Residents in the Redfields neighborhood off Sunset Avenue Extended fear their community may soon become the next battleground in the debate over the expansion of Albemarle County’s designated growth areas.
Local developer Gaylon Beights has petitioned the county to allow him to develop a 58-acre site as a new phase of Redfields. Some neighbors say they were promised that the land, located in Albemarle’s rural area, would be preserved as open space and they want the county to put the brakes on the planning for the 138-home rezoning.
“Our plan is to develop the property … and finish Redfields in the same architectural styling and products that already exist there,” Beights said in an interview. “We are not building condominiums or apartments. It will be attached, one- to 1 1/2-story garage and front entry housing that is really attractive. We may have a few townhouses, but they will be of the same architecture and quality.”
Barry Condron moved to Redfields in 1997. When the neighborhood was approved seven years earlier, the undeveloped land adjoining Condron’s backyard was designated as open space.
“When we moved in there was a nature trail already built, the brochure had the nature trail marked. It all looked pretty official to me,” Condron said. “A Realtor walked the trail with me, and we ended up buying a house adjacent to the trail. They were marketing it as a natural area.”
Beights insists that he has always been up front about his interest in expanding the neighborhood. Redfields was originally approved in 1990 for 656 homes on 266 acres. According to the recent rezoning request, 441 lots have been developed and the request now before Albemarle is to allow a “non-material and minor amendment to [complete] the planned residential development.”
Rex Linville, the Piedmont Environmental Council’s land conservation officer for Albemarle County, moved to Redfields in 2004.
“Obviously people wouldn’t be as upset about it if it was ‘non-material,’” Linville said. “In considering whether or not to effectively grant someone a growth area expansion, and to undo an open space requirement that the neighborhood has come to rely on, the Board of Supervisors ought to be very careful.”
Linville said he is concerned that open space would be sacrificed to allow Beights to build homes that should have been built in the other sections of the neighborhood.
“For marketing reasons they chose to build 441 homes that were single-family within the neighborhood,” Linville said. “They probably also ran into other constraints, like topographical challenges, but for marketing and business reasons they chose not to build all the homes they could have.”
Said Beights: “If I lived there, I would want to understand that as open space too. It is 58 acres of immensely valuable property, and we have the right to develop it if the county approves it, and we have had the right to ask for the rezoning dating back to the original [approval].”
“You can’t control what Realtors tell people,” he added. “We have never suggested this is perpetual open space.”
Neighbors said they have been frustrated at the inconsistency between the developer’s current plans and his old marketing materials, which show the land as an undeveloped section with trails. Further, the written record of county meeting minutes is a mixed bag acknowledging both the developer’s future growth plans and an expressed interest in keeping the rural land as open space.
Condron is concerned the county is about to set a bad precedent.
“It shouldn’t be this tough for ordinary citizens to have to try and figure this out,” Condron said. “We feel duped. It is dismaying to see the county considering giving them more leeway.”
Kristina Parker, a Redfields resident since 2004 and a past president of the homeowners association, says she wants the county to consider the request not in isolation but as part of an upcoming review of the county’s Comprehensive Plan.
“Since I have been here there have always been rumblings that that tract of land might be developed,” Parker said. “But if there is going to be any modification of the growth zone it should be part of a look at the entire Comprehensive Plan.”
That was also the conclusion of the Albemarle Planning Commission at its Nov. 30 meeting. By a vote of 4-2, the commission directed staff to take up what was then a Comprehensive Plan amendment and study it in the spring.
Dissatisfied with the outcome and anxious to move forward, Beights filed a rezoning request in December, something that he can guarantee will be heard by the supervisors, if desired.
An awkward position?
Claudette Grant is a senior planner with Albemarle County. She said the rezoning request puts the county in an awkward position.
“Staff are in the process of reviewing their request,” Grant said. “I don’t know if the applicant is ready to go to a public hearing, but if they wanted to go straight to a public hearing and not address staff comments, it could happen as early as March.”
“The Comprehensive Plan designates this as in the rural area, which is not normally where you would see the level of development that they are proposing,” she added. “On the one hand, the board said in 1990 that the developer could seek a rezoning, but on the other hand we expect a change to the Comprehensive Plan to initiate that.”
The PEC’s Linville said he concedes that developer has a right to ask for the expansion and that the Board of Supervisors can legally take action on the matter, but he questions whether that would be in the county’s best interest.
“Beights and [Percy] Montague built a great neighborhood with wonderful open space amenities that have a big impact on quality of life and home values. To change that now would reduce the quality of life for all residents in that area and have an impact on home values,” Linville wrote in an e-mail. “The [board] needs to look at the total impact to the community in making this decision, and not at the proprietary interests of an individual landowner.”