Albemarle County has a shrinking quantity of light industrial (LI) land available for business development. At their work session on July 29, 2008, the Albemarle County Planning Commission discussed how land zoned for industry can contribute to the County’s economic development goals. The Commission was asked to provide direction on changes that could be made to the quantity and location of light industrial land, as well as the specific uses that should be allowed in these areas to best serve the County’s economic policy goals in its Comprehensive Plan.
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Susan Stimart, the County’s Business Development Facilitator, informed the Commission that light industrial land can support over 70 distinct uses. According to the staff report, “the uses range from basic and advanced manufacturing (e.g. bio-tech) to heavy equipment storage, warehousing, and even office uses….LI zoning also accommodates companies providing locally-used services and goods.”
In 2005, Albemarle determined it had about 111 acres of undeveloped light industrial land that was also designated for industrial use in the comprehensive plan. The dwindling supply of light industrial land is due in part to the County’s own actions. Some parcels in the County’s growth areas have been converted to residential and retail uses. County staff believe there is increased competition for the remaining parcels, and that limited supply has increased land prices.
In the audience, Will Yancey listened carefully to the discussion. During public comment, Yancey unveiled what he believes will be a smart way for the County to increase the inventory of light industrial land in an area served by Interstate access, nearby water and sewer, and a growing population base that he thinks would benefit from a new employment center.
For nearly sixty years, the Yancey family has owned and operated the Yancey Lumber Company. The lumber mill property is zoned heavy industry and is located on Route 250 West near the Interstate 64 exit in Crozet. Yancey told Charlottesville Tomorrow that the mill processes yellow pine trees cut from a 50-60 mile radius.
The saw mill operation sits on 36 acres that represents about 32% of all the heavy industrial zoned land in the County. Today, the family also owns 148 surrounding rural acres, some of which has been in the family since 1878. It is this land, which borders Interstate 64 and Western Albemarle High School, on which Yancey is proposing that the County allow his family to develop a new light industrial business park.
One challenge facing any development proposed to be located in Albemarle’s rural fields, farms and forests is that it runs counter to the County’s growth management plans. New residential and business development is intended to happen in the 5% of the County designated for growth. Yancey’s proposed business park is located on the 95% of Albemarle land zoned rural and that is outside the Crozet growth area.
County staff outlined three options for the Commission to consider in its review of the economic development policy with respect to light industrial needs:
The third option, creating new industrial zones, would support the Yancey business park. For the past several months, Will Yancey has been quietly shopping around his development proposal to members of the Albemarle County Planning Commission, the Board of Supervisors, his neighbors, and key community stakeholders. He anticipates spending the next two years in an effort to get a comprehensive plan amendment approved, likely in conjunction with the 5-year review of the Crozet Master Plan which starts in 2009. With the comprehensive plan changed to support a light industrial business park, Yancey would then expect to spend another year getting a rezoning approved.
Yancey presented his preliminary proposal to the Planning Commission during the work session’s public comment period. He acknowledged that he is asking for something that is outside of the ordinary for the County. “Approval of our application will take some unorthodox, outside of the box thinking, quite literally,” Yancey said. After showing the property’s proximity to I-64 and water/sewer lines, he ended his remarks by telling the Commission his family has been in the County since 1765.
“We’re not going anywhere, we have to live here, and we’re willing to work with anyone willing to contribute to making this ambitious undertaking successful for the County, the community and the Yancey family,” he said.
However, at least four members of the Planning Commission expressed their opposition to expanding the growth area at this time. Throughout the work session, Commissioner Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller) asked Stimart tough questions to determine if there really is a shortage. He dismissed any consideration of expanding the development area until existing land there is exhausted.
“Mr. Yancey’s proposal just goes against my principle about encouraging that kind of activity [outside] the development area,” Strucko said. “What that would do is extend the Crozet development area south of 250 and that wasn’t envisioned by the community during the master planning process, and I think it’s counter to County policy.”
Commissioner Linda Porterfield (Scottsville) was more supportive of the proposal, though she did not comment directly on it. She said the County should be able to look at land in the rural areas that are suited for development, such as the stretch of Route 250 between I-64’s Shadwell Exit and the VDOT offices.
Commissioner Jon Cannon (Rio) said he would want to explore option 2 as a way of fully using the growth area. He pointed out that the County has never considered opening up the rural areas to development to solve the affordable housing shortage.
Commissioner Tom Loach (White Hall), whose district contains Yancey’s land, said growth area residents should determine for themselves what land uses are appropriate. As such, he said Yancey’s proposal should only be considered as part of the Crozet Master Plan update scheduled for next year. Loach was opposed to option 2, which he said went against the free market, and agreed with comments made by Crozet Gazette publisher Mike Marshall that there are several sites in the Crozet growth area that could be redeveloped.
Commissioner Bill Edgerton (Jack Jouett) says there are many reasons not to expand the growth area, and that more efforts should be made to rezone land in the growth area as LI.
“Light industrial can be integrated into the growth areas through rezonings in a sympathetic way that will not impinge on the Neighborhood Model concept any more than some of the large scale retail has already,” Edgerton said.
Chairman Cal Morris (Rivanna) also said that there is enough land in the growth area to satisfy the County’s requirement, and he supported a mixture of options 1 and 2. “I am at this point in agreement with Jon and Eric that option 3 is not a viable option at this time,” Morris said. “I like the use of areas that are almost dormant at this time.” He also said he reluctantly supported the County developing some kind of a subsidy for business owners who can’t afford the market rate, an idea floated by Jon Cannon earlier in the meeting.
“We have a market failure problem here, and the question is, how can we overcome it, and it’s not just by traditional zoning,” Cannon said. When Strucko and Cannon objected to that characterization, Cannon explained that the market was producing a result the County doesn’t like.
Commissioner Marcia Joseph (At-Large) was absent from the meeting.
Afterwards, Yancey was not deterred and said he would continue pursuing his proposal through a Comprehensive Plan Amendment.
“We look forward to filing out our application,” he said after the work session concluded.
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