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Forest Lakes-area development proposal scaled back, but some still concerned

After hearing concerns from Albemarle County Planning Commission members and residents, a developer has reduced the number of homes proposed on U.S. 29 near Forest Lakes.

RST Development is requesting a rezoning of the 19.51-acre property at the intersection of U.S. 29 and Ashwood Boulevard from R-1 Residential to Planned Residential Development and wants to build 254 apartments and 86 townhouses.

Originally, RST Development proposed a maximum of 370 units, but after a Planning Commission meeting in March, it is now proposing a maximum of 340 units.

“We really took the comments and input to heart that we have received from the community over the last year and a half since we’ve been working on the application, and particularly those comments that we heard at the Planning Commission,” said Valerie Long, an attorney with Williams Mullen who is representing RST Development.

During a Planning Commission meeting in March, where the project was deferred, commissioners questioned the amount of green space, transit stops and affordable housing. Neighbors from Forest Lakes came out strong against the proposal at the time, citing concerns about traffic, green space, schools, views and the environment.

The proposal includes five apartment buildings closer to the front of the development. The townhouses are proposed to be two-over-two units, with one two-story townhouse stacked atop another in the rear of the property.

Two of the five-story apartment buildings are now proposed to have stepbacks on the fifth floor, while the remaining three buildings are now proposed as four-story buildings, up from three stories in the previous proposal.

The application plan proffers 75% of the apartments as affordable rental units for 30 years. The qualification requirements will make the affordable units available to households earning between 30% and 80% of the area median income, and the average level for all of the affordable units in the project will be 60% of AMI, Long said.

Current household area median income is $93,700, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Eighty percent of AMI ranges from $52,500 for an individual to $74,950 for a family of four, while 30% of AMI ranges from $19,700 for an individual to $28,100 for a family of four.

Housing affordability is generally defined as no more than 30% of household income spent on housing costs, including monthly rent or mortgage payment plus any resident-paid utilities.

At 80% of AMI, affordable housing costs for a single person would be no more than $1,313 per month and no more than $1,874 per month for a family of four. At 30% AMI, housing affordable for an individual would cost no more than $493 per month, while for a family of four it would cost no more than $703.

Two rows of townhouses were removed from the back of the proposed development, and each of the remaining six rows now has a building stepback near its border with the adjacent townhomes on Ashland Drive. The reduced-height endcaps would be single three-story townhomes rather than stacked townhomes.

With the removal of some of the townhouses, more greenspace was added, including a 17,000-square-foot recreation area and a nearly 14,000-square-foot dog park. Other spaces that previously had been labeled as amenity or greenspace now include more specific sizes and uses.

In addition, three potential options for transit stops are proposed and more trees were added to the buffer along Ashwood Boulevard.

A special exception request to reduce stepbacks on some of the buildings is also part of the application. The county requires a minimum stepback of 15 feet for each story above the third story.

In Albemarle’s Places29 Master Plan, which is part of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, most of 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. A small portion of the property along U.S. 29 is designated as open space.

The updated proposal has a net density of about 18.3 units per acre and a gross density of 17.42 units per acre.

Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan includes a policy to focus development into development or growth areas, while maintaining the rest as rural areas. That results in about 95% of Albemarle kept as mostly rural land and 5% of the county for growth.

If the property is developed under the existing R-1 zoning, it could have approximately 30 units, if it received bonus factors.

At a community discussion during a Places 29 North Community Advisory Committee meeting last week, attendees asked questions about the affordable housing and gave feedback on the overall project.

“I still look at this, and I feel like if I were a neighbor, I feel like I’m trying to put eight pounds of potatoes in a five-pound bag,” said committee member Karen Gavrilovic. “We have the affordable housing issue, the design issue, those have come up … one part of me says, reduce the density on the back and let them go higher on the front and free up some more open space. But I don’t know that that’s doable. It’s like, why not let them do structured parking and really make that more of an urban frontage along [U.S.] 29, and allow some relief and more open space on the parcel as a whole?”

Committee member Sue Friedman said she was concerned about the affordable housing component, and said it didn’t seem that this project would help.

“Maybe we don’t care about me as an employee of Albemarle County or as an employee of [the University of Virginia] Health System being a patient access greeter — maybe that’s not the individual we care about when it comes to affordable housing,” she said. “I think it’s a big issue and it needs more attention.”

Friedman also questioned the height of the apartment buildings.

“I’m still concerned about the proposal to build five-story buildings,” she said. “I thought four stories was usually the limit.”

CAC member Tony Pagnucco noted that information provided by Stacy Pethia, the county’s principal planner for housing, showed that just half of affordable for-sale homes built in the past 10 years went to qualifying buyers, while all of the 255 affordable rental homes built during the last 10 years are occupied by income-qualified households.

“Now, no other developer has suggested that they would offer 75% of the apartments for affordable rentals,” he said. “Now, it just seems that if you are for affordable housing, if you are for those teachers and firefighters and whatever, when you know the track record that 100% [of rentals] in the past have gone for affordable housing, I think it’s something to consider.”

The project is scheduled to return to the Planning Commission at its June 15 meeting.


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