Somerset Farm concept plan, June 2011 Credit: CREDIT: Collins Engineering

Public concerns over a proposed development just outside of Albemarle’s growth area came to the forefront of a Albemarle planning meeting on proposed land use changes in the county’s southern and western urban areas.

A developer, Wendell Wood, has asked the county to consider expanding the growth area east of the Mill Creek neighborhood so he can develop Somerset Farm, a mixed-use neighborhood with up to 1,900 homes.

“Wood wants to build approximately 2,000 houses which would put at least 3,000 more cars on Route 20,” said county resident Ann Neumark. “This would be a nightmare for anyone that is coming from Route 20 South or anyone living on Avon.”

However, as Albemarle County continues the update of its Comprehensive Plan, Somerset Farm is not currently being considered.

“To date, the Planning Commission has told us they don’t want to see that,” said Elaine Echols, the county’s principal planner. In October 2011, the commission voted 4-2 against further consideration of the idea.

Citizens also expressed concern about Somerset Farm at two previous meetings on the southern urban area held earlier this year.

“It was made clear that the ultimate [decision] on Somerset Farm would be a Board of Supervisors vote,” said Scottsville resident John Hermsmeier. “This is a political decision. This is not neighborhood planning. This is [not about] public input.”

Hermsmeier said if Republican Jim Norwood had won the 2011 election for the Scottsville seat on the Board of Supervisors, Somerset Farm would already be under development.

“No matter what is going on with all your maps, all it takes is a 4-2 vote by the Board of Supervisors and it doesn’t matter what [county staff] thinks, what the Planning Commission thinks.”

Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd raised the issue at the Board’s Nov. 14 meeting and said he wanted to consider the project because Wood has offered to pay for upgrades to Route 20 to accommodate the expansion.

However, the board is currently deadlocked 3-3 on the topic with Supervisors Christopher J. Dumler, Ann H. Mallek, and Dennis S. Rooker opposed. Supervisors Duane E. Snow and Rodney S. Thomas agree with Boyd that the expansion should be considered.

At the meeting, county staff briefed the 30 people present on other proposed land changes in the southern urban area.

Echols said previous meetings helped staff realize that residents want to preserve environmental resources, more trails and greenways, would like more athletic fields in or near the future Biscuit Run State Park, as well as a new library.

“There’s some county owned property south of town over by the fire station off of Mill Creek,” said county planner Andrew Sorrell.

County staff is also recommending designating a portion of land at Piedmont Virginia Community College for dense urban residential use.

“PVCC is thinking about making land available for apartments, not student housing,” Echols said.

Another remaining question is what will happen with 36 acres of land owned by the Breeden family in the middle of the proposed Biscuit Run state park.

“When the Biscuit Run development was being done several years ago, before the state owned it, that portion was not sold to the state so there still remains 100 development rights,” Sorrell said.

Staff is also not recommending building the Sunset-Fontaine Connector or the Southern Parkway.

“We found that given the amount of traffic that would be using those routes in 2040, it wasn’t enough traffic to generate the need to keep that as a road that is to be built in the near future,” Sorrell said. However, he does recommend keeping the right of way so for bike and pedestrian uses.

Another recommendation is to designate a commercial center at the intersection of I-64 and U.S. 29 where Virginia Eagle Distributing is located.

While staff is not recommending expanding the growth area to accommodate Somerset Farm, they are recommending a boundary adjustment to accommodate the existing Mosby Mountain and proposed Whittington neighborhoods. The latter neighborhood was approved for connection to the public sewer system in 2010.

The Albemarle Planning Commission will hold another public work session on the Comprehensive Plan on Dec. 18, 2012. They are expected to make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors next spring, followed by adoption by the full board.