Apr 14, 2021 • 20M

April 14, 2021: Albemarle Supervisors weigh in on Crozet Plan; Albemarle PC briefed on comp plan update

UVA tuition freeze; WaWa coming to Greenbrier/29; Johnson and Johnson vaccines paused in Virginia

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Sean Tubbs
Regular updates of what's happening in local and regional government in and around Charlottesville, Virginia from an award-winning journalist with nearly thirty years of experience.
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On today’s program: 

  • Albemarle’s Planning Commission gets an update on planning for the Comprehensive Plan

  • The Board of Supervisors takes up the land use chapter of the Crozet Master Plan

  • And a few brief headlines about UVA tuition, the Johnson and Johnson pause, and more

The state of Virginia will follow a directive from the Centers for Disease Control to pause the administration of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. That includes the Blue Ridge Health District.

“Currently, there are six known cases of this possible side effect out of 6.8 million doses administered,” reads an email the BRHD sent out yesterday evening. “Individuals in BRHD who were scheduled to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a partnering provider or pharmacy may reschedule their appointment for a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine provided by the Blue Ridge Health District.”

Follow this link if that includes you. Today, the percentage of Virginians fully vaccinated has climbed to 22.2 percent, and over 4.9 million doses have been administered. The number of cases continues to be steady with a seven-day average of 1,579. The Blue Ridge Health District reports another 61 cases and has now had an even 15,000 COVID cases with 213 deaths. 

Tuition for undergraduate study at the University of Virginia for the next academic year will remain the same as the current year, according to UVA Today and the Cavalier Daily.  President Jim Ryan told the Board of Visitors that UVA has lost a lot of revenues and had a lot of unexpected costs due to the pandemic that may total up to $140 million. 

“If there were ever a year not to raise undergraduate tuition it is also this year given the pandemic and the financial hardship facing a lot of our our students and their families,” Ryan said. 

Following the vote from the Board of Visitors, graduate tuition will increase by up to 6.4 percent and fees will increased by $114 in part to help support the cost of the new student wellness center. Room and board will increase by 2.3 percent and 2.7 percent respectively. 

You can watch the meeting on the Board of Visitors’ YouTube Channel

Plans have been filed to bring a WaWa convenience store at the intersection of U.S. 29 and Greenbrier Road in Albemarle County.  The existing zoning allows for this use but the project will need approval from the Architectural Review Board. That’s scheduled for May 17, 2021. WaWa now has two other stores in development in Albemarle County. One is in the northwest corner of U.S. 29 and Airport and the other is in the northeast corner of U.S. 250 and Stony Point Road.

Conceptual rendering of the structure and fuel canopy (Credit: RLA Technology Solutions)

Last night, the Albemarle Planning Commission got an update on the Comprehensive Plan. We’ll hear more about the Crozet Master Plan update in the next segment, but it is important to note that all master plans in Albemarle are subsets of the Comprehensive Plan. 

“As you all know, we do this kind of on a rolling basis in the county because our master plans are actually part of our Comprehensive Plan so every master plan update is a comp plan update,” said Rachel Falkenstein, a planning manager in the county. “We also do topic updates periodically. Our most recent one was the Biodiversity Action Plan and Housing Albemarle is working its way through the process right now.”  

We’ll hear more about the Comprehensive Plan update later. 

First, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors reviewed the draft land use chapter of an updated Crozet Master Plan at their meeting on April 7. The plan was first adopted in 2004 and last revised in 2010, and it is intended to guide development in one of Albemarle’s growth areas.  For background, read my account of a discussion of the plan at the March meeting of the Crozet Community Advisory Committee.  (watch the BOS discuss this item)

One of the new aspects of the plan is the creation of a new category in the Comprehensive Plan of “middle density residential” which would allow for more units closer to downtown in duplexes, bungalow courts, and other places to live with smaller footprints. Rachel Falkenstein is a planning manager with the county.

“The community wanted smaller housing types and not large apartments and we thought that there could be a new land use category that could accommodate those smaller housing types and have the appropriate density applied,” Falkenstein said. 

