Albemarle County is in the early stages of a Comprehensive Plan review as well as an update of its zoning code. There will be many more stories about the crafting of those aspirational and regulatory documents, but this next one is about one of the largest development proposals to come through Albemarle in some time.
Last week, the Fifth and Avon Community Advisory Committee got a first look at Riverbend Development’s proposal for how to develop what’s known as the Sieg property. Riverbend has a rezoning application in for seven parcels of land totaling 145 acres.
“They are located on the south side of I-64 and on the northwest side of U.S. Route 29,” said Cameron Langille, a principal planner in Albemarle County’s Community Development Department. “It’s basically right next to the exit 118 interchange at  and I-64].”
That’s just within Albemarle’s growth area and part of the land is zoned for single-family residential use. The other part is zoned for highway commercial.
“These properties are located within the Southern and Western Neighborhoods Development Area and that’s the master plan that applies,” Langille said.
That section of the Comprehensive Plan calls for some of the land to be “Regional Mixed Use Center.”
“And that allows for residential units up to 34 units per acre,” Langille said. “It also calls for larger retail and service uses as well as offices.”
Some of the land is colored purple for industrial uses and some of the land is green for Parks and Green Systems.
“That land use designation applies to properties of land where there is sensitive environmental features so things like a stream buffer of steep slopes or a food plain and what the master plan says is that if a proposal comes forth to redevelop those pieces of land that those areas should basically be left undisturbed,” Langille said. “They could be incorporated into something like a greenway or open space.”
The rezoning request is for the Neighborhood Model District which calls for residential and non-residential uses. A fifth of the land rezoned must be in open space and the rules for the rest are drawn up unique to the site.
“Neighborhood Model Districts, if they are approved for a property, get what is called a Code of Development applied to them and a Code of Development is a specific set of development regulations that apply within that project alone.”
In this case, Riverbend Development has written up a 37-page Code of Development that seeks a range of a minimum of 500 residential units and a maximum of 1,365 as well as a range of 100,000 to 350,000 square feet of nonresidential uses. (read the current Code of Development)
Ashley Davies with Riverbend Development said the project’s location is ideal.
“When you’re on the property, you almost feel like you’re in the Shenandoah mountains but you’re really just right outside the city limits so it’s really a special place,” Davies said.
Davies said future residents would have close access to the future Hedgerow Park that the county will eventually program as well as other natural areas nearby including Ragged Mountain Natural Area. She said Riverbend might build an entranceway to unlock the 340 acres at Hedgerow, which was donated to the county by the late Jane Heyward.
One of the biggest impacts from the more intense use would be traffic. The U.S. 29 and Interstate 64 interchange is already a troubled one that has seen two fatal accidents this year. The Virginia Department of Transportation has recently added a limited-use traffic signal to control some of the turn movements, and Davies explained how this project would interface with what is now a four lane highway to Lynchburg.
“There are three access points to Route 29, two primary access points and then the existing Shepherds Hill Road would be just kept as an emergency access,” Davies said. “But the primary access point would be a new road. And then we’re currently studying on the new access point what makes the most sense for getting people out of the development and heading back to Charlottesville.”
Potential commercial uses could be fast casual restaurants as well as a brewery.
“And we have been working with Roger [Johnson] and his team in economic development on the office buildings that we’re proposing,” Davies said.
The number of units on the site as well as the exact amount of commercial space will depend on how well new transportation infrastructure might function. Potential solutions to assisting with left-hand turn movements out of the development include a restricted-crossing U-turn, conventional signals, and a continuous green-T intersection.
“This entire development is really governed by the traffic patterns and people being able to get in and out of the site so that’s going to be kind of the natural determinant of the mix of uses that you can actually achieve on the site plan but at the level of the rezoning, the idea is that you want to maintain a certain flexibility and that gets more and more specific as you work your way through the site plan process,” Davies said.
Several members of the Fifth and Avon Committee expressed concern about traffic impacts.
“Any sort of mixed-use development of this size needs probably three main sources of ingress and egress as opposed to one,” said Shawn Brydge. “The volume you’re going to have with 825 homes plus all the commercial uses is going to overwhelm one intersection coming in and out.”
Davies repeated that the exact number of units is not known yet. She said the Brookhill development south of Hollymead is one comparison of a project whose build-out depended on developing new intersections onto U.S. 29. At one point, more commercial uses were planned there.
“We definitely added more residential as we brought in the second part of the site so that did require we really dial down some of those higher intensity commercial uses because the access point just wouldn’t be able to handle it if you get beyond a certain level of development,” Davies said.
No dates have yet been set for public hearings with the Planning Commission or the Board of Supervisors. A review letter from staff was sent out on Wednesday that includes the following comments: (read the letter)
- Albemarle’s Housing Office wants to know how much Riverbend would pay for each unit required to be below-market under the county’s Housing Policy. Developers have the ability to pay a certain amount per unit rather than provide them on site, but Riverbend has not specified what will happen at this project.
- The county wants more information about how many new students the development would generate for public schools. The project is in the feeder pattern that includes Red Hill Elementary, Walton Middle, and Monticello High School.
- The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority wants more information about sewer capacity with the statement: “It doesn’t appear this parcel was initially planned for growth for RWSA must confirm that capacity is available.” The RWSA also wants details on how the project will tie into existing water and sewer lines.
- The Virginia Department of Transportation is concerned about proposed improvements at the intersection of Teel Road and Route 29.
- Staff wants to see Riverbend’s math on their claim that the Comprehensive Plan calls for a maximum of 3,104 units (see Table 7)
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