Albemarle PC recommends form-based code overlay for Rio Road / 29 area

On Tuesday, the Albemarle Planning Commission held a public hearing on a new zoning overlay district created by staff for the area around the intersection of U.S. 29 and Rio Road. The idea is to encourage the redevelopment of single-story shopping centers into a more urban form. The form-based code would be optional and would allow for more square feet in a structure. Rachel Falkenstein is a planning manager with the county. 

“The application process for development under form-based code would look pretty similar to a by-right development process that we have today with a couple of small tweaks,” Falkenstein said. “The first is that we are requiring a pre-application meeting for applications under the form based code where we could discuss topics with the applicant such as the location of streets and civic spaces and any unique site characteristics.”

Some Commissioners wanted the code to have more incentives in place to encourage property owners to actually take advantage of it. 

“Without those incentives being identified and clarified, what motivation is there for the private sector given that the form-based code is optional?” asked Commissioner Rick Randolph, who served on the Board of Supervisors from 2016 to 2019. 

Commissioner Karen Firehock also encouraged staff to work on creating incentives. She also thought the code should not require or prioritize that roofs be pitched. 

“We don’t want everything to look the same and the main point I want to make is that flat roofs allow us to have green roofs,” Firehock said. “There are many green roofs that are designed with benches and gardens and even places to have a picnic lunch.”

Commissioner Jennie More represents the White Hall District which includes Crozet. She said there could be an opportunity for this area to absorb more residential population through redevelopment.

“I guess I’m just putting this out there as you move through this process is, are we asking enough from this area that is so much different from downtown Crozet?” More asked.

That could mean higher buildings, which have been opposed by some nearby residents in the plan’s development. Commissioner Tim Keller would support taller buildings.

“I understand the heights were lowered because of community involvement earlier on, but I do think that this is a place with the combination of its proximity to the University of Virginia and the city center and its location where it is in an area that is seeing such major redevelopment that incentives that would allow higher structures and maybe that’s part of the answer,” Keller said. 

Commission Chair Julian Bivens said he thought the project would be more prone to failure if the county cannot make sizable investments in the infrastructure needed for an urban area. 

“If our Supervisors really want that intersection to take off, then we’re going to have to figure out a way to sort of come in there and put some things in place and perhaps become serious partners with some of the landowners,” Bivens said. 

The Commission voted to unanimously to recommend approval of the form-based code and it will go next to the Board of Supervisors. 


Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the February 18, 2021 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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