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Neighbors worry about traffic, smell with proposed southern Albemarle convenience center

A proposed trash and recycling station in Keene has some neighbors crying foul.

Albemarle County wants to use county-owned land along Esmont Road near its intersection with Route 20 for the project, called the Southern Albemarle Convenience Center, where community members could dispose of trash and recyclables for a fee. Currently, some residences may be eligible for private trash pick-up now, but it could be costly, while others may not be eligible due to their driveway length.

But neighbors in the rural area worry about the smell, noise and possible traffic from the center.

“Nearly every person in southern Albemarle drives to Charlottesville at some time for work, shopping, medical care, gas, business, pleasure, whatever — they drive through Mill Creek, they can drop off their garbage while they’re doing other stuff,” said Barbara West, who lives next to the proposed site, during a community meeting last week.

Albemarle has been discussing the construction of a trash and recycling convenience center or transfer station in the southern part of the county since the late 1980s, when the former Keene Landfill, about two miles south of this site, was nearing capacity.

The county considered this area again in 2013 when the Board of Supervisors voted to end its contract with Rivanna Solid Waste Authority for the trash and recycling transfer station in Ivy and instead hire a private contractor to run convenience centers. In addition to this site in Keene, another site near Mill Creek Drive by the Monticello fire rescue station was also considered.

Ultimately, the board decided to extend the contract for Ivy, and later to construct a new transfer station on site, which was completed in 2018.

A committee was established to study solid waste management in the county, and it released a report in 2015 with recommendations for sustainable materials management for the county.

“One of the things that we found out in this management plan was that we have a lot of people in the rural areas that can’t get this curbside service for either price or [because] they live down a long driveway,” said Supervisor Liz Palmer. “So for all those reasons of equity and convenience to southern Albemarle, we decided that this was an excellent site.”

The proposed property in Keene is a seven acre parcel about 900 feet south of the intersection of Route 20 and Esmont Road. It’s zoned Rural Area, and county staff said this proposed use is considered a by-right use, meaning it does not need Board of Supervisors approval. Public uses are permitted by-right in all zoning districts.

“However, when a public structure or use is not explicitly included in an adopted Comprehensive Plan or land use plan, a ‘compliance with the comprehensive plan’ review is required, which is the case here,” said David Benish, a county development process manager.

CCPs are reviewed by the Planning Commission, which makes a finding on whether the project is in compliance. Commissioners consider whether the “general location, character and extent of a proposed facility are in substantial accord with the adopted Comprehensive Plan.”

“It’s worth noting and clarifying that the Planning Commission’s actions are only related to the consistency of the use to the comprehensive plan, it is not necessarily an action or recommendation on whether the project should be constructed,” Benish said. “That decision ultimately lies with the Board of Supervisors.”

A work session with the Planning Commission is scheduled for Oct. 19.

In March, the Board of Supervisors appropriated $1.1 million to fund the design and construction of the facility, including all containers and compactors necessary to collect the waste.

Rivanna Solid Waste Authority is managing the design and would manage the construction and eventually the operation of the facility, said Lance Stewart, the county’s director of facilities and environment services.

Stewart said it would be fully staffed during all operating hours, which would be during daytime and set seasonally. It would be open daily except on Thursday, when emptying containers, site cleaning and maintenance will occur.

“This would operate similar to how the Ivy one’s operated, there actually is a similar function there,” he said. “It’s called the tag bag waste program … and stickers would be sold by local merchants or can be purchased by mail for $2 each for a 32 gallon bag.”

This center would take household waste, compostable food waste and recyclables.

“This is really going to be focused for residential use for bagged trash,” said Phillip McKalips, director of solid waste at RSWA. “The intention and design of the site is not to start to bring in commercial material. Our intention is for that to continue to go to Ivy where there are scales and there’s room in the equipment to manage those bulky wastes.”

Campbell Bolton, a project manager with Draper Aden Associates, said using estimates based on recent traffic counts at the Ivy and McIntire Road facilities, no left or right turn lane would be required based on the existing volume of traffic on the road and the anticipated volume of traffic generated by the facility.

He said there would be about 23 parking spaces and up to 14 containers for recyclables such as glass and plastic. There would be one compactor for cardboard and two or three larger bins for tins and metals.

“On the way out, there’ll be lanes for two of the solid waste compactors, which is where you would drop the tag-a-bag bags. You’d pull up beside, get out of the car and put them in there,” Bolton said.

McKalips said the plan does not call for any lighting of the site and the gate will be secured at night.

During a question and answer period last week, neighbors and others in southern Albemarle asked about site location.

“We do not understand why you do not put this site where it’s needed — in the Scottsville area or Mill Creek where there’s so much development going on at Mill Creek,” said Harold West, who lives next to the Keene site. “Mill Creek can go to McIntire, fine. Scottsville is where it could be used successfully, just add on some bins behind the old high school where the retirement center is.”

In 2019, the Board of Supervisors voted to give some of the land where the proposed Mill Creek convenience center had been considered to the School Board to build a proposed high school center.

“I don’t know how you guys think you’re gonna plant trees right there under the power line, that’s ridiculous,” Harold West said. “I also worry about our property values going through the toilet here when this comes in and just ruins everything for us.”

Peter Bertone said he was concerned about the possible increase in traffic from a safety perspective, particularly for bicyclists who ride the roads in that area.

“For anybody who’s proposing this facility, they ought to ride along Plank Road and they ought to ride along Esmont Road and see how dangerous it is to bikers, and other people who use the roads,” he said.

Both Bertone and the Wests questioned why the community meeting was not held in-person.

“I’m a trustee of the engineering school at the University of Virginia, a public institution, we are holding a meeting on [Oct. 15] in person,” Bertone said. “I served on a subcommittee of the Board of Visitors at the University of Virginia over the summer, where we were thinking about issues of tuition at the University of Virginia, a public institution. Those meetings were in-person and open to the public if they wanted to attend. We’d have a better dialogue and communication and exchange of ideas if this were in person.”

Albemarle has held nearly all of its public meetings virtually since the beginning of the pandemic. According to Virginia Department of Health data, September had one of the highest counts of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the area since the pandemic began.

Some area residents used the question and answer chat box to say they were happy to possibly have a convenient location to recycle, and that they would be able to quit their private curbside trash service to use the tag-a-bag at the new site.


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