Development of Rural Interstate Interchanges Put Off

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Albemarle County Supervisors declined a suggestion from Rivanna District Supervisor Ken Boyd to separate the matter of allowing development at Albemarle’s rural interchanges with Interstate 64 from consideration with other possible changes to the county’s comprehensive plan at a joint meeting with the Planning Commission Feb. 8. The action means the chance for development at the Yancey Mills interchange  will be forestalled at least a year while alterations to the county-wide blueprint controlling growth go through normal county planning procedures.

County spokeswoman Lee Catlin told the supervisors that a Target Industry Study being performed by Younger and Associates, a consulting company, has identified three general types of companies that the county should try to attract:  bioscience and medical device firms, business and financial services companies, and information technology and defense/security firms. The study is considered important baseline information for deciding where, or even if, to add light industrial zoning that might draw new companies and jobs to the county.

Catlin called the report “preliminary” and said the consultants will meet with supervisors in March. Catlin said Albemarle has “growth potential in light manufacturing for medical devices,” as well as “special momentum” with financial services companies, which are expected to grow as electronic payments become more common. She predicted that some out-sourced business operations will return to the United States. Because Albemarle is now the home of the National Ground Intelligence Center, services and manufacturers related to the military may be attracted to the area. “The intelligence community is seen as immune from defense cuts,” she said. She added that the report also suggests health care companies, retiree relocation, art and design companies and sports-related businesses as “complementary targets.” But the report’s advice does not get more specific than that.

“We need to eliminate obstacles and get out of the way of the private sector,” observed Boyd in reacting to her summary.

County planner Elaine Echols reminded supervisors that the revision of the Comprehensive Plan began last summer and changes are slated to be presented to the supervisors next January. The county has more land in Growth Areas zoned for residential and commercial uses than the plan currently recommends and less light industrial land than called for. Still, there are 3.1 million square feet of undeveloped light industrial zoning in the University of Virginia Research Park near Hollymead and another 300,000 square feet available at the University’s research park on Fontaine Avenue.

The southern side of Charlottesville that officially lies in the county has not been master planned, she noted, and the interchanges at Rt. 29 South, Fifth Street, Rt. 20 south and Rt. 250 east at Shadwell may have locations suitable for light industry. More detailed plans for those areas “are pretty critical” in the Comprehensive Plan, she said. Echols’s report on the interchanges purposely ignored recommendations for the four urban interchanges near Charlottesville because of their planning limbo.

At the time light that industrial development was suggested for the Yancey Mills interchange, and Crozet citizens opposed it by a three to one margin, county planners had suggested that the rural interstate interchanges might be developed in a “low impact” way that did not involve extending public water and sewer to them.

But public water availability was a top consideration in her analysis of interchange suitability. The interchange at Black Cat Road has no public water near it and is not considered a likely for development, she said. The south side of the Shadwell interchange has “a patchwork of zoning” and some a highway access issues, but it is near public water and sewer. The Ivy interchange also has no water and has some challenges from slopes. That left Yancey Mills, “which could be served by public water and sewer. It may have some difficulty meeting VDOT requirements,” she said. The Crozet Master Plan process, completed in 2010, decided not to add to the growth area, she noted.

Supervisor Rodney Thomas asked if the plan review could be sped up.

“It’s a lot to get done,” said planning director Wayne Cilimberg. “This is an aggressive schedule.” The Target Study remains an important piece of information, he said, as is the master plan for the southern neighborhoods, and he reminded the supervisors that property owners can still bring forward rezoning requests under existing zoning.

“It’s a massive plan,” said Boyd, who proposed that the interchanges and light industrial features of the plan be “pulled out and dealt with on a piecemeal basis. Why take so long?”

Planning Commissioner Mac Lafferty said “several studies say we have enough light industrial land to last us 20 years.”

“People who own it are not stepping forward,” answered Boyd. “So let’s go to the owners who will.”

“A piecemeal approach would be a huge, huge mistake,” said supervisor Dennis Rooker.

“The project at the [Yancey Mill] interchange was proposed six years ago and it’s languishing,” said Boyd.

“You said private companies should be doing it,” said Rooker. “There’s LI land at Fifth Street that’s not going forward because of economics. Those are business decisions.”

“We’re taking away property rights from people who want to develop,” answered Boyd. “I’d like Yancey Mills to go forward.” The acreage proposed there for industrial use is currently zoned rural.

Planning commissioner Tom Loach of Crozet said that development at Yancey Mills had been fairly aired out at public hearings during the master plan review. “It came before the planning Commission twice and was turned down. The Crozet Master Plan gave it due diligence and the people turned it down. We added 60,000 square feet of light industrial zoning in downtown Crozet. We did what the board asked us to. If the board is going against the will of the community, that’s a different matter.” He pointed to the data collected in the survey of the Crozet community done in 2009, responded to by 700 people, which showed solid public opposition to development at Yancey Mills.

“There’s a small group of activists in Crozet who get together,” said Boyd, which brought spontaneous laughter from a contingent of Crozet citizens who had come to watch the meeting.

“We need to know whose needs we are trying to provide for,” said Echols, referring back to the Target Study. “A distribution center and a biomedical facility are totally different things.”

Loach said that if the planning staff is going to make new recommendations about the interchanges, those should go to the local advisory councils—Crozet or Pantops—for their reaction.

“There’s plenty of opportunity for the advisory councils to participate,” said Boyd, looking at the end of the room where laughter had come from.

Rooker made a motion to keep the interchanges as part of the general review of the Comprehensive Plan and Samuel Miller Supervisor Duane Snow seconded it. The vote went 5 to 1.