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Albemarle supervisors weighs update to affordable housing policy

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors still has decisions to make regarding an update to its affordable housing policy.

The board on Wednesday evening heard additional updates about the draft policy, which the county has been working on since 2019.

Since a work session in December, definitions for minimum affordability period have been added; the number of approved units in the residential pipeline has been updated; and a new proposed strategy was added to direct county staff to explore options for supporting homeowners’ efforts to connect to public water and sewer systems.

The minimum affordability period for affordable owner-occupied units was defined as remaining affordable for at least 40 years, while the minimum affordable period for renter-occupied units would be 30 years.

Currently, the typical affordable period for renter-occupied units in Albemarle is 10 years for new developments.

The draft policy proposes that affordable housing would be for those with incomes no greater than 60% of area median income, adjusted for household size, for renters, and no greater than 80% AMI for homebuyers.

The current area household median income is $93,900.

A new category of workforce housing would be for households with incomes between 60% and 120% AMI for renters and between 80% and 120% AMI for buyers.

Stacy Pethia, the county’ principal planner for housing, said that once the policy is adopted, county staff will work to formalize an implementation plan for the policy, finalize a housing fund application process, establish a housing advisory committee and will then return to the Board of Supervisors for an update six months later.

The policy will go back to the Planning Commission for a public hearing at a later date before the board makes final decisions.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Ned Gallaway said he has heard the quality of life for people who currently live in Albemarle mentioned as a concern to housing growth, but noted that there are people who have been “tempted to live here now who haven’t been able to.”

“We do have to make some changes in that regard in order to allow them to do so, and that means tough decisions about density, and setbacks and all of these types of things,” he said. “We’ve got an opportunity to really get to it and have a good conversation.”

During a public hearing, community members encouraged the board to adopt an affordable housing trust fund; to extend or reduce the length of affordability periods for approved affordable and workforce housing; and to adopt regulations to make it easier for affordable housing to be built, among other things.

Some supervisors were concerned about an action step that would allow external accessory dwelling units in all residential zoning districts, which was under a strategy regarding removing identified barriers to affordable and workforce housing development.

Pethia said accessory units would not be added automatically.

“We would work with zoning and planning to craft that ordinance and, of course, bring it to you for work sessions to get your feedback to make sure that we are meeting your expectations,” she said.

Supervisor Liz Palmer said she was very concerned about the proposed ability to put accessory dwelling units in any residential zoning district.

“That seems like a blanket statement, that could create an awful lot of havoc and quality of life issues for the people who are already here,” she said.

Supervisor Diantha McKeel said many previous accessory units have gone to University of Virginia students.

“I’m just going to ask Stacy, what would you do to stop the students from taking over those accessory dwellings, because that’s what I see happening,” she said. “… They are not our teachers and our nurses and our police officers, or whomever.”

Pethia said Virginia Housing is interested in working with the county to create a pilot project to work with lower-income homeowners to create an accessory unit within their home or on their property where possible and provide that as affordable housing.

Supervisor Donna Price said she lived in an accessory unit for about a year in the Norfolk area.

“I’m actually a proponent of increasing the opportunities for those types of developments and I think it can be done in a fashion that will not destroy the neighborhoods as we know them,” she said.

Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said the word “all” needs to be taken out of the first objective in the policy, which says, “Increase the supply of housing to meet the diverse housing needs of all current and future Albemarle County residents.”

“That is not possible; we need to take out the word ‘all’ and understand that we are going to do our very best to increase the supply to meet the needs of residents,” she said. “But I don’t want this to be used as an excuse to throw everything under the bus because it’s a completely unattainable objective.”

Mallek said there’s been “ridicule of the local government’s objectives for open space and green spaces and how that’s interfering with the ability to put hundreds more units of housing on properties,” and that “low- and moderate-income residents have absolutely the same need and right to outdoor space as their more well-to-do neighbors.”

“Adding units on every lot does not ensure the affordability or that the housing will be occupied by people who need it,” Mallek said “So these are solutions that must be found in order for these bold ideas to work.”

Form-based code

The board on Wednesday night also deferred the adoption of an optional form-based code for the area around the intersection of Rio Road and U.S. 29 to give county staff time to better align it with the housing policy and figure out what to do if a property owner wanted to change zones.

Form-based code focuses on the look and density of buildings and streets in relation to one another and public spaces, instead of on separate land use designations. County staff began working on a form-based code for the area in 2019, after the county approved a small area plan for the area.

The code contains three character areas: core, flex and edge. Core would have the “highest intensity and most urban form of development,” while edge would have less intense uses and smaller buildings.

Only a portion of the Fashion Square mall property was included in the core area, and a property owner that was in the flex area wanted to be in the core area. County staff said a rezoning would be required to change a character area of a property.

“I just hear [zoning map amendments and zoning text amendments] to be described as a very complex process from a staff point of view whenever we want something to happen, and now we’re putting the same burden on applicants who have already made a request to have somebody described differently than just getting it acted on, and we’re putting that burden on them, and I’m concerned about it,” Mallek said.

County staff said they would return later with suggestions on how to make changes.


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