The Albemarle County Planning Commission approved a request to rezone two parcels totaling 20 acres on Rt. 250 one-third of a mile west of the Clover Lawn shopping center from R1 to R6 at its May 10 meeting.
The vote for Adelaide, as the project is named, was 5-2, with White Hall District Commissioner Jennie More and Rio District Commissioner Mac Lafferty opposed. Lafferty is a former member of the Crozet Community Advisory Committee and More is its past chair. Lafferty is also More’s father.
Lafferty blasted the outcome in a letter to the Board of Supervisors the next day as the most appalling in his six years as a commissioner for its disregard of a ratified master plan.
At R1 the parcels’ greatest by-right density is about 28 units. The master plan calls for developments on the edges of the Growth Area to be less dense and a map in the plan shows the location as potentially three-to-six units per acre. The county does not have an official density category between R1 and R6, such as R3.
The project from developer Kyle Redinger has 80 units, 40 single-family detached houses and 40 townhouses and “villas.” Redinger reduced the number of units from 93 after a workshop session with the planning commission in February when the commission noted that the zoning called for “most” of the houses to be single-family detached. Nearby residents in the Cory Farm neighborhood and David Stoner, current CCAC chair, argued that “most” meant something like 60 to 80 percent, but on that day the commission determined that half means most. The project proposes to have 12 “affordable” units.
County planning staff gave the project a “favorable” evaluation, praising it for a 40- to 70-foot vegetation buffer along the highway and noting its only “unfavorable” as lacking a sidewalk connection to the shopping areas to the east, a cost likely to fall on county taxpayers someday.
County planning chief David Benish said that a traffic circle under study for the Radford Lane intersection with Rt. 250, which includes the entrance to the Harris Teeter supermarket, could alleviate some problems for pedestrians by giving them a “refuge” space.
Planner Elaine Echols explained to the commission that the 3 to 6 designation was meant to allow “flexibility.” The yes vote for the rezoning resulted in an effective density of 5.5 units per acre.
Joel DiNunzio, head of VDOT’s Charlottesville residency, said the state highway department has no plans for sidewalk improvements along the road.
Redinger thanked “the Crozet community for being helpful in getting to a better design” and said that the Crozet Growth Area is “well under its growth target.”
“We listened to everyone and threw out our original design and started with a blank slate,” he said. The project’s loop road design remained essentially unchanged.
He displayed Charlottesville projects of similar density that were approved by the city and called the highway buffer “unique.” The project will have “no significant traffic impact” on Rt. 250 he said, according to a study commissioned by the project. VDOT’s planning rule estimates that each single-family detached house generates 10 vehicle trips per day and uses a lower factor for townhouses, resulting in a daily traffic count of 720 trips in this case.
Redinger said the project is expected to add just 27 students to local schools and that his project has the virtue of “balancing densities” with parcels in eastern Crozet that went with by-right plans, which avoid rezoning processes and proffers, but resulted building in less than their maximum potential units.
More argued that the 2010 Crozet Master Plan revision was about pulling density away from Rt. 250 and stressed that the recommend density was 3 to 6, not necessarily 6. More said that at the time of the 2010 revision Crozet citizens were presented with a choice between a larger area of lower density and a smaller area with 3 to 6 density, neither optimal, and the public went for the smaller area.
Cory Farm resident Steve Wadsworth said his neighborhood is not against any development of the parcel but against the density proposed. He said residents already have a hard time getting on to Rt. 250 during the peak school travel times.
He noted that the eventual creation of “eastern avenue” which will connect Cory Farm to Park Ridge Drive and downtown Crozet promises to greatly increase traffic in that part of Rt. 250.
He described Adelaide’s impact as making the situation “doubly worse” and “a huge safety factor we are concerned with.”
CCAC member John Savage presented the commission with a resolution opposing the density sought that was passed by the CCAC after three meetings with Redinger.
“Even the revised density is too high and should be lowered,” Savage said. He said the CCAC had two primary concerns with the project, traffic safety on Rt. 250 and the density, which he cited page numbers and language in the Crozet Master Plan to document.
Cory Farm resident Kevin Rumsey said as he read the master plan, Adelaide’s original layout “in no way conforms with it.”
He said the proposed density does not conform with what Cory Farm residents thought was possible on the parcels. “I really disagree with the ‘favorable’ factors. I don’t think it’s consistent with the master plan. Cory Farm has no sidewalks. There is no way to walk to schools. Our points have not been refuted. They have been ignored. I notice Mr. Redinger has dropped his use of the term ‘urban’. He really wants to pack them in. I don’t think it’s appropriate.”
