Jenn Slack is going back to the drawing board to find a new space for her early childhood center.
Our Neighborhood Child Development Center, which Slack owns, needs to find a new space before its lease on its current location on Ivy Road is up in August. Slack’s rezoning application for a new space at 1395 Stony Point Road was denied by the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday due to outstanding concerns about a parking lot in the floodplain.
“Closing I think is, and always has been, on the table when we lost the lease on this building,” she said in an interview. “…There’s a serious shortage of infant-toddler care, and I just don’t think we can do that to our families. Even if it means putting children into an environment that isn’t ideal, we’re going to make it the best we can.”
The board was tied 3-3, with Supervisors Bea LaPisto Kirtley, Donna Price and Ned Gallaway supporting the rezoning, while Supervisors Ann H. Mallek, Dinatha McKeel and Liz Palmer voted against the proposal. Tie votes cause motions to fail.
“If we’re going to do a rezoning we need something for that rezoning to improve the area and to do what is suggested in that master plan,” Palmer said.
The proposal was to rezone an almost 3.6 acre property across from the Riverside Village development from R-1 residential to C-1 commercial to allow for the child day center.
A child day center is permitted with a special-use permit in an R-1 residential zoning district, but Slack said the center needed the rezoning to get the loan.
“[The property] needs to be able to assess at the value that the owner is asking for it, plus all the costs that we’re putting into it, or the bank won’t lend us the money,” she said.
Slack said she also wanted to avoid the costs and spending time coming back before the board for potential changes to the property, which could happen with a special-use permit.
“When we talk about education being a zoning issue, this zoning issue being an education issue, we need to consider that we have priced out important essential services,” she said after the meeting.
County staff did not recommend the rezoning, citing the proposal for parking in the flood plain on the property.
“I believe it comes down to is a parking lot within a flood plain acceptable to this board,” Charles Rapp, the county’s director of planning, said near the end of the discussion.
The parking area currently exists, and neither the zoning ordinance or the water protection ordinance specifically prohibits parking within the floodplain, according to county staff.
“You have the encroachment of the parking area into a flood plain, which does not align with the Pantops Master Plan regarding the parks and green systems land uses,” Rapp said. “You also have several long range planning documents that we have that recommend protection of sensitive environmental features and critical resources. Flood plains and stream buffers are included in those as sensitive environmental features and critical resources.”
Slack said the lot is an existing impact that they proposed to mitigate.
“In addition to cleaning up the area and preserving the green space, we have proffered a 30-foot vegetative buffer to protect the stream not only by the parking area, but along the full length of our southern border,” she said.
About 38% of the current gravel lot would be removed to make way for the streambuffer, Slack said.
In Albemarle’s Pantops 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 residential density of between six and 34 units per acre, and other primary uses such as schools and child care. Commercial/retail and offices are listed as a secondary use.
The portion of the property that’s in the flood plain is labeled parks and green systems in the future land use map of the master plan.
The Pantops Master Plan was last updated in 2019. 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.
In February, the county planning commission voted 4-1 to recommend denial of the project.
A number of additional concerns that county staff and the Planning Commission had — including additional uses that would be permitted by the rezoning, setback requirements and potential traffic — were mitigated with proffers, according to a document included in the agenda.
More than 20 people spoke about the project during a public hearing on Wednesday, with a majority in favor of the rezoning.
Ben Lobo said he and his wife have been sending their children to the center for more than four years, and he wished that everyone could start their children off with the care his children have received.
“As a resident of Albemarle County, ONCDC is exactly what I would love to see more of in our county,” he said. “It’s a small business that will preserve green space. It enriches the lives of our youngest citizens of their families, and thereby the broader community, and it contributes to the economy by employing teachers at a living wage, paying taxes to the local economy and allowing more parents to enter and stay in the workforce.”
Karen Beach said her son attended the center for two years and that she hopes her daughter and other son will in the fall.
“Not only do they provide childcare, but they provide parenting support groups and parenting classes, which personally have made me a better parent,” she said. “I have repeatedly found myself falling back on the skills that I’ve learned from the teachers in our neighborhood during this very difficult time when we are stuck at home with our children.”
Savanna Robb said she was a parent and teacher at the center, and that they take the children outside every day where to learn about the elements through experience.
“I previously thought that our school should buy a retail space, but how can we raise young stewards of the environment if we are surrounded by concrete?,” she asked. “How can we raise children to love the earth and care for it if they are never given the chance to experience it with their hands and with their feet?”
Those against the project cited the potential uses that could exist in the future without legislative approval, possible traffic and the parking in the floodplain.
Sean Tubbs with Piedmont Environmental Council said that the county’s Comprehensive Plan “places a premium on protecting environmental features.”
“It’s the 21st century and we’re at a time when you are setting a high standard, and we have set a high standard, for what we want Albemarle to be,” Tubbs said. “That means making sure that any new development doesn’t treat natural resources and as an afterthought.”
After the meeting, Slack said she would continue to fight for early childhood education.
“I’m not planning to drop this, we’re not going anywhere,” she said. “We’re going to fight for the children’s rights and we’re going to do that wherever we end up, and the city and the county are not going to be able to ignore it.”