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Second homestay exception approved in Albemarle

An Albemarle family now will be able to rent out rooms in their house on Squirrel Path, after the Board of Supervisors approved a special exception to the county’s homestay regulations.

The supervisors’ decision this week will allow William and Nan Massie to rent out two rooms in their house on short-term rental websites such as Airbnb.

This was the second special exception request submitted under regulations approved in August.

County principal planner Rebecca Ragsdale said there are 10 additional special exception requests pending.

The Massies’ request was to reduce setback requirements, as their property does not meet the distance requirements set out in the code for the front, back and one side of the house. No neighbors objected, Ragsdale said, but the county did receive two inquiries about the current regulations from neighbors who were notified.

The property is less than 5 acres in the Rural Areas zoning district, which the county’s regulations require to have minimum yard setbacks of 125 feet from neighboring lots for parking and structures used for a homestay.

In the application, Nan Massie said they used the apartment in their home for a family member, then later rented it to area college students. More recently, they decided to use it as an Airbnb.

In addition to setbacks, special exceptions can be granted to allow more than two guestrooms, the use of an accessory structure if not otherwise allowed and the use of a resident manager.

“We also are trying to get a feel for what the board is willing to modify in the special exceptions to see if these can go to the consent agenda or not,” county Zoning Administrator Bart Svoboda said. “… We’re also interested in what the board’s discussion is and really drilling down into what’s the primary objective — is it really the 125 feet, or is it the neighbors’ input about the character of the area that they live in?”

Board members supported having the first few proposals in each magisterial district come before the board for discussion instead of being placed on the consent agenda.

The county’s affordable housing policy update is still on track to be completed later this year.

The board approved moving forward with the update last summer. A formal community engagement process began in September and ended in November, with community meetings and focus groups. There were also options for online feedback.

Stacy Pethia, the county’s principal planner for housing, told board members that throughout the community engagement process, general themes emerged.

“One of the big ones is that people that I spoke with really felt that housing has become too expensive for many residents within the county, and that included very low-income residents themselves, as well as people who work here,” she said.

Staff identified four main barriers to addressing concerns — supply, resources, policies and programmatic and community concerns.

She said staff is working with a nine-member stakeholder committee to put together policies that specifically address what was heard through the community outreach efforts.

The draft policy recommendations and implementation strategies are scheduled to be presented during a joint Board of Supervisors-Planning Commission work session in April, and a public comment period is scheduled for mid-May through the end of June.

The final recommendations for the housing policy and implementation plan likely will be presented to the Planning Commission and Board and Supervisors in August and September.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Ned Gallaway asked if the board should consider putting money in an affordable housing fund this upcoming budget cycle to use beginning in July, or if members should wait another year.

Pethia said she would prefer talking about it sooner, but that she also wants the county to look at alternative funding sources besides just local funds.

“I think we can pretty quickly come up with some guidelines for how a housing fund in the county would work if that’s the route you choose to go,” she said. “Some decisions would need to be made as to whether they were grants or loans or combination of both, and what our priorities would be for those funds … I think structure-wise, we can develop that fairly quickly and then begin to look at potential other sources.”

On its consent agenda, the board also approved a special exception to increase building height on a portion of the Stonefield site, which will allow developers to build a proposed six- to eight-story apartment building with 234 units.

The current code of development for the entire Stonefield site has a maximum height allowance of five stories, but with the special exception, developers now can build a maximum of eight stories.

The apartment building is proposed to go in a current parking lot at the intersection of Hydraulic Road and District Avenue, northwest of The Shops at Stonefield.

At a November meeting, an architect on the project said the building will have a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and include an enclosed parking garage, also known as a Texas doughnut, with 447 spaces for residents of the building.

The board also approved a resolution as part of an application for a developer to apply for mixed-income financing through the Virginia Housing Development Authority’s Workforce 20/80 program.

Berkmar Apartments LLC is proposing to build a 261-unit apartment complex on a 17.7-acre site on Berkmar Drive in the Hollymead area. The proposal doesn’t need supervisors’ approval, and is currently being reviewed by county staff.

If the developer receives the financing, 53 one-bedroom units will be available to households that make at or below 80% of area median income, or $71,500 a year, according to information submitted by the developer and the VHDA.

“The industry refers to that as the missing middle, that from 80% to 150% median income, because it is a segment that is ignored by the tax credit program, and to a lesser extent ignored by the private market,” said Dale Wittie, the VHDA’s director of rental housing development.


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