Another neighbor said, “I moved to [Cory Farm] for the privacy we have. This neighborhood is turning into something I didn’t think was envisioned for it. There are no sidewalks and highway speeds are too fast.
Recently retired planning commissioner Tom Loach said that the argument about “balancing density” perpetuates a myth about the population target for Crozet, which the original master plan in 2004 set at 12,500. He said that in each of Redinger’s three meetings with the CCAC Redinger presented “very little change in his plan.”
“Since 2003 we have had the principle of keeping development off Rt. 250,” Loach said. “Last week a proposal to extend water lines across the road was turned down. We have master plans for a good reason. If our documents are not good, what will you tell the [county advisory] committees about whether their master plans are worth the paper they’re written on?”
Morgan Butler, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center in Charlottesville, said a project must meet the goals of the plan and that more should be done to protect the status of Rt. 250 as an official state scenic highway. He called for a wider landscape buffer of 100 feet with no existing trees disturbed.
“I appreciate the comments from Crozet,” said Redinger in response. “We’ve responded to everything in some fashion. We’ve spent a lot of time with county planning staff.” He stressed the addition of affordable units to the market, saying “We’ve gone above and beyond comparable developments.”
When the time for action came, More made a motion to deny rezoning, citing page numbers in the Crozet Master Plan detailing the principle of keeping development off the highway and faulted the county planning staff’s report for “neglecting the language in the Crozet Master Plan.”
Planning staffer Megan Yaniglos answered, “We have a different interpretation.”
Echols said she thinks the landscape buffer addresses the issue of the highway’s scenic byway status.
More said the plan’s language “speaks to [Adelaide] coming in at the lower end of the density range.”
Commissioner Daphne Spain challenged the idea that that stretch of Rt. 250 might be more dangerous than other similar sections of the road and DiNunzio said that the highway’s design is a more important determinant of the speeds people travel at than the posted speed limits. He said that investigation showed that traffic is at the 85th percentile of speed, which is 45 mph. He said the road has 9,100 trips per day in that section.
More answered that highway speed was the “number one concern of the CCAC.”
Commissioner Mary Riley said, “The question is how to manage highway speeds, not to reduce the density of development.”
More also noted that other pending Crozet developments, such as The Vue and West Glen just west of downtown, are also offering affordable units and she called for an accounting of the units already offered and how many have been built. She said a county list showed that “Five out of ten affordable units” slated to be built in the county are in Crozet.
She made a motion to reject the rezoning on the basis that it was not compatible with the master plan, citing plan page numbers 7, 21 and 37. Lafferty seconded the motion.
Commissioner Bruce Dotson said, “All of us see the master plans as essential. What tends to happen is many pages and maps that are bound to have contradictions. I think a map is more concrete and specific than the text. . . . I think reasonable compromises have been made.”
More said, “A density at the low range would be compatible with the plan. I make my motion based on what’s before us.”
Lafferty said the past policy of the county and the plan has been to stress density in downtown Crozet and that to vote against the motion “is against the Crozet Master plan and the County’s Comprehensive Plan and sets a dangerous precedent and we set up a dangerous situation on Rt. 250.”
When the vote was called, the motion failed 2-5 and a responding motion to approve passed 5-2. Bruce Dotson, speaking for Aye voters, said neither safety concerns nor the master plan were not being overlooked in the project.
The Commission’s vote was discussed a week later at the CCAC meeting. More told the CCAC that the majority of the commissioners had felt “that a map designation in the plan trumps the language of the plan” and that they also judged “Adelaide as less dense and allowing for a transition.”
“The idea I wanted to get across is that we are not no-no-no to everything. We could support a plan that had a lower density.”
“If all developments are at the high end of their possible density range, what’s our population? “ asked CCAC member Dean Eliason. No one could predict the answer.
“Did our resolution get discussed?” asked Martin Violette.
“No,” said More.
“I don’t understand why we have ranges, if the range is always taken as the high end,” observed Mary Gallo, a veteran member who has been active in master plan development. She said it reminded her of the Old Trail rezoning, in which density was granted at the high end of the range.
White Hall Supervisor Ann Mallek suggested that the CCAC revise its resolution.
“It’s worth it. The supervisors still have an interpretation to make beyond the staff’s and the planning commission’s. We’ll have to pick up the ball and do it for ourselves. The advisory committee is appointed by the Board. We need to respect it.”
Savage agreed. “I think we should express ourselves to the Board.”
“Rt. 250 and Rt. 240 are Entrance Corridors [which require special treatment] and that needs to be stressed,” said Bill Schrader, a former CCAC member.
“We need to revise the resolution and be more persuasive,” said Mike Kunkel, a recent appointment to the committee.
“We do recognize the map,” asserted More.