A controversial development proposal on U.S. 250 near the Glenmore subdivision approved by the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Wednesday night.
Despite some conflicts with the Master Plan that covers the area, supervisors voted 4-2 to approve a rezoning that allows Southern Development and Roudabush Gale & Associates to build 80 houses in a development called Breezy Hill about 7 miles on U.S. 250 east of the Charlottesville.
Supervisors Donna Price and Ann H. Mallek voted against the proposal, wanting more of a gradual transition from the county’s Development Area to the Rural Area and citing concerns about possible effects on Running Deer Drive residents. Running Deer Drive is the dividing boundary between the two areas, and the project is required to have a connection with it.
“If this proposal were in one of the other development areas, then I very well may support it,” Price said. “But given the promise that I believe was made to the residents of this area by the county when the Village of Rivanna was approved, that they would have this buffer towards the rural area, I don’t believe that it meets the plan in those respects.”
The Village of Rivanna became a county Development Area in 1989, and a Master Plan was approved for the area in 2010.
The developers requested a rezoning of 75.6 acres from Rural Areas to R-1 Residential on U.S. 250 near Running Deer Drive for the project.
The Planning Commission voted 4-2 in July to recommend approval of the project.
Originally, the developers wanted a 200 unit proposal, but they reduced that to 160 units. The Planning Commission recommended denial of that proposal in July 2020 and the developer later deferred the request after a September public hearing with the Board of Supervisors. When the developers came back with a 130 unit proposal, the Planning Commission recommended denial again in November and the Board of Supervisors denied it in January.
Board Chair Ned Gallaway said density is necessary in the county’s Development Areas to avoid a strain in rural areas.
“As each one of these comes before us and we have to consider these upzonings and increases in density, if we don’t as a board think long and hard of what it’s doing for our complete vision, then I think that’s to our detriment of what we’re trying to achieve,” he said.
The future land use plan in the Village of Rivanna Master Plan, which is part of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, shows the area as Neighborhood Density Residential Low, which recommends fewer than two dwelling units per acre. But the future land use and transportation chapter says this area “will have the lowest density of this Development Area,” and shows one dwelling per acre.
In a 2019 work session, the Planning Commission supported county staff’s recommendation that one unit per acre would be appropriate on this site. The project has a gross density of approximately one unit per acre and a net density of approximately 1.4 units per acre.
The Comprehensive Plan is the county’s guiding document for its long-term vision for land use and resource protection, and includes master plans for the designated development areas of the county. County staff and the Board of Supervisors look to the plan as part of the rezoning process. It also has the county’s Growth Management Policy, which directs development into specific, identified areas while conserving the remainder of the county for rural use. The Village of Rivanna is one of those development areas.
The developer removed previous offers for the rezoning — that the developer would make signal timing and coordination improvements at certain U.S. 250 intersections; give the county $500,000 for transportation, transit or school capital projects; and build 20 affordable housing units or give the county $422,500 — from the project proposal. A proffer that Running Deer Drive would not be used for construction traffic was included.
According to the Virginia Department of Transportation, two road connections onto different roads are required for the development, and existing public roads take precedence over stub-outs, or planned future connections.
The Village of Rivanna Master Plan states that “future residential development should only be approved if and when transportation improvements to U.S. 250 have been made” and that “it is essential that all of the U.S. 250 improvements be constructed before new development occurs in the Village.”
Deputy County Attorney Andy Herrick has previously said that local governing bodies in Virginia do not have the authority to establish an “outright moratorium” on all zoning changes in a portion of a locality until highway improvements are made, but current and projected traffic can be a consideration in individual applications.
According to written comments from county Planning Manager Kevin McDermott, only one of the main recommended projects in the master plan — improvement of a bridge over the railroad at Louisa Road — is completed, but there is no additional space on the bridge to allow for road widening.
A diverging diamond, which eliminates traditional left turns that cross over oncoming traffic and shifts vehicles to the opposite side of the road, at the Interstate 64-U.S. 250 interchange is currently under construction, and four recommended projects are uncompleted.
At least one of the project recommended in the master plan — making U.S. 250 four lanes from the I-64 interchange to Milton Road and, possibly, Glenmore Way — was revised by county staff in the county’s transportation priorities list, and now is recommended as reconstructing U.S. 250 to include a reversible three-lane section from Sleepy Hollow Lane to Louisa Road
During the public hearing, three neighbors spoke out against the project, citing concerns about traffic on Running Deer Drive, the density of the proposal and the proposal’s compatibility with the area’s master plan.
“Breezy Hill is the first development application under the Master Plan,” said neighbor Neil Means. “It does not meet the Master Plan criteria. If you approve, you will be saying to the citizens of Albemarle that the master planning process is a sham, the Comprehensive Plan is a sham and the development area policy is a failure.”
The Village of Rivanna Master Plan and the Comprehensive Plan do in fact have different approaches to edge areas such as the Breezy Hill development.
In the Village of Rivanna master plan, it says developed land on the east side of Carroll Creek, where Breezy Hill was proposed, is “not expected to change in character, as it provides for a transition to the Rural Areas,” while the Comprehensive Plan states in multiple strategies to “promote use of Development Area land up to the boundary with the Rural Area. Do not require transitional areas between the Rural Area and Development Areas.”
“Because the Development Areas covers only 5% of the total county land area, it is expected to have a density similar to the city,” the Comprehensive Plan states. “Wise use of the Development Areas necessitates building up to the boundary with the Rural Area. However, development is not expected to transition from a dense Development Area through a large lot suburban zone into the Rural Area.”
In the appendix of the Comprehensive Plan, there are detailed descriptions of the county’s Neighborhood Model Principles. One principle is “clear boundaries with the Rural Area,” which goes on to say that “a ‘blended edge’ that is frequently associated with sprawl is discouraged,” and when the Development Area boundary is a street or road, the boundary may be unbuffered, especially along highly traveled roads, but can also be buffered to help screen development.
“The Development Areas are limited in area and use of this technique will reduce the net buildable area,” it says. “It may be used when surrounding residents are concerned about encroachment of the Development Area beyond its boundaries.”