Albemarle Planning Commission recommends denial of Old Ivy Residences project

The Albemarle County Planning has recommended that the Board of Supervisors deny a rezoning for development of a rental housing complex with 525 units on Old Ivy Road after several members said they did not have enough information about details about transportation improvements that are being planned but not yet released to the public. 

The motion to deny came after most members said they supported the project otherwise.

“Hopefully our Supervisors will have seen that we wrestled hard with this and that we liked the development,” said Commissioner Julian Bivins. “But we are also trying to figure out how to get the various infrastructure in place.” 

This is the second time the Planning Commission has seen the proposal. The first was in June when the developer asked for a deferral after a long conversation about transportation impacts. (Greystar asks for more time on Old Ivy Residences rezoning after Planning Commission public hearing, June 23, 2022) 

Location map for the Old Ivy Residences project

The planner working for Albemarle County is Cameron Langille.  He described the location of the five properties that make up the project. 

“To the west is the U.S. Route 250 and U.S. Route 29 bypass,” Langille said. “To the south is Old Ivy Road. To the north is some land that’s actually owned by [the University of Virginia]. To the east there are some existing residential developments and that includes University Village and Huntington Village.” 

The Darden School of Business and the School of Law are to the northeast of the site. 

Some sections of the properties are designated as Urban Density Residential in the Future Land Use Map and others are designated as Parks and Green Systems. 

“Basically they want to rezone all of these parcels to R-15 so that a total of 525 dwelling units could be built on site,” Langille said.

The development would be a mix of different types of housing from townhouses to apartment complexes. Greystar is proposing to guarantee 15 percent of the total units will be rented to households with incomes below 80 percent of the area median income, a change since the first proposal. That would last for a period of ten years. 

“That’s the county policy now,” said Valerie Long, an attorney with the firm Williams Mullen representing Greystar. “Eighty percent AMI for ten years.” 

Long said she is aware the county is working on the details of a new policy to require longer terms at deeper levels of affordability. 

As for transportation, Greystar has proposed a transit stop on Old Ivy Road, new turn lanes into the development, a multiuse path along Old Ivy Road, and they’ve agreed to pay a portion of infrastructure improvements off-site up to $750,000. 

The area already has issues according to a traffic study conducted for the rezoning.

“The existing conditions that were identified show that there are failing movements during the morning and afternoon peak hours,” said Kevin McDermott, a planning manager for Albemarle who specializes in transportation. “There’s also a lack of pedestrian and bicycle connectivity in the corridor.” 

One of the requests in the rezoning is to have a proffer associated with the 1985 proffer waived. At the time, the landowners agreed to restrict further development until the county was satisfied that enough transportation infrastructure was in place. 

“That wasn’t specified to what would meet that criteria,” McDermott said. 

The applicants put together a list of road improvements that have been built since 1985. (read the document)

Some sidewalks in the area have been constructed since 1985, but problems still exist such as the one-lane railroad underpass at the eastern end of Old Ivy. Road  McDermott said the Virginia Department of Transportation has reviewed potential solutions and concepts have been shared with the county, the city, and the University. 

“They are still finalizing that study and it will be  made publicly available but based on what we have seen, staff and VDOT believe that there are immediately implementable solutions to address those poor operational issues at the western end of the corridor,” McDermott said. 

McDermott added VDOT has identified funding for those projects as well.  He said there are no immediate solutions to address the underpass.

“But we are still digging into some options over there for a way to get pedestrians under that railroad,” McDermott said. 

Overall, staff changed their recommendation to one of approval.

John Clarkson with Greystar Development represented the company and said the new application reflects previous concerns about affordable housing and transportation made in June. 

“We want to be good neighbors and participants within the community and we feel like we’ve made a lot of changes working with staff to meet those requests that you all made for us at that meeting,” Clarkson said. 

Long said the amount of funding for transportation has also been increased since the summer. 

“We increased the cash proffer for transportation,” Long said. “It’s a total of $1.25 million. We’ve drafted the proffer to be very flexible.” 

Before we get to the public hearing, it’s important to note that the University of Virginia has long-term plans to develop Ivy Garden, a 20th century apartment complex that will be replaced with more housing and non-residential space. (UVA making plans for Ivy Garden redevelopment, June 9, 2021)

Conceptual plan for the Old Ivy Residences project. View the larger plan here. (Credit: Timmon Group)

Public hearing

Several dozen person spoke at the public hearing, mostly in opposition. One resident of University Village said the transportation impacts would still be too much. 

“You know that it takes a no vote on your part to nudge Greystar toward making some improvement in their project,” said Bill Sherman. 

“I am not against development, be it student or private housing, but I do oppose any consideration that would increase the traffic on Old Ivy and put everyone, especially our pedestrians, at greater risk,” said Elizabeth Vinton, a retired pediatrician who now lives at University Village. 

Another University Village resident, Lyle Hallowell, said he was concerned that some of the information about transportation including a new traffic study had not been made available to the public before the meeting

“One thing I’ve heard is that there was new data collected and I’m happy to hear that as I’m a bit of a data person,” Hallowell said. “I’m a little sad that it wasn’t widely shared with everybody so we learned a lot about who counts and who doesn’t tonight.”