Falkenstein noted that the Crozet Community Advisory Committee took non-binding votes in November 2020 on staff’s proposed changes. 

“They voted against the majority of the proposed changes,” Falkenstein said. 

That included the middle residential density category. The Planning Commission, however, supported the idea but asked for the density to be reduced. The current draft was released in early March. Tori Kanellopoulos is another Albemarle planner.  (read the draft

“The major revision included a second draft of the middle density residential land use category which has been revised from the maximum recommended density of 24 units per acre up to 18 units per acre if missing middle housing types are provided,” Kanellopoulos said.

The staff report for the Board of Supervisors included a summary of public input, including a detailed list of non-binding votes the Crozet Community Advisory Committee took on the plan

Before the Board took up the plan, Falkenstein summarized the growth potential included in this update. 

“The draft plan does not add significant additional development potential on vacant properties or areas where we expect any significant redevelopment,” Falkenstein said. “We hope this plan is a reflection of the overall feedback we’ve heard throughout the master plan engagement process. A desire we’ve heard from the community to keep Crozet’s small-town identity and not to encourage significant growth but also to provide additional housing choices and affordability on areas where remaining development potential exists.”

Crozet is an unincorporated community within the White Hall Magisterial District, which is represented by Supervisor Ann Mallek. She explained why many were opposed to the middle density category. 

“One thing to point out that has been with the Crozet Master Plan all along has been their description of urban density was 6 to 12 [units per acre] so that threw us down a tunnel at the beginning because middle density seemed to be so much bigger,” Mallek said. She noted there was support from some CAC members for the revised definition and referred to a new development called Bamboo Grove that fits the description.

“Everybody is completely charmed by the idea of the Bamboo Grove small houses development and that’s really what people will want to see for infill,” Mallek said. 

A rendering of Bamboo Grove, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2020 (Credit: Chris Fuller)

Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley of the Rivanna District said she supported making it easier for developers to build more housing in the growth areas. 

“The more we reduce or have restrictions, especially in height perhaps in certain areas, how is that going to affect the areas for affordable housing?” LaPisto-Kirtley asked. “And it’s not just for Crozet. It’s in all the other districts. What are we going to do? It’s kind of like put up or shut up because everyone wants small, wonderful little cottages. We all want that. But that’s not realistic if we have an affordable housing plan and if we need to get affordable rentals, we have to go up at some point.” 

Supervisor Donna Price of the Scottsville District said she thought the plan should do more to encourage affordability through increased density. 

“I  understand that people may not be in favor of large apartment complexes,” Price said. “I totally understand that and I’m not necessarily pushing for that. Can you define for me what a bungalow consists of? I have a sense of what a tiny home is. I don’t necessarily see either of those being housing for families.” 

Falkenstein said bungalow courts could be two story buildings with 1,200 square feet.

“The defining feature of these is that they are situated around a common amenity space and either don’t have individual lots or very small individual lots lots,” Falkenstein said. “That helps with the affordability component.”

“Tiny Homes” are defined in the state building code as being 400 square feet or less. 

Supervisor Diantha McKeel of the Jack Jouett District agreed that the plan as written did not seem to encourage production of meaningful amounts of affordable housing.

“I just don’t think this is encouraging affordability and its setting us up to have one development area very different from other development areas,” McKeel said. 

McKeel was also concerned that the Crozet CAC took votes. County regulations do allow them, but McKeel said she didn’t think they had been.

‘I have been operating under the understanding and telling my CAC that they are providing input, advisory in nature, and we really are not supposed to be voting on issues,” McKeel said.    

Supervisor Ned Gallaway of the Rio District said he was also concerned about the appearance that the CAC’s votes are binding. He was particularly concerned that the account of the March 10 CAC meeting states that one member said the middle density issue had been decided.

“That third bullet point says ‘comment that MDR concept is already voted on and decided,’” Gallaway said. “The ‘and decided’ is what.. What is that? I get that they’re going to take votes but it’s always advisory… Just because you vote a certain way doesn’t mean staff will be required to follow.”

Gallaway said the conversation about affordable housing in Crozet is also happening in other development area where existing residents ask for moratoriums on any more new homes. 

