The Albemarle County Planning Commission had a long public hearing on June 14 on Greystar Development’s rezoning request for up to 525 units on about 35 acres on Old Ivy Road.
The five parcels of property are nearby University Village, Huntington Village, Ivy Gardens, and several office spaces mostly owned by the UVA Foundation.
“And then to the north of course is the Darden Business School at UVA, North Grounds including the law school and other nearby UVA destinations,” said Rebecca Ragsdale, a planning manager with the county.
There are three different zoning types across the property, with R-1, R-10, and R-15. The higher intensity zoning parcels have legally-binding conditions on them called proffers.
“And one of those proffers is that the R-15 properties are limited to R-1 density until transportation proffers are deemed satisfied by the Board of Supervisors,” Ragsdale said.
Some of the land had been owned by the Virginia Department of Transportation for usage for the now-defunct Western Bypass.
The Rivanna Trail runs through the site and portions of it will be rerouted as part of the development.
There are discrepancies between what county staff in terms of affordable housing and what the developer had offered. Ragsdale said the developer’s interpretation assumed that the R-15 properties are already rezoned and should not trigger the county’s policy. As such, they’re offering 14 of the units to be designated as affordable rentals. Staff disagrees.
But the major concerns related to transportation impacts.
Planning Manager Kevin McDermott said a traffic study commissioned by the developer found that intersections on the western end of Old Ivy Road particularly at the U.S. 250 interchange are already overburdened.
“Existing conditions at those are currently failing for many movements and poor all around,” McDermott said.
McDermott said the county and the Virginia Department of Transportation are working on potential options but the work is not complete.
“If they are determined as feasible, we would need to identify funding for that,” McDermott said.
The eastern end of Old Ivy Road has a narrow railroad underpass, which McDermott said was also being studied but nothing is shovel-ready.
McDermott also said the traffic study also showed that Old Ivy Residences would cause further delays. He said there have been some improvements to upgrade the road such as installation of curb and gutter and a thirty-foot road width. However, he said nothing has been done to realign the roadway at the underpass and there’s a partial sidewalk on the south side of Old Ivy Road.
Greystar argues development is consistent with comp plan
John Clarkson is the managing director of Greystar, which is based in Charleston, South Carolina.
“We think we have a project here that is very appropriate for what is defined by the zoning,” Clarkson said. “We intend to build a very thoughtful and well-designed project that meets the housing demand.”
Greystar hired the law firm Williams Mullen to help them through the land use process in Albemarle. Attorney Valerie Long said there have been enough improvements on Old Ivy Road since the proffer was adopted in the rezoning in 1985.
“Most significantly, the University’s construction of Leonard Sandridge Drive which obviously took a tremendous amount of traffic off of Old Ivy,” Long said. “Really the outstanding one is the railroad trestle. We certainly understand and agree that is a problem and we are comforted and encouraged by Mr. McDermott’s comments about how closely they are working with VDOT and the University representatives to address that issue.”
Long said Greystar will make contributions to a solution when it is identified. She said the issue before the county is whether to approve dense housing inside of the designated growth area where the units would be close to where people want to be.
There is currently no transit along Old Ivy Road, but Long said they would build a bus stop. They’re also asking for a reduction in the parking requirements.
Long also addressed the concern about the developer’s interpretation of the county’s housing policy. The Bivins that Long refers to is Commissioner Julian Bivins, who represents the Jack Jouett district where this development would be built.
“The land is zoned R-15, not all of it it, but the vast majority as Mr. Bivins indicated, about 27 acres, are zoned R-15,” Long said. “So we’re not asking for an increase in those parcels in terms of units.”
Rents would be between $1,850 and $3,600. Bivins suggested that Greystar offer more than just 14 units.
“Affordable units is not about poverty,” Bivins said. “Affordable units is about jobs and because our community morphing into more of a service industry, those jobs don’t pay as much as some of the other jobs used to be. So I think if this goes forward, when it goes forward, it would be a really strong signal that [you] really want to be responsive to the community if [you’re] not saying [you’re] only giving 14 units.”
Over two dozen people people spoke at the public hearing, most of them opposed. One of them was Joel Loving who lives in the Bel Air neighborhood.
“There’s no question that adding as many as 1,500 residents and a thousand vehicles to this small area will have a substantial impact on pedestrian and vehicular traffic, stormwater, the local school system, and I’m sure there’s plenty more that will be discussed this evening,” Loving said.
