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Albemarle planners recommend approval of controversial Rio project

The Albemarle County Planning Commission on Tuesday narrowly recommended approval of a contentious project on Rio Road.

On almost two acres at 999 Rio Road, developer Nicole Scro is proposing a maximum of 28 residential units and 6,000 square feet of nonresidential space by changing the current R-4 zoning to Neighborhood Model District zoning.

The commissioners voted 4-3 to recommend approval of the rezoning.

Initially, Commissioner Bruce Dotson recommended denial, with new commissioners Corey Clayborne and Rick Randolph agreeing, citing issues with the commercial portion, parking, traffic safety and concerns with setbacks for the proposed townhouses.

Originally, Scro’s proposed rezoning included a maximum of 46 units and a maximum of 10,000 nonresidential square feet. The project was deferred after a September Board of Supervisors meeting, board members expressed concerns about the scale of the project and traffic, among other things. The Planning Commission had previously recommended approval.

“We appointed and elected officials have asked our staff to give us density in the development areas and they have done their darndest to do it,” said Commissioner Tim Keller.

Scro said the updated proposal would keep around 11 smaller houses on the back of the site. Near the front of the lot, along Belvedere Boulevard, she’s proposing five townhouses with accessory units, for a total of 10 units. The density would be between 6 units per acre and 15 units per acre.

The commercial building is now proposed to be a one-story building — down from three stories — along Rio Road. The uses of the commercial building would be restricted to offices, research and development or flex space, or a furniture store. All vehicle entrances would be on Belvedere Boulevard.

“If this were to be built by-right, you would have larger, expensive homes right up against the road.” Scro said. “I don’t think that’s something that the community or this board or commission wants, and I don’t think it’s good planning. So I think this rezoning affords the opportunity for better design.”

About six residents spoke against the project, citing possible traffic, the construction of The Center, the character of the area and that the commission should not base its decisions on a developer’s economic needs.

One Dunlora resident said she was initially against the project, but that she has changed her mind with Scro’s revisions of the number of units and the commercial space changes.

“This revised proposal is appropriately disruptive, yet respectful of the status quo in an attempt to address the county’s most critical need for affordable housing,” Kathie Hullfish said. “To my fellow neighbors who wish to leave the zoning as is, I ask you to consider the evolving needs of our county citizens and the need to compromise.”

Scro said she estimated the smaller houses would cost between $280,000 and $380,000. There are multiple homes for sale in nearby Dunlora for between $515,000 and $624,900 and in Belvedere between $389,042 and $748,000, according to the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors’ listings.

Kevin McDermott, a county transportation planner, said the county is considering applying for state funding for a restricted crossing U-turn, or an RCUT, for the intersection of Rio Road and Belvedere Boulevard.

In an RCUT, side street traffic that wants to turn left would turn right and travel to a median cut and dedicated turn lane to make a U-turn. Vehicles turning left from the main street onto the side street would have a dedicated left turn lane.

McDermott said if the RCUT funding was not approved, they would continue to monitor the intersection and look at possible changes.

In Albemarle’s Places29 Master Plan, which is part of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, the property is shown on the future land use map as Urban Density Residential, which recommends density of between six and 34 units per acre.

The Master Plan was last updated in 2011. The Places29-Rio CAC last year brought a resolution to the Board of Supervisors asking for the Master Plan to be updated.

The Comprehensive Plan is the county’s guiding document for its long-term vision for land use and resource protection, and includes master plans for the designated development areas of the county. County staff and the Board of Supervisors look to the Comprehensive Plan as part of the rezoning process.

Without approval from the Board of Supervisors, the property is allowed to have seven units and possibly as many as 11 units with a bonus factor, such as affordable housing

Commissioner Clayborne, who was appointed last week to represent the Rivanna District, said the story of the project and the images he was seeing were not connecting, and that it seemed forced.

Clayborne previously served as a planning commissioner in Charlottesville.

Randolph, who was appointed last week to represent the Scottsville District, said the county needs infill project policies and regulations.

Randolph was most recently the Scottsville District representative on the Board of Supervisors, and had previously served on the planning commission.

The proposed rezoning is tentatively scheduled for the Board of Supervisors’ March 4 meeting.

The commission also recommended approval of a special use permit for a 700 square-foot coffee shop at the intersection of Hunters Way and U.S. 250.

Early last year, the Board of Supervisors approved a change to zoning regulations for certain types of commercially zoned properties in the rural area. Now, owners who want to have eating establishments, fast-food restaurants, automobile service stations and convenience stores on those properties need a special-use permit if the property is not served by public water or a central water system.

Previously, county staff had considered water consumption for those four uses, which had been by-right on certain commercially zoned properties, which had become an issue as many by-right uses ultimately required a special-use permit because county staff found it difficult to prove water consumption.

The coffee shop would not have seating and would be attached to a proposed hardware store on the property, which does not need a special use permit. The coffee shop may have a drive-thru, which would need to meet other requirements and was not part of Tuesday’s review.

The coffee shop cannot exceed 700 gross square feet, cannot provide indoor seating and cannot provide public restrooms, if approved, as part of proposed conditions.

Mariah Gleason, a county senior planner, said part of the reason for those proposed conditions was keeping the water use down.

Some commissioners had traffic concerns, but Randolph said he thought the traffic to the coffee shop would likely limit itself by the location.

“I think there are constraints there that mitigate against some of the concerns that have been raised on traffic here,” he said.

The special use permit does not yet have a scheduled date to go before the Board of Supervisors.


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