Supervisors approved Rio Point project in late December
In one of their last actions of 2021, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors voted to approve a rezoning in the Rio District that will bring over 300 rental units to the county’s urban ring. The project had originally been developed by a Virginia Beach firm who opted to not continue with the review process after Supervisors appeared ready to deny the project on a tie-vote on June 3, 2020.
Local company Stony Point Design Build took over and have since purchased the 27-acre property. The company also built Dairy Central in Charlottesville. Stony Point Design Build renamed the project Rio Point but more or less kept the development, though they made a few changes. Cameron Langille is a planner with Albemarle County.
“To the northeast is the Dunlora subdivision, to the southeast is the Dunlora Forest neighborhood,” Langille said. “The property is bounded by the north by the John Warner Parkway and across John Warner Parkway is the CATEC site and to the east is actually land that’s within the city of Charlottesville’s municipal boundaries.”
Many of those neighbors have expressed concern about building more homes in that area, making the argument that the roads are already overburdened. The land has been zoned R-4 for many decades.
“Under that zoning they could be developed for residential purposes up to 109 units or if they did a bonus level cluster development they could get 163 units,” Langille said.
Doing so would likely mean all would be sold at market rate. That’s how Southern Development developed Dunlora Forest. The county’s Comprehensive Plan for many years has encouraged developers to seek rezoning to increase residential density in order to satisfy the county’s growth management policy.
“The developer is proposing 328 units maximum,” Langille said. “There is some open space areas that are also proposed. Overall it is about 13 total acres and 1.1 acres of that open space is located closest to the intersection of the John Warner Parkway and Rio Road East. This applicant is proposing to dedicate that to public use to establish a county park that will be connected to the existing greenway system.”
The new developer submitted a new traffic impact study that informed changes made to the vehicular entrances to the project and have dedicated other property along Rio Road to allow for tapered turn lanes. But Langille said the biggest change is the approval and funding of a roundabout at the intersection of John Warner Parkway and Rio Road.
“It would get rid of the signalized intersection that’s currently at John Warner Parkway and Rio Road East and it would be a roundabout that would allow the traffic flow to move in any of the direction that it currently does,” Langille said.
Stony Point Design Build would contribute $750,000 to the roundabout. Survey work is underway and Langille said its design will begin later this year. He added that Agnor-Hurt Elementary and Burley Middle School can both absorb students that would be generated by the development, but acknowledged that the project may contribute to existing overcrowding at Albemarle High School.
All but two of the ten speakers at the public hearing asked the Board to deny the application.
“In my opinion, doubling the allowable density for a development of this type which is built on a two-lane road which will always be a two-lane road and is surrounded by two lane roads in all directions is a little misguided,” said Lisa Drummond, a nearby resident. “The by-right with bonus still gets you within what’s in range of the master plan.”
However, Supervisors appeared to be in favor of the project to help achieve the county’s goal to create more housing units as identified in the Housing Albemarle plan.
“Without a doubt, the market is demanding rental and we need more rental which is what this provides,” said Supervisor Diantha McKeel.
Chris Henry, the president of Stony Point Development Group, said that his firm conducts market analysis before proceeding with its projects.
“Today the vacancy rate for apartments in Albemarle County is like one percent,” Henry said. “What’s considered a healthy vacancy rate in any market is something like five percent and I don’t think Charlottesville has had north of a five percent vacancy rate for a decade at least.”
Henry also claimed that 30,000 commuters travel into Charlottesville every day and providing more homes within the urban ring would reduce the overall vehicle miles traveled. He said a comparable project is Arden Place for rents. The affordable rents will be over $1,000 for a one bedroom unit versus about $1,400 for a market rate unit.
Supervisor Ned Gallaway noted that the proposal was submitted under Albemarle’s previous housing policies, which required 15 percent of housing units created under a rezoning to be affordable. Housing Albemarle moved that to 20 percent, though Supervisors have yet to approve an incentives package designed to help developers make that goal.
“Going it under the old policy allows an easy, quick efficiency to happen,” Gallaway said. “To aspire to the new Housing Albemarle plan would require something different. Was that considered?”
Henry said the project might have been able to make that 20 percent goal with additional density. The previous developer had originally requested more than 400 units, but that was reduced due to community engagement.
“There’s always the trade-off between more density and more affordability because obvious the project is supported by the revenue that’s being generated from those units,” Henry said. “If the revenue is lowered, we have to have more units to get to the same result. And so, from our perspective we considered it. If we had to meet the county’s new requirement that was enacted after this application was completed, we would have wanted to have significantly more units to offset.”
Supervisor Donna Price had been opposed to the rezoning went it was before the Board of Supervisors in June 2020 due to transportation concerns.
“I feel like we have a better application in front of us today than we did then and I appreciate the changes you have made,” Price said.
Gallaway, however, could not support the project because he said it was not quite ready because the second phase of a corridor study for Rio Road is not yet complete and because it does not meet the Housing Albemarle goals.
“I’m frustrated that this application has made it before us before that corridor study is done and I’m equally frustrated that some comments have been made that we’ve learned enough from the corridor study to be able to make some of those decisions,” Gallaway said.
The vote was 5-1 in favor of the rezoning. To learn more about the Rio Road Corridor Study, visit this website.
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