Last July, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors adopted a housing plan that seeks to increase the number of units guaranteed to be rented or sold below the market rate. Housing Albemarle was adopted without a system of incentives to developers to keep those prices lower than they otherwise would be. That came back to the Board on February 16.
Albemarle Housing Coordinator Stacy Pethia has suggested creation of an overlay district in the zoning code that would allow for reduced fees and other waivers in exchange for creating lower-priced units.
“We did engage with developers and we had four meetings with developers between June and October of last year,” Pethia said. “During the first two meetings, staff listened to developer concerns and discussed housing policy goals. Based on that feedback collected during those meetings and research into incentive programs implemented in localities within Virginia and across the country, staff developed a list of potential incentives that could be in a package.”
The overlay would be restricted to Albemarle’s development areas and would be optional, meaning developers would not have to participate. If they did, there would be the possibility of many ways their bottom line could be assisted.
“They would offer a bonus density, reduction in building permit fees, and flexibility in design and parking standards,” Pethia said.
The overlay would also allow developers to bypass the zoning process in some places if they build to the maximum density allowed in the Comprehensive Plan. At a minimum, twenty percent of units would need to be kept below market rate at levels identified in Housing Albemarle.
“And the number of affordable units to be required would be calculated prior to applying the density bonus,” Pethia said. “This would provide developers with additional market rate units to help offset the cost of making the affordable units available.
The incentive plan will also address a gap in Albemarle’s current policy by creating a waiting list of people who will qualify for below-market opportunities based on their income.
“It’s really difficult to market the affordable units to income-qualified households and that’s really an important issue,” Pethia said. “It has meant that many of our for-sale units in particular have turned market-rate without being purchased by income-qualified households.”
In public comments before the discussion, Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum wanted waivers for affordable housing projects to be mandatory rather than at the discretion of staff.
“The reality is that Albemarle’s fast diminishing development areas where the easiest parcels to develop have been developed,” Williamson said. “That means parcels left to develop will likely require a special use permit. While the policy anticipates this reality, the opportunity for staff denial is too great.”
Williamson also said he wanted more robust incentives such as expansion of the development area as well as the county paying the hook-up fees to the Albemarle County Service Authority for water and sewer.
“Considering the importance of affordable housing to the community, certainly providing $20,000 per affordable unit is not too much to ask,” Williamson said.
That would be expensive to the county. Pethia said the recent approval of Premier Circle, Rio Point, and RST Residences created 414 below-market units. If the developers were to be 100 percent reimbursed, that would cost the county $5.6 million.
Supervisors were asked if they supported the idea of an overlay. Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley said she did, but not want to expand past a certain area.
“I for one do not want to see development go into the rural areas and to keep development in the development area,” LaPisto-Kirtley said.
Supervisor Chair Donna Price (Scottsville District) said there will come a point in time when that boundary will be adjusted, but not yet.
“We’re already at the point where we have to fill in more, build up higher, or we have to expand the development areas so it’s important for community members to understand we have to look at ways to try and achieve all of our objectives which includes as long as possible limiting the amount of the development area,” Price said.
Price was also skeptical of reducing parking standards at this time.
“We do not have a comprehensive transportation system that can get everyone throughout the community wherever they need to do,” Price said.
Supervisors approved the Rio Point on 27 acres in late December which will see a total of 328 units in an apartment complex on land that is currently undeveloped. That’s in the Rio District which is represented by Supervisor Ned Gallaway. He had looked at the draft calculation for bonus density.
“So Rio Point, if I’m understanding the answer, would have allowed 1,300 units the way the math was done?” Gallaway asked Pethia.
“That is correct,” Pethia said.
That would be based on provisions in other programs that grant a 45 percent increase in density based on the gross density. The actual calculations will change as the incentive package is further tweaked.
Gallaway suggested having the overlay apply only in certain parts of the county, such as those already identified in small area plans such as the Rio Road plan. However, he added he is not opposed to any ideas at this point in the development of the incentives.
Supervisor Jim Andrews (Samuel Miller District) said he wanted staff to take a deeper look into the results that have happened in other communities that have created developer incentives.
“I would be really interested in hearing more about looking not only at what they’re doing but how successful they are at what they’re doing,” Andrews said. “Loudoun County’s proposals for example, their program I guess has been in place long enough to have a little bit of history. It looks to me like it’s having some success. Those are the ones we want to emulate if we can, if they work for our circumstances.”
Supervisor Ann Mallek (White Hall) said she needed more information and for detail.
“I am very concerned about an overlay that applies to every piece of direct because there is a great difference between the capability of one lot versus another to actually accomplish something and have a product where people would want to live,” Mallek said.
Staff will return to the board with more information at a later date but Supervisor Gallaway pointed out that the package’s adoption will take until after the one year anniversary of the adopting of Housing Albemarle.
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