Is this the summer of 2022, or is it the Summer of AC44?
AC44 is the name Albemarle County has given for the review of its Comprehensive Plan. That’s a document Virginia requires all localities to adopt and review every five years. Albemarle last updated its plan in 2015 and work got underway earlier this year.
“We’re currently in phase one, plan for growth, where we are reviewing and evaluating the current growth management policy, using lenses of equity, climate action, and capacity projects,” said Tori Kannellopollous, a senior planner with Albemarle County.
At the end of this phase, staff and hired consultants will have developed a draft vision for “growth and resilience” on which new policy objectives will be written. The work so far has led to the development of seven growth management policies for the public to review.
“We are planning having in-person and virtual roundtables and online opportunities in step three,” Kannellopollous said.
The Commission will then review the work in September followed by a review by the Board of Supervisors.
Discussions about what changes might come in the rural area will come during phase two of the Comprehensive Plan Review.
Several Commissioners wanted to know if survey responses have done enough to capture a diversity of opinion.
“I did a deep dive on the last one that came out and when I look at the demographics, the demographics really trend white, upper class, middle-upper class, and extremely well-educated,” said Commission Julian Bivins. “What I’m nervous about is that those responses become the drivers for lots of decisions.”
Charles Rapp, the deputy director of the Community Development Department, said he expected participation to increase when the plan review gets into specifics.
“People are excited to get into the specific topics [and] into the details of this plan,” Rapp said. “At this point we’re still at such a high level trying to figure out which of those avenues we’re going to go down and which ideas we want to explore and what are those topics that we want to dive into.”
The Commission also got an update on the buildout analysis of the county’s existing capacity for new homes and businesses. The firm Kimley Horn has been hired to conduct that work. Kannellopollous had several preliminary observations.
“In mixed-use developments, the residential component tends to fill out first and the non-residential component may not build out until years later,” Kannellopollous said. “When factoring in site readiness and site-selection criteria, there appears to be sufficient capacity for commercial and retail uses but much less currently available for office and industrial uses.”
Another finding is that new developments are not being approved at the maximum possible, and that by-right developments also do not use all of the potential building space recommended in the existing Comprehensive Plan.
Seven growth management options
The firm EPR has been hired to help develop the growth management options.
“These were developed by the consultants and the staff after the first round of public input,” said Vlad Gavrilovic with EPR. “They’re not intended as picking one as the winner or the loser. They’re intended to initiate discussion.”
Let’s go through them. Here’s option one:
“Applying more density and more in-fill development within the existing development areas and retaining and enhancing green infrastructure,” Gavrilovic said. “Next option was looking in the development areas to adjust the densities and reduce the maximum densities to more closely align with what people have actually been building as.”
The third option would be to develop criteria for which the growth area might be adjusted.
“Looking at new criteria to identify when, where, and how growth areas should be expanded,” Gavrilovic said. “The next option was opportunities for non-residential development around the interchanges on I-64 to support job growth and economic development.”
Option five would explore the possibility of rural villages.
“Rural villages where you would promote small scale commercial and service uses to nearby rural area residents,” Gavrilovic said. “Number six was looking at current service provisions and seeing if adjustments are needed to ensure equitable distribution of services, particularly health and safety services.”
The final option is to “explore opportunities to promote forest retention and regenerative land uses in the Rural area that support climate action goals.”
So those are the seven scenarios. A second round of community engagement went out with these results.
“We heard that the three options that best support climate action were regenerative uses in the rural area, rural villages, and distribution of service provision,” Kannellopollous said. “The three options that best support equity were service provision, rural villages, and providing more density and infill in the development areas with green infrastructure.”
For the “accommodating growth” lens, the top three options were rural villages, non-residential development at Interstate interchanges, and service provision.
Commissioner Karen Firehock said she saw the provision of infrastructure to support development areas as an equity issue.
“People should be able to walk to a park or a trail or a healthy environment near to where they live and not have to get in the car and drive a really long way to find something green,” Firehock said.
Firehock said the county is expanding some services into the rural area, such as the Southern Convenience Center in Keene. She said that will make it easier for people to meet other environmental goals.
Commissioner Lonnie Murray lives in the rural area, and hopes the growth management strategy does not undo work to date.
“I think it’s important to have a concept of ‘do no harm’ in the rural area,” Murray said.
As an example, he said he wants the county to stop paving gravel roads in the rural area.
Bivins urged the Commission to look ahead to the next redistricting after the 2030 Census, when he said the urban areas will continue to have more of the county’s expected population.
“If we do not increase the development area, Samuel Miller [District] will end up in the near future as the largest land mass district in Albemarle County.” Bivins said “From an equity standpoint, one has to say ‘is that where we want to go as a county?’”
The Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service currently projects Albemarle’s population as increasing to 124,016 by 2030, up from 112,395 in the U.S. Census of 2020.
Commissioner Fred Missel said he wanted to know more information about how capital infrastructure works together to support development.
“How does the capital plan for infrastructure, how does that inform development and how are they linked together?” Missel asked. “Not to throw the [Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority] into the mix it’s just one that comes to mind. What is their capital plan and how does that support strategic density? How does it support sustainability?”
Missel’s day job is as director of design and development at the University of Virginia Foundation. The Foundation is pursuing a rezoning at its North Fork Discovery Park for a potential mixed-use residential complex.
- If you’d like to learn more about capital projects in Albemarle County, click here.
- If you’d like to learn more about the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority’s Capital Improvement Program, download it here.
Luis Carrazana’s day job is at the University of Virginia’s Office of the Architect. He said he wanted better metrics.
“And a lot of times we focus on the big picture but we lose that option to say ‘we know we’re going in the right direction if we’re achieving A, B, C, and D,” Carrazana said. “So I would encourage everyone to think about that as well.”
Planning Commissioner Corey Clayborne said density in the right place can help the county achieve certain goals, but he also acknowledged a tension with those who have pushed back.
“That’s something we kind of have to wrestle to the ground and I’m not sure if that would be part of the final deliverable here as much as, is there an education sense in this process with the community as we step through this?” Clayborne asked. “Does that mean there are graphics or visuals? I’m not sure what that answer is yet but addressing it… if we can get our arms around and embrace strategic density, I think if you start talking about design importance, that could be a major key to affordable housing.”
Commissioner Dan Bailey said one piece of data is experience that comes from what’s been approved and what’s actually been built.
“I live in Belvedere and it has a concept that’s been there for nearly ten years of having centers in the community, but it’s been vacant for ten years,” Bailey said. “And we’ve done a lot of approving these novel neighborhood model density and other things where they should have this retail or office building. I would really love to know how many of them have actually been developed.”
The next step will be a series of public engagement on the themes as well as the growth management options. Stay tuned.
If you’re interested in this topic, invest an hour in the conversation to inform how you might participate.
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