Albemarle panel denies call for urban density along Moores Creek

The Albemarle County Planning Commission has recommended denial of a request to allow a dense residential development near the Willoughby neighborhood and the future Fifth Street Station retail complex.

“I think there’s lots of homework to do here,” Planning Commission member Richard Randolph said at a meeting last week.

Developer Keith Woodard had asked the county to amend the Comprehensive Plan to allow as many as 24 units per acre on a parcel along Moores Creek.

The plan, which guides land-use decisions in Albemarle, currently calls for between three and six units per acre.

Compounding the issue is a nearly 5-acre parcel of undeveloped land also owned by Woodard located in the city of Charlottesville. That property is zoned for multifamily units and as many as 420 units could be built by-right.

Both properties are surrounded by the Willoughby development to the north and the east. The Fifth Street Station retail complex is to the south and that land is in the process of being cleared for the construction that is expected to begin soon.

Willoughby residents were adamant that allowing the higher density would further increase the flood risk to Moores Creek, would further congest their neighborhood’s only entrance on Harris Road, and would change the character of their less dense neighborhood.

“While I believe in infill and I do support development, I think the property next to Willoughby that we’re talking about should be developed between three to six units per acre,” said resident Logan McKinley.

Another resident was concerned that additional traffic on Harris Road would be dangerous.

“It’s extremely twisty and it’s extremely steep,” said Bill Barron. “We’ve already got 500 cars coming in and out of our neighborhood … and as a man with extremely young children, the last thing I need is up to 750 new cars driving through my neighborhood with the potential of running over my children.”

However, Woodard’s representative said the Comprehensive Plan request is just the first step in developing the land. Details about the specifics would be developed through a rezoning process.

“The concerns are about the traffic on Harris Road, and I am sure there are concerns about construction next to the creek,” engineer Justin Shimp said. “There are ways to mitigate those things and that’s what the next part of the process is all about.”

Shimp said they do not yet know how many units they would want to build but that Woodard wanted the higher range so they could keep their plans flexible to be able to respond to housing demand.

He also argued the location was ideal for higher density because of its proximity to Fifth Street Station, which is classified under the Comprehensive Plan as a neighborhood center.

Development in the Charlottesville portion would require a new access road, which would either require city approval or the purchase of land from the Willoughby Neighborhood Association.

Neither option seemed possible.

“The access shown to Harris Road is not possible under the current conditions and this cannot be considered an access point for this development at this time,” city planning manager Missy Creasy wrote in an email to county planning staff.

As such, county planning staff could not recommend granting the request without more detail.

“Staff does not recommend proceeding with this [Comprehensive Plan amendment] until issues of access and feasibility of interconnections are resolved,” said county planner Claudette Grant.

Grant said she had no way of knowing if the site could support the maximum of 136 units or what the environmental impacts would be.

Commissioners also said that they felt Woodard did not sufficiently reach out to the Willoughby neighborhood.

“The reason the community is so upset is because they feel they’ve been bypassed in this process,” said Commissioner Tom Loach.

As the Scottsville Magisterial District representative, Randolph said he should have been consulted before the application in his area was submitted.

“I could have really helped you here,” Randolph said.

The commission voted unanimously to deny a resolution of intent to start the amendment process.

The Board of Supervisors will have a chance to weigh in at a work session on the Comprehensive Plan in January.