Hallowell also said he would have liked to have known more about why staff felt comfortable switching their recommendation based on information not yet available to the public. He said residents already on Old Ivy Road should also be considered stakeholders. 

“We heard that were good plans here and in those good plans, shared with the stakeholders, that there’s great promise for this road, shared with the stakeholders. In New York, where I came from two years ago, we say, ‘what am I, chopped liver?’ 

Not all of the public comment was against the project. Will Sanford lives in the Rivanna District.

“This property contains one of the longest privately-owned parts of the Rivanna Trail connecting Leonard Sandridge Road to Old Ivy Road,” Sanford said. “I’d like to thank the current owner for letting the public use this trail on the property for more than 20 years. Greystar has been proactive in reaching out to the Rivanna Trail Foundation and the Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club and after working with board members at both organizations, Greystar has illustrated the approximate location of the trail on the concept plan and are willing to proffer a permanent solution for the trail as part of their site plan.”

Other speakers supported the project because they said it would bring new housing options to the area that needs them. One of them is Ivo Romenesko, who served in the early 2000’s on an Albemarle County committee that recommended the creation of the Neighborhood Model District in zoning. 

“Predictability of land use was critical to approval of the Neighborhood Model principles over 20 years ago,” Romenesko said. “That was for neighbors and for landowners. Today urban areas are responding to density change, but not fast enough for the population growth.”

Romenesko said Old Ivy Residences satisfies the Comprehensive Plan by putting new homes exactly where it was recommended. He reminded the Planning Commission that the reason it’s not been developed yet is because VDOT planned to use some of the land for an intersection for the Western Bypass, a project long planned and now defunct.

In her rebuttal after the public comment, Valerie Long acknowledged the project would impact a congested road but said Greystar would be part of the eventual solution by providing a multi use path and other infrastructure.

“Denying this application and preventing it from being developed will not solve those safety problems or those congestion issues,” Long said. 

Long added that this project has jump-started a look at the existing issues. 

“Once we submitted our application, people started looking at, VDOT hired a consultant, they’ve continued to look at it,” Long said. “There have been lots of discussions with the University, VDOT, Mr. McDermott, and others about how to address it. The University is highly interested in pedestrian issues under the bridge. For all the same reasons that everyone else is.” 

Then it was time for the Commissioners to weigh in. Lonnie Murray went first.

“I do feel very uncomfortable that we heard that there are proposed traffic solutions but we don’t know what they are and so we can’t really evaluate whether they would be effective or not because we don’t have them in front of us,” Murray said. 

Commission Chair Karen Firehock agreed with the sentiment .

“I have to weigh evidence that I have before me in terms of whether solutions are viable and I don’t have enough detail on what it is that VDOT has proposed or what it is thinking of,” Firehock said. 

Commissioner Corey Clayborne said he could support the project. He said a by-right project would also impact transportation, but that would not come with anything from the developer to address issues. He said he trusted staff if they say there is a solution. 

Commissioner Julian Bivins said he had to honor the condition for the 1985 rezoning that limits development. 

“The Supervisors put a conditioned precedent on development there whether or not I like it or don’t like it,” Bivins said. “They are the ones who get elected. We get appointed.” 

Bivins also said the University of Virginia needed to step up to be part of the solution to fix the railroad underpass. 

Commissioner Luis Carrazana also said it was difficult to have a position if the infrastructure would be sufficient. But he said much had improved since June.

“There has been several areas that has improved,” Carrazana said. “However, we don’t have the infrastructure. Maybe it’s on the way. Maybe the plans are there and if this goes to the Board of Supervisors, they can  evaluate if they believe it’s substantial enough.” 

Carrazana also urged neighbors to come to the table to do their part to create a safer transportation network.

“If everyone keeps trying to work together, we can actually make this happen,” Carrazana said.

Valerie Long was offered one more opportunity to answer questions, most of them about transportation. She said she hoped the Commission would take McDermott at his word that the VDOT study will show solutions that will address issues on the western end.

“I think we need to trust the experts,” Long said. 

Long also said the Timmons Group has produced documents to share with the University about ways to address the eastern end of Old Ivy Road. 

“The biggest problem with that bridge, and obviously the drainage is a significant issue that needs to be fixed, it’s the alignment of the road under the bridge,” Long said. “It doesn’t go perpendicular under the bridge. It comes in at an angle.” 

After that, Bivins made a motion to deny the rezoning. The vote was 5 to 2 with Commissioners Clayborne and Missell voting no. However, the Commission did vote unanimously to recommend approval of changing the classification of slopes from preserved to managed. 

The VDOT study may be available for the public by the time the project gets to the Board of Supervisors. 

“They may hopefully be in possession of the VDOT study by that time and can perhaps miraculously UVA could come forward and be more communicative about their willingness to engage in and help make some of these connections,” Firehock said.

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the December 2, 2022 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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