Elizabeth Kutchai recently moved into University Village after living in Charlottesville for decades. She said 525 units are too many.
“The University of Virginia has already erected many new buildings on Old Ivy Road,” Kutchai said. “They also own Ivy Gardens Apartments and have plans to redevelop that property, increasing its density by 150 percent.
- UVA making plans for Ivy Gardens redevelopment, June 9, 2021
- UVA committee briefed on new capital projects, June 4, 2022
Many other residents from University Village asked for the Commission to consider specific topics, such as a concern fire and rescue access would be limited.
“No fire department no matter how good they are is going to be able to cope with a fire in a development of this size when you have people packed in there like sardines,” said resident Daniel Avery.
One of the final speakers from University Village was Sally Thomas, who served 16 years on the Board of Supervisors. In 2001, She voted to adopt the Neighborhood Model District zoning to fulfill the Comprehensive Plan goal of compact development in the designated growth areas.
“This Old Ivy apartments complex is not what the county hoped for in smart growth,” Thomas said. “Why not? It’s certainly dense and within the growth area. But it’s also like too many other projects that seemed to be desirable developments. It overloads the present facilities and its interconnectivity just hasn’t quite been developed in a way that will work for both the residents and the neighborhood.”
Only three people spoke in-person at the public hearing in favor of the rezoning. One was the lawyer for the property owner who will sell it to Greystar. Another was John Matthews whose company produced a report for the development.
The other was Ivo Romenesko. He’s a Farmington resident who was also part of the Development Initiative Steering Committee which helped develop the Neighborhood Model.
“The clock is ticking on the growth area,” Romenesko said. “I think that the double digit percentages that are occurring with population in Albemarle and the Planning District put pressure on Albemarle County and I would like to see the growth area accommodate as much reasonably good, well-designed development as it can so that we can preserve the beautiful areas of Albemarle County as long as we can.”
In her rebuttal after the public hearing, Long acknowledged there is work to be done to increase connectivity for both pedestrians and motor vehicles. She said Greystar is offering funds toward improvements.
“Greystar is committed to continuing to negotiate with all of its neighbors,” Long said. “They want to improve the safety and the traffic issues and they’re continuing to make those contributions and as somebody said, make the connections. We’ve spent a lot of time talking to Mr. McDermott and VDOT and other folks. We’ve had our traffic engineer putting suggestions together, our civil engineer drawing plans, submitting them to various off-site owners with engineered plans for paths, for connections, for road improvements. We just can’t do it unilaterally.”
Commissioners had concerns
At-Large Commissioner Luis Carrazana likened the 1985 proffer restricting development until transportation improvements as a gate.
“That is a concept that I believe is very useful particularly as we consider amendments to our Comprehensive Plan,” Carrazana said.
Carrazana said the Commission hears again and again about overburdened roads and overcrowded schools. He also said he did not think the conditions of the proffer have been met.
“In terms of the failing road, and that road is not getting any better,” Carrazana said. “It is dangerous.”
Commissioner Karen Firehock said another constraint is the presence of the railroad, which has been owned by CSX for many years but will soon be owned by the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority. She said the underpass is hazardous after heavy rainfall.
“I have seen cars floating, very surprised UVA students in fact not realizing that wasn’t just a puddle and having cars being towed out and totaled because they were underwater,” Firehock said.
However, Firehock said she felt this was a good area to develop if the connections can be made.
Commissioner Corey Clayborne said he felt the density could be appropriate but traffic concerns are a show-stopper.
“I don’t believe that the transportation piece has been satisfied according to the Board’s stipulation on that,” Clayborne said. “That hasn’t been proven to me tonight.”
Clayborne said he did understand how the developers came up with the number 14 for affordable housing units.
“But nothing prevents you from doing above what the policy asks either and there’s just no way that I could vote for 525 units and… 14?” Clayborne said.
Bivins suggested that Greystar could get permission to connect to Leonard Sandridge Road, which leads out to eastbound U.S. 250.
“I don’t know you do that,” Bivins said. “You all are sophisticated enough and you all have the various buttons that you can push in that administration. I would encourage you do to that and I would particularly encourage you to do that before you meet with the Supervisors.”
Bivins made a motion to recommend denial of the rezoning, but Long approached and asked for a deferral so some of the issues could be worked out. The Planning Commission granted that and Firehock has the final word in this story.
“I will just say that I very much look forward to seeing how the applicant works on all of these things because I think we do believe that density in the urban ring is a good thing,” Firehock said.
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