“What do we do with growth? What do we with density? And what do we with the infrastructure that’s currently in place whether it supports it, or doesn’t support it?” Gallaway asked. “We’ve seen it play out 250 East with a recent application. It was the conversation around Parkway Place. It’s going to be the conversation about projects that come to us up 29 north.”

Mallek said the specific concern about additional density through the middle density residential category relates to a sense much of the community is already built out. 

“The reason there was concern about having higher density and having everyone of those houses have accessory units, for example, was ‘where is the traffic going to go’ and ‘how are these streets going to be able to handle doubling the population?’” Mallek said. 

Mallek acknowledged that there was one CAC member at the March 10 who insisted that the CAC’s vote should be binding. 

“There was one member who was very upset and he tried to make a motion and it didn’t get a second,” Mallek said. 

The Crozet Community Advisory Committee next meets this evening. 

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Now back to the overall Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive document was last updated in the summer of 2015, and Virginia’s state code states that Planning Commissions are to “prepare and recommend” a document to guide development

So far this year, Albemarle planning staff have taken a scope of work for a revision to the Board of Supervisors twice. When they presented a plan for a three-year process, Supervisors urged staff to speed up the process and to also work on the county’s zoning code. Until now, the Albemarle Planning Commission had not been presented with the plan but that changed on April 13, 2021. (watch the Planning Commission meeting)

Planning Manager Rachel Falkenstein explained Albemarle has made several changes in policy direction since 2015. These include the adoption of the first phase of a Climate Action Plan and adoption of the economic development policy known as Project Enable. 

“We’ve also developed a new office of the Office of Equity and Inclusion and a new community core value that focuses on the topics of equity, inclusion and diversity,” Falkenstein said. 

Falkenstein said there has been a lot of growth and demand for urban services.

“There are portions of our urban ring that are getting more urban and our service needs are changing because of that,” Falkenstein said. 

However, Falkenstein said any work on the plan would need to be prioritized due to limited resources. A major goal would be to update the zoning ordinance, which has not gone through a major review since 1980. 

“Ideally our zoning ordinance would match the Comprehensive Plan and we think this update could give us an opportunity to realign the zoning ordinance with our Comprehensive Plan,” Falkensein said. 

Staff had initially planned for a three-year and five-phase process to go through the Plan, particularly with an equity lens. The Board asked for the process to be sped up. 

“They kind of expressed some urgency with doing the zoning ordinance update work and didn’t want to see that work wait until we completed a three-year Comprehensive Plan update process,” Falkenstein said.

Staff went back to the drawing board. Under the new process, the plan would be updated gradually, piece by piece, in four phases organized by topic. 

“The comp plan phases would be sequenced so that related zoning work could happen parallel to the comp plan update,” Falkenstein said.

The first phase would have the title “capacity and growth.”

“So in the first one we would look at our introduction chapter, our vision chapter, and our growth management plan,” Falkenstein said. “We would do our capacity analysis. Our current comp plan tells us we should look at our capacity for growth for a 20 year horizon to make sure our development areas as they are now can accommodate the projected growth.” 

The Board of Supervisors will get the chance to respond again at their meeting on May 5. Commissioners had the chance to make comments. Karen Firehock said the county has to be prepared for continued growth. 

“We’re building a city around a city in the urban ring and we lack a lot of the traditional city planning tools that we need,” Firehock said. 

Commission Chair Julian Bivins said the update gives the county a chance to build off of the Project Enable plan to make Albemarle a place where businesses want to locate, especially businesses that might spin off from the University of Virginia.

“How do we look at big ways to be able to accommodate that and still stay true to who we are as both a rural and intellectually and economically evolving community?” Bivins asked. 

Several commissioners expressed the need for resources to cover the cost of additional staff to conduct the work. 

Jodie Filardo, Albemarle’s Director of Community Development, had good news on that score.

“In the budget that is going to the Board for approval on May 5, there is a set-aside of funding to support resourcing for the Comprehensive Plan work and the zoning re-do,” Filardo said. “So you are all on to something and fortunately the budget is prepped up ready go ready to support that, too.”    

Stay tuned.