Village of Rivanna group debriefs after Breezy Hill rezoning

Albemarle County staff have begun work on the update of the Comprehensive Plan with a public kick-off expected sometime in January. A major aspect of the current plan is a growth management policy which designates specific areas for density. This plan was last updated in 2015 and since then Supervisors have adopted several other policies, such as the Housing Albemarle plan.

“To accommodate this growth, the County will need to add approximately 11,750 new units to our housing stock over the next 20 years,” reads Objective 1 of the plan, which was adopted by Supervisors in July. “The county must support the development of an additional 2,719 units to fully accommodate projected household growth through 2040.” 

One of the growth areas is the Village of Rivanna and their Community Advisory Committee met on November 8. Most of its members are not happy with the Board of Supervisors 4-2 vote in October for a rezoning from rural area to R-1 for an 80-unit single-family neighborhood called Breezy Hill. (staff report) (Village of Rivanna Master Plan) (watch the meeting)

Dennis Odinov is the group’s chair. 

“We all know how it turned out and we may be disappointed but what are lessons learned?” Odinov said. “Are there any lessons learned from this?” 

Members of the group thanked Supervisor Donna Price for her against the rezoning. Price was joined by Supervisor Ann Mallek. 

Southern Development had initially requested 200 units, but scaled back due to community opposition. The Village of Rivanna Master Plan designated the land as Neighborhood Density Residential, and a map describes that as up to three dwelling units per acre. Members of the CAC maintained the plan only allows one dwelling unit per acre. 

A map from the 2010 Village of Rivanna Master Plan appears to designate the land as having up to three units per acre. CAC members said that conflicts with text elsewhere in the plan. Breezy Hill is within the darker yellow area.

Neal Means said pressure from the group helped get the number to 80 but he does not have a positive view of Southern Development. 

“It just goes to show you that the developers really don’t care about the master plan at all and the arguments they made much later about it should be one unit per gross acre and not net, is just an argument,” Means said. “They’re going to try to get as much as they can any time they want, no matter what the master plan says.”

Gross density is a simple calculation of the number of units divided by the size of the land. Net density subtracts from the size of the land the square footage that would be used for infrastructure or open space. In the case of Breezy Hill, the gross density was 1 unit per acre, but the net density was 1.4 per acres. To Means, that means the system is broken. 

“I don’t think the county’s master planning process is functioning well,” Means said. “I think it’s dysfunctional and it needs to be revisited.” 

Ultimately, elected officials make their decisions based on interpretation of master plans. Odinov said the current version of the plan was not clear enough to state the wishes of the community. 

“We have no language in the master plan that says one unit per acre, net,” Odinov said “We don’t say it in the verbiage.” 

The master plan also states that no new developments should be approved until specific transportation projects are built on U.S. 250. However such a directive is not permissible under Virginia law. 

In Virginia, localities cannot specifically ask for infrastructure to be built in exchange for a rezoning, but developers can volunteer to pay for projects in something called a proffer. 

“I thought it was a slap in the face,” said Paula Pagonakis. “I took it as a slap in the face when the developer said he could not provide any proffers because he would not get enough profit out of the project. I don’t know how much impact that had on the vote by the Supervisors but I felt a bit insulted.”

In Charlottesville, Southern Development has agreed to contribute nearly $3 million upfront for the creation of a sidewalk on Stribling Avenue, a 170 units project on about 12 acres. If Council approves the rezoning, Southern Development will be paid back through the incremental revenue generated.

Supervisor Donna Price voted against the rezoning but said the community pressure to reduce Breezy Hill’s scope resulted in a more palatable project. 

“Did we achieve everything?” Price asked. “No. But we came out I think a whole better strategically than if it had been at 160 or 130.”

Price said she supported increased density in Crozet and voted for the 332-unit RST Residences near Forest Lakes. 

“Highly dense, but it is also right on a six-lane highway up there,” Price said. “I’ve tried to maintain a consistency of if you get to the periphery of development areas it should be less developed and as you move more toward the center of development it should be  more highly developed and more dense.” 

An update of the Village of Master Plan is not currently scheduled, according to county planner Tori Kanellopoulos. 

“It would need to be on the Community Development work program and we do have the Comprehensive Plan update that just started,” Kanellopoulos said. “That will take up a significant amount of resources.”

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 November 13, 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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