had brought the proposal to the Albemarle Planning Commission in the fall of 2017. When the commission seemed unconvinced by the application, Shimp asked to return with more details, including information about the architectural compatibility and road access.

On Tuesday, the same commission, with one new member, agreed with county staff that Shimp had satisfied their concerns and voted unanimously to approve the project.

‘Open the door’

The Avon Street Extended corridor has attracted several large projects, including 130 potential units at Galaxie Farm and up to 400 in the first phase of the Southwood Mobile Home Park redevelopment.

The Avon Street Extended corridor has seen a flurry of activity since the Moss apartment application, according to the county’s new online development dashboard.

Riverbend has won approval of an “Avinity Estates” with 102 houses and townhomes on Scottsville Road, and new developer Nicole Scro is proposing up to 130 small houses and apartments next door.

Developer interest, particularly in the county-owned parcel next to Scro’s Galaxie Farm, has prompted neighbors and county officials to ask about the larger vision for the neighborhood.

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors has met several times in closed session to discuss Scro’s proposal to build a road mapped in the county’s Comprehensive Plan in exchange for 1.5 acres of the county-owned land.

The Comprehensive Plan suggests civic uses for the county-owned land and says that the community should help determine what those uses are through a small area plan.

“Open the door. Have a transparent process. Let the discussion begin. Versus behind the door [during] closed session? I think these are too different approaches,” said Commissioner Pam Riley at the 5th and Avon Community Advisory Committee meeting on Thursday.

The community committee discussed whether a small area plan would be the right route and whether the county-owned parcel was the right focus for the plan, if so.

Supervisor Rick Randolph, who previously has advocated for a 5th and Avon plan, said that the county’s community development department was stretched too thin to add a small area plan to their workload in the near future.

He suggested asking University of Virginia graduate students or another group to help the committee get the plan started.

The CAC already is several months into a study of the Avon Street Extended corridor by civil engineering firm Line + Grade. The company is suggesting safety and aesthetic improvements for the road, including consistent bicycle and pedestrian paths and a roundabout at the Avon-Mill Creek Drive intersection that will slow cars and decrease crashes.

Civil engineering firm Line + Grade is proposing a roundabout and shared-use paths at the intersection of Avon Street Extended and Mill Creek Drive.

The project came out of an experimental Neighborhood Improvements Funding Initiative, in which the county gave each CAC $200,000 for small-scale projects.

Randolph opposed NIFI initially and said that the county probably will not repeat the experiment in the future without more input from the community development department on whether they have the capacity to facilitate it.

“NIFI was the equivalent of a bulldozer that ran through the community development department,” Randolph said. “But there was a lot of good. Let’s look at the fact that we see it today. This is one of the results.”

The 5th and Avon CAC is using $125,000, matched with state funding, to build a crosswalk and complete the sidewalks around Cale. The remaining $75,000 is going towards Line + Grade’s corridor study.

The 5th and Avon CAC meets at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of every month at the Albemarle County Office Building on Fifth Street Extended.