Commission Approves Request for Road Over Powells’ Creek

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Detail from Southern Development’s plan (Click to view complete document as PDF)
Detail from Southern Development’s plan (Click to view complete document as PDF)

A request by Southern Development to build a road though critical slopes and across floodplain along Powells Creek to reach the Crozet Crossing neighborhood, an extension of Orchard Acres, and build 74 more houses there under the name West Glen was approved by a 3-1 bare-quorum vote of the Albemarle County Planning Commission June 21.  White Hall District Commissioner Jennie More recused herself from the decision when discussion was about to start, explaining that her house is near the neighborhood and that its value could be potentially affected by the outcome of the vote. Commissioners Tim Keller and Karen Firehock were absent.

Southern Development representative Charlie Armstrong said the object is to connect Orchard Drive to Cling Lane via a new road over the creek. Three, 8-foot-by-10-foot box culverts placed in the creek would allow it a flood rise of six feet and so remain nearly within management guidelines.

The 1990 special use permit granted to allow a stream crossing for Cling Lane to enable the development of the otherwise difficult-to-access land limited the number of allowable houses in Crozet Crossings to 30, rather than the 60 then asked for, until a second connection to Orchard Drive was found to answer fire/rescue services’ need for an alternative way in. The proposed plan opens the cul de sac of Cling Lane into a through street leading to Jarmans Gap Road.

Southern also asked for two conditions in the County’s “recommended action” to be lifted, which would have raised the density of new units above the R6 designation specified in the Crozet Master Plan and allowed lots to be within the 100-foot stream buffer zone. Southern’s unofficial site plan showed a density of about R10 with a mix of smaller single-family homes and townhouses. Armstrong said that the the company has a “private agreement with the land owner,” Piedmont Housing Alliance, to make 15 percent of the new units “affordable.”

Crozet resident Kim Connelly, a former Crozet Community Advisory Council member, spoke against the proposal. “We have these [steam protection] rules to protect the environment. Why should we take a chance and break the rules? I don’t see an advantage. I only see a detriment to the community.”

No representative of the CCAC was on hand to present its resolution opposed to the stream crossing. Crozet Crossings resident Robin Lueke asked for permission to read it to the commission and then was given time to make a personal plea to spare the established neighborhood, where children now play in the road without fear of traffic.

“This plan doesn’t increase connectivity,” observed commissioner Mac Lafferty. “It’s just the one road out from the new units back to Orchard Drive.” Cling Drive would connect to Orchard Drive at both its ends. “This is a deer travel way and bears move along the creek too. It doesn’t comply with the Crozet Master Plan [which does not envision a stream crossing], our Comprehensive Plan and our critical slopes [rules].”

Mary Jane Ritchie opposed the stream crossing for environmental reasons.
Mary Jane Ritchie opposed the stream crossing for environmental reasons.

County attorney Greg Kampner suggested another way to approach the development of the land would be to reopen the 1990 SUP and remove the Orchard Drive condition. “There are other ways to develop the property,” he said. Removing the condition would presumably permit the addition of 30 houses on Cling Lane with an alternative fire/rescue access from McComb Street, which connects to Blue Ridge Avenue and downtown.

The advantage of a new road to Southern is that it gives direct access to the new houses without having to pass through the existing neighborhoods, a sales advantage, and uses unbuildable land for the road rather than land that could otherwise contain houses.

Southern and The Vue, a 126-unit apartment complex planned for Blue Ridge Avenue, in an arrangement with the PHA redrew property boundary lines last fall, transferring the acres of floodplain formerly belonging to the Crozet Crossing parcel to join The Vue’s lot facing Blue Ridge Avenue. Exploiting county rules that allow unbuildable land to be factored into density calculation of a parcel’s actually buildable land, the line tinkering maximized the possible density of West Glen at 71 units, more than twice the unbuilt unit target of 1990, and raised The Vue from a roughly 70-unit project to 125, making its use of a R6 site effectively R18.

Southern Development affirmed to the county that it had exhausted possible access routes from the east, but adjoining property owner Mike Marshall disputed that Southern had raised any possibility. Marshall said he had suggested to Southern that a better road would connect at Jarmans Gap Road and proceed along the east side of the creek. Armstrong said The Vue rejected that possibility as unworkable for them.

Commissioners opposed the removal of the density and lot conditions but were undisturbed by the slicing of critical slopes or the fill of the floodplain for the road or the possible change in flood water behavior.

Lafferty called the plan “premature” and “against the Comp Plan and Master Plan.”

Commissioner Bruce Dotson said, “I think it’s a close call. The pros are just a little stronger. At the master plan level these roads [shown on maps] are broad brush. They just mean you need interconnections. They don’t get into a connection to Orchard Drive in that level of detail in developing the Master Plan.”

“This is a less-dense area,” countered Lafferty. “A great deal of thought was put into those densities.”

Dotson moved for approval with the conditions drafted by county planning staffers, and the vote carried 3-1, Lafferty opposed.

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