During Housing Albemarle discussion, Supervisors briefed on 2020’s building boom

Let’s go back for a moment to the March 17, 2021 meeting of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors. Things are being built in the county. Here’s County Executive Jeffrey Richardson. 

“2020 was the greatest volume of building permits in over nine years,” Richardson said. “Just 9.7 percent of building permits were issued in the rural area. Over 90 percent of the building permits were issued in the development area.”  

According to the year-end building report for 2020, about a quarter of the units were single family detached, and the rest are a mixture of townhomes, multifamily and other forms of housing. 

In all, 1,143 certificates of occupancy were issued in Albemarle in 2020, with a similar ratio between development and rural areas. 

Supervisor Ann Mallek said in the mid 2000’s, the ratio was 50:50. She said there is a potential danger in over-development of the growth areas. 

“Because of all the work that’s been done for 30 years to have our development areas be places where people want to live and how important it is that we’re so careful about not messing that up, whether it is not addressing the shortcomings we have for infrastructure or making it so crowded that people don’t want to be there,” 

Supervisor Diantha McKeel said there are challenges in the development that have to be addressed. 

“We have to keep focused on getting the infrastructure built to handle all of these folks,” McKeel said. 

Albemarle’s year-end building report for 2020

Later in the evening, the Board of Supervisors had an update and public hearing on the county’s housing plan which has been under development since July 2019. It builds off of a housing study conducted by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission in March of that year. An updated draft of the Housing Albemarle was made available in the Supervisors’ packet. (March 17 draft)

“The report identified more than 10,000 renters and homeowners who are paying more than the recommended 30 percent of their incomes towards housing costs,” said Stacy Pethia, the county’s housing coordinator. “The proposed policy includes 12 policy objectives and 39 correspondending strategies and action steps.” 

These range from increasing the overall supply of housing to promoting mixed-income development in the designated growth areas. The plan also calls for the creation of an affordable housing trust fund.

Objective 6 of the housing plan calls for establishment of a Housing Trust Fund

Pethia did not go into details on March 17. 

At the very beginning of her presentation, Pethia said the item would be going back to the Planning Commission after the public hearing. Supervisors had the chance to ask questions before people spoke. Supervisor Liz Palmer drew attention to Objective 8, which calls reductions in regulatory barriers to affordable housing. One strategy would allow accessory external dwelling units in all of the county’s residential zoning districts.      

“Maybe I’m reading more into that then I should but does that mean that any place in the whole county can have a dwelling unit, an accessory dwelling unit?” Palmer asked.

“Yes, that is the intent behind that,” Pethia said. 

Pethia said an ordinance would be developed first that would set guidelines for such a program. 

Supervisor Diantha McKeel also had some concerns about the idea, especially in already established neighborhoods.

“To go back into older neighborhoods, retrofit for something they weren’t built for,” McKeel said. “These accessory units work perfectly in Belvedere. Belvedere was built for them.”

At the public hearing many speakers represented the group IMPACT, which is holding their annual Nehemiah event on March 25 to ask Supervisors to commit to affordable housing. One of them is Vicki Bravo. 

“Our interfaith group of 25 congregations representing 15,000 people,” Bravo said. “We congratulate you on your excellent housing policy and we look forward to celebrating its approval. We are pleased that the policy includes the creation of an affordable housing trust fund, the best practice around the country of creating affordable housing.

Following the public hearing, Supervisors had the change to make their comments. Supervisor Ann Mallek said she was concerned the way Objective 1 is phrased would open the door to changes in zoning the community would not support. 

Increase the supply of housing to meet the diverse housing needs of all current and future Albemarle County residents, that’s what it says,” Mallek said. “That is not possible. We need to take out the word ‘all’ and understand that we are going to do our very best to increase the supply to meet the needs of residents but I don’t want to see this used as an excuse to throw everything under the bus because it’s a completely unattainable objective.”

Mallek said many older neighborhoods cannot support additional density because they weren’t built for it. 

“The streets are ten feet wide,” Mallek said. “The right of way goes to the edge of the pavement. There is no place for sidewalks or bikes lanes or the extra traffic with doubling the units on that street.” 

Supervisor Donna Price said the county would have to come to some new conclusion if it wants to maintain the growth management policy that’s been in place since 1980. 

“If we want to maintain our policy of five percent development area and 95 percent rural area, that means we will have to fill in substantial density into the five percent that we’ve got,” Price said. “In order to do that, I believe we have to recognize that the historic suburban neighborhood model of detached single-family homes is insufficient to meet the current and future needs.”

Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley said Albemarle is in a dilemma because existing residents of the designated growth area are resisting additional homes.

“And people don’t want the density increased,” LaPisto-Kirtley said. “They don’t want the buildings to go higher. So that means eventually do we go out into the rural areas? We have to make a decision. It’s going to be a tough decision.”

LaPisto-Kirtley said she would prefer not to expand the development area but instead build more multifamily units and townhomes. 

Supervisor Ned Gallaway said he wanted more information about the details of how the trust fund would work, and was confident he would get them as the Plan works its way back through the Planning Commission.

“And we have an opportunity here to have some robust conversations around these specific things because it’s going back to the Planning Commission,” Gallaway said. 

The housing plan could go back before the Planning Commission as early as May.

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 March 25, 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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