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County planners approve controversial Rio Road development

A contentious development at the intersection of John Warner Parkway and Rio Road was recommended for approval by the Albemarle County Planning Commission Tuesday night.

Kotarides Developers, a Virginia Beach company under contract to develop the 27-acre site, is requesting a rezoning to go from the current R-4 zoning to Planned Residential Development.

The company is proposing a maximum of 328 apartments as well as public and private open space, which would be a net density of about 16 units per acre and a gross density of about 12 units per acre.

The commission voted 5-2 in support of the development, with Commissioners Bruce Dotson and Rick Randolph casting the dissenting votes.

Dotson said the proposed traffic solutions are inadequate, that the land use designation needs to be addressed and the developers contribution did not address several important impacts.

Commissioners encouraged the developers to make changes to the proposed design, and said they were still concerned with some of the proposal, such as timing the proposed road construction after a proposed Rio Road corridor study.

“If we always keep saying no, then we’re never going to get homes from these people that we need to have,” Commissioner Jennie More said.

More than 15 people spoke during public comment, including Mary Hood, who said her family has owned the property since the 1920s.

“When Greenbrier, Dunlora, Dunlora Forest, Belvedere, Pen Park were all in the development stage, no one from my family ever went to a meeting to complain about those developments and the impact that it would have on our lives,” she said. “We knew the need for housing in the Charlottesville area.”

Many people spoke against the project, concerned about traffic, road safety and the character of the area.

David Myers, who lives in Dunlora Forest, said he was worried about the adequacy of intersections and safety along Rio Road.

“I’m not here to object to growth, I fully expect that to happen,” he said. “It’s good for all of us, it creates new opportunities and an increased tax base for this county, but I am here to suggest we do it in a way that’s smart, that’s responsible with the character of our county and most importantly safe for residents.”

Those who spoke in favor of the proposal said the project could provide housing to people who work here but would otherwise have to live in surrounding counties and commute, and supported the proposed amenities on the site.

Josh Carp, who lives in the city, said he’s learned that many of the employees at his child’s daycare live outside Charlottesville and Albemarle.

“I want people who take care of my kid, your all’s kids, and take care of people who are older and sick to be paid well and to be able to live close enough to the work that they aren’t tired before they get there in the first place, and that, to me, means building products like this one,” he said. “It’s a mile and a half from my son’s day [care] here. Somebody who lived there could bike, walk, there’s a proffered bus stop, they could take the bus, so they wouldn’t even have to drive to work every day.”

If the land is built on by-right, or without approval from the Board of Supervisors, county staff said up to 109 dwelling units would be allowed, and a developer could build up to 163 units if the land were to be developed as a cluster development.

The developer also is proposing to make changes to two intersections on Rio Road East, adding a “Continuous Green T” at both Dunlora Drive and the full access entrance into Parkway Place, which would create protected left-turn acceleration lanes. If that wasn’t approved by the state, it would provide $750,000 toward road improvements.

According to a traffic study, the proposed development with the road changes will increase total intersection delay at the John Warner Parkway and Rio Road E. intersection by 6.3% from 53.7 to 57.1 seconds in the morning peak hours, compared to if the development wasn’t built. In the evening peak the delay would increase by 7.5% from 59.9 to 64.4 seconds.

The study also shows that the proposed road changes “greatly improve safety and operations” at the intersection of Dunlora Drive and Rio Road East, with up to 79% less delay in the morning peak hours and 65% less in the peak hours for the westbound left movements on to Rio Road E., even with the maximum 328 units proposed at Parkway Place.

The developer said the proposed road construction would start in 2023, and the buildings would start once that was complete in 2024.

The proposal includes about 50 units of affordable housing, which must be maintained as affordable rental units for 10 years for people at 80% of area median income. Current area median income for this area for a family is $89,400, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

A portion of the property is marked in the Master Plan for a neighborhood retail center, and the developer is proposing to make a trailhead, to include parking, with public access to the current trail along John Warner Parkway.

County staff did not recommend approval of the proposal, stating that the request does not provide a complete mix of uses consistent with a “Neighborhood Center,” which is recommended for part of this area in the Places29 Master Plan, and that the site is not located with a “Priority Area” in that plan.

Staff also cited a number of potential traffic issues as “not favorable factors,” such as delay times at some nearby intersections will be increased even with the proposed road improvements, a requested corridor study of Rio Road has not yet been funded and that other “problematic” intersections along Rio Road do not have final solutions or funding in place.

“It should be noted this is primarily a timing issue,” said county Senior Planner Cameron Langille “It’s not necessarily that these Green-T intersections won’t be identified as an appropriate solution, but we just can’t definitively say that that’s what should be done this time.”

None of the commissioners supported having commercial uses in the “neighborhood center.”

Originally, the developer was proposing 414 units, but lowered that to 328 units after a community meeting last year.

Residents of Dunlora, a subdivision containing mostly single-family detached homes, have submitted petitions against this and another project, and have called for a moratorium on rezonings and new development along Rio Road in the county.

In Albemarle’s Places29 Master Plan, which is part of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, the Parkway Place property is shown on the future land use map as mostly urban density residential, which recommends density of between six and 34 units per acre. The Master Plan was adopted in 2011, and the Community Advisory Committee that provides input over the area has asked 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.

The proposal is scheduled to go to the Board of Supervisors for public hearing on May 6.


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