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Rio Road development cut back after concern from neighbors

A proposed development along Rio Road has changed after feedback from the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and area residents.

At 999 Rio Road, developer Nicole Scro is now proposing a maximum of 28 residential units and 6,000 nonresidential square footage, by changing the current R-4 zoning to Neighborhood Model District zoning. The changes mean that far fewer people could live in the development than originally proposed.

At a September Board of Supervisors meeting, board members expressed concerns about the scale of the commercial aspect of the project and traffic, among other things. The Planning Commission had previously recommended approval.

On Thursday, Scro said she and project engineer Justin Shimp tried to remove the commercial building from the project, but couldn’t make it work.

“I couldn’t make it feasible given the cost of the land,” she said at the Places29-Rio Community Advisory Committee meeting Thursday evening.

Area residents have been concerned about many aspects of the development, including traffic and general density of the site.

The original proposed rezoning included a maximum of 46 units and a maximum of 10,000 nonresidential square footage.

Scro said the updated proposal would keep around 11 smaller houses on the back of the approximately two-acre site. Near the front of the lot, along Belvedere Boulevard, she’s proposing five townhouses with accessory units, for a total of 10 units.

The commercial building is now proposed to be a one-story building — down from three stories — along Rio Road. The uses of the commercial building would be restricted to an office or a furniture store only. All vehicular entrances are on Belvedere Boulevard.

“The reason for that is that The Artful Lodger was interested in relocating here,” Scro said. “I don’t know if they will choose our site, but we want to allow that option.”

Scro said the changes have cut down on vehicle trips during peak travel hours by about half.

A handful of residents were at the meeting to hear about the changes.

One resident asked why the rezoning is happening at all and why the property can’t stay zoned R-4.

“Why can’t we just for once stick to an original designation?” he asked.

Rachel Falkenstein, a county principal planner, said there was a difference between the zoning and what the Comprehensive Plan states.

“I know it’s very confusing when they don’t line up; it can cause some tension,” she said.

In Albemarle’s Places29 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 density of between six and 34 units per acre.

The Master Plan was last updated in 2011. The Places29-Rio CAC recently brought a resolution to the Board of Supervisors asking 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 Comprehensive Plan designates development areas that make up about 5% of county land for growth, while maintaining 95% of Albemarle as rural land.

One woman said she bought her house thinking that that land would stay zoned R-4.

“What is the county to write, to nullify what we thought and what we wanted to buy? They nullify it without even asking the people who live there,” she said. “That’s not really democratic.”

Falkenstein said anyone has the right to ask to change the zoning on their property.

“That’s a property right, we can’t tell people, ‘no, you can’t ask to do this,’” she said. “The board is left with the decision, with the staff and Planning Commission’s recommendations, of whether or not they should approve this. They’ll weigh the application against impacts to neighboring properties as well as how it lines up with the Comprehensive Plan and other factors to make their decision.”

Without approval from the Board of Supervisors, the property is allowed to have seven units and possibly 11 units with a bonus factor, such as affordable housing

The proposed rezoning is scheduled to go before the Planning Commission again on Jan. 14 and is tentatively scheduled for the Board of Supervisors’ March 4 meeting.


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