Board stalemates on Somerset Farm expansion despite road promise
A proposal to expand Albemarle County’s growth area to allow for a new development between Monticello and Mill Creek will not be considered by the Board of Supervisors until they take up the Comprehensive Plan next year.
The topic came up Wednesday during a discussion of the county’s transportation priorities.
Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd told the board that he knew of a potential source of funds for an unfunded project to widen Route 20 between Interstate 64 and Mill Creek Drive and add sidewalks and bike lanes.
“Some of us have been approached by a developer who may be willing to pay for the widening of that road if we are willing to consider the project that he’s proposed down there,” Boyd said.
Though he did not mention it by name. Boyd was referring to Somerset Farm, a development proposed by developer Wendell Wood that is just outside the county’s designated growth area.
In June 2011, Wood came forward with a proposal to build up to 1,902 new homes and 350,000 square feet for commercial uses. However, the Planning Commission voted 4-2 in October 2011 to recommend against expanding the growth area to accommodate the development.
Boyd said the project deserves a vote by the Board of Supervisors before they see the rest of the Comprehensive Plan.
“We already know the position of the Planning Commission is no more expansion of development areas,” Boyd said. “I would like to allow [Somerset] to come before this board to weigh the pros and cons of that project. … Take the shackles off the project and let it move forward.”
Supervisors Duane E. Snow and Rodney S. Thomas agreed to consider the expansion.
“We’ve got a man who is going to pay for fixing that road and there are a couple of death curves that he’s willing to straighten out,” Thomas said.
Other supervisors were skeptical of the idea.
“I remember that same person saying he was going to build a bridge for Berkmar Drive [Extended] and when it came down to it, he wasn’t interested in building a bridge at all,” said Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker.
When Rooker said he wanted to see a proposal in writing, Boyd said that wouldn’t happen unless the project had a chance of moving forward.
“If we don’t let the project move forward we’ll never know, will we?” Boyd responded. “There’s a citizen out there who wants to put forward a Comprehensive Plan amendment and he’s been put on hold pending the Comprehensive Plan update.”
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said any decision to expand the growth area needs to be done holistically.
“We’ve gotten into most of our problems over the years by taking things one at a time instead of doing the big look,” Mallek said.
Four votes would have been needed to bring the matter up for a vote, but the newest supervisor sided with Mallek and Rooker.
“I don’t feel comfortable with this project moving forward outside of the consideration of the Comprehensive Plan,” said Christopher J. Dumler.
Wood said he believed the project made sense, given that the Board of Supervisors approved a rezoning for a much larger project further south on Route 20 in March 2008.
“They jumped over this property to Biscuit Run, and now that Biscuit Run is gone, I remember several of the Planning Commission members saying they wanted more growth in the southern part of the county so we tried to accommodate them,” Wood said.
Wood said schools are within walking distance and that he has installed pipes to connect to public water and sewer. He would also place 300 acres of land adjacent to Somerset Farm under a conversation easement to serve as a buffer to the rural area.
Even if supervisors do not agree to expand the growth area, Wood is confident the property will eventually be developed.
“Maybe my grandchildren will do it.” Wood said. “This is something that should happen.”