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Supervisors narrowly approve controversial Rio Road project

A contentious project on Rio Road narrowly received approval by the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Wednesday night.

On almost two acres at 999 Rio Road, developer Nicole Scro proposed a maximum of 28 residential units and 6,000 square feet of office space by changing the current R-4 zoning to Neighborhood Model District zoning.

The board voted 4-2 to approve the rezoning, with Supervisors Ned Gallaway and Ann H. Mallak casting the dissenting votes.

Gallaway said he thought the site was the right place for the density, but that this is not the right time for the project, citing a backlog of approved, but as-yet unbuilt housing.

“My concern is for the almost 1,700 units that have already been approved and are in the pipeline and what this whole area means from a traffic standpoint, and that we got there by approving projects like this,” he said.

Supervisors Liz Palmer, Donna Price, Diantha McKeel and Bea LaPisto Kirtley all said they would support future projects to fix possible traffic issues when they come before the board, but each had reasons to support the project, ranging from wanting more affordable housing to concern over what could go in the space by-right.

“One of the problems that I’ve observed is that until a need is demonstrated, it’s difficult to get the funding and the approval to improve the roads,” Price said. “So you find yourself sort of in a catch-22 — we need to improve the roads, but we can’t get approval to improve the roads until we demonstrate that we need the improvement of the roads.”

Scro in September deferred the original proposal, which included maximums of 46 units and 10,000 non-residential square feet, after supervisors said they were concerned with the scale of the project and its effect on traffic, among other things.

In January, after reductions to the project, county Planning Commissioners voted 4-3 to recommend approval of the rezoning, but had concerns with the non-residential space, including a possible “flex” use, parking, traffic and setbacks.

Scro made changes to the application after the planning commission meeting, which addressed two of those concerns — the only non-residential uses permitted are office and research and development and the minimum front setback has been increased from 0 feet to three feet.

Tori Kanellopoulos, a county planner, said any decisions about parking reductions would be made in the site plan phase and would be dependent on the use of the office space.

During her presentation, Scro discussed what could be built by-right on the site, or without the need for legislative approval from the supervisors, which was a maximum of 11 housing units with a bonus factor, such as affordable housing.

Without the rezoning, Scro said the houses built on that site would cost between $450,000 and $600,000. With the rezoning, she estimated the smaller houses would cost between $280,000 and $380,000.

More than 15 people spoke during a public hearing on the project, and most were against the proposed rezoning, citing concerns with traffic and safety,

Laura Mulligan Thomas, who lives in Dunlora, said she was concerned about potential future development coming in the area, including The Center.

“I ask you to consider that once we rezone we can’t go back and I ask you to heed the desires of the residents, 500 of us who have signed this petition requesting that we remain R-4,” she said, referring to a petition Dunlora residents signed last year.

Those who spoke in favor of the project said they recognized the need for less expensive housing and that Scro made compromises and worked with neighbors next door on Fowler Ridge Court.

Kevin McDermott, a county transportation planner, said the Virginia Department of Transportation is evaluating the intersection of Rio Road and Belvedere Boulevard, but current traffic counts do not warrant a traffic signal by the standards the state follows.

The county is considering applying for state funding for a change at the intersection, which McDermott said will likely be a restricted crossing U-turn, or an RCUT. In an RCUT, side street traffic that wants to turn left would turn right and travel to a median cut and dedicated turn lane to make a U-turn. Vehicles turning left from the main street onto the side street would have a dedicated left turn lane.

The project will still have to go through the Architectural Review Board process before anything is built.


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