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UPDATE: Supervisors defer decision on controversial Rio Road apartment project

This story has been updated.

A Virginia Beach developer late Wednesday night deferred controversial plans for up to 328 apartments on a 27-acre site at the intersection of John Warner Parkway and Rio Road.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors was positioned to have a tie vote — which would deny the proposal — due to traffic concerns, and an attorney for Kotarides Developers asked for a deferral on a request to rezone the site from R-4 to Planned Residential District.

Supervisors Ned Gallaway, Ann H. Mallek and Donna Price were concerned about the proposal’s potential impact on traffic, and cited a yet-to-be-funded corridor study of Rio Road that has been discussed for years but not completed.

“At the end of the day traffic is the biggest concern I have for the area,” Gallaway said.

County staff said that the board’s final action has to occur on or before July 2, 2022.

In March, the Planning Commission voted 5-2 to recommend approval of the development, but encouraged the developers to make changes to the proposed design and still had some concerns about the proposal.

County staff did not recommend approval of the proposal, arguing that the request does not provide a complete mix of uses consistent with a “Neighborhood Service Center,” a use recommended for the area in the Places29 Master Plan, and that the site is not located with a “Priority Area” in that plan.

Staff also cited a number of potential traffic issues as knocks against the plan, including that delay times at some nearby intersections will increase even after road improvements included in the development proposal, that the Rio Road corridor study has not yet been funded and that other “problematic” intersections along Rio Road do not have final solutions or funding in place.

County Senior Planner Cameron Langille and county Transportation Planner Kevin McDermott said the problems with traffic improvements were mostly a matter of timing. The board has supported moving forward with a study of Rio Road, but there is no set timeline for the analysis.

“The reason why we really want to move forward with this corridor study is to really look at the entire context of Rio Road from the city boundary all the way to where our Small Area Plan boundary at Rio/[U.S.]29 started,” McDermott said. “If we look at that whole corridor, we could really get a better idea as to how we expect traffic to move through the corridor, and what needs we may have, and how different intersections might work best together.”

He said once funded, the study could take about eight to 12 months to complete.

Two road projects in the area are likely to be submitted for funding through the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Smart Scale program — a roundabout at Rio Road and John Warner Parkway and a restricted crossing U-turn at the intersection of Rio Road and Belvedere Boulevard.

During a public hearing Wednesday night, about 30 community members spoke about the project, with a majority against the project.

Many of the speakers who did not support the project were residents of Dunlora, a subdivision containing mostly single-family detached homes, who have submitted petitions against this and another project — which was ultimately approved — and have called for a moratorium on rezonings and new development along Rio Road in the county.

“This portion of Albemarle County has gone from a place where you can hear birds sing and smell honeysuckle on the breeze, to one of the Chicago neighborhoods where you can smell car exhaust, hear cars speeding, horns honking and drivers yelling at pedestrians when they get too close to the curb,” said Dulora resident Tom Click.

Dunlora resident Cheryl Evans said placing affordable housing here was “misguided.”

“While we might need affordable housing, we need it in the right place, and this is not it, certainly,” she said.

Brent French, another Dunlora resident, said traffic has steadily grown worse since the John Warner Parkway opened.

“Why should we believe any of the projections or studies that the applicant uses to argue their case?,” he said. “All I know is what history has taught me, and that is that traffic gets worse with every new development. It also gets worse with every so-called improvement made by VDOT.”

Others said the board should make the land a park, and that this proposal would change the character of the neighborhood.

Those in favor of the project cited the need for more affordable and workforce housing close to employment.

Val Newcomb, who said she works for a climate technology firm, said she was excited when she heard about a new housing project close to downtown.

“Our firm struggles with recruiting on a few fronts, and we often hear from potential candidates that Charlottesville is of interest because there’s an assumption that housing here is affordable, and then we hear that we’ve lost a potential hire because they’re relocating to another city like Raleigh or somewhere that has a more robust offering,” she said.

The proposal includes at least 49 units of affordable housing, which must be maintained as affordable rental units at fair market rents for 10 years, making them affordable for people making 80% of area median income. Current area median income for this area for a family is $93,900, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Fair market rent in 2020 is $1,082 for a one bedroom unit, $1,262 for a two bedroom unit and $1,573 for a three bedroom unit.

Lori Schweller, an attorney representing the developer, said the developer was committing to 50 affordable units.

Originally, the developer had proposed 414 units, but lowered the request to 328 units after a community meeting last year.

In Albemarle’s Places29 Master Plan, which is part of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, the Parkway Place property is shown on the future land use map as mostly urban density residential, which recommends density of between six and 34 units per acre. The Master Plan was adopted in 2011, and the Community Advisory Committee that provides input over the area has asked for the Master Plan to be updated.

If the land is built on by-right, or without approval from the Board of Supervisors, county staff have said that up to 109 dwelling units would be allowed, and a developer could build up to 163 units if the land were to be developed as a cluster development.

The developer also has proposed changes to two intersections on Rio Road East, adding a “Continuous Green T” at both Dunlora Drive and the full access entrance into Parkway Place, which would create protected left-turn acceleration lanes. If that isn’t approved by the state, it would provide $750,000 toward road improvements.

According to a traffic study, the proposed development with the road changes will increase total intersection delay at the John Warner Parkway and Rio Road intersection by 6.3% from 53.7 to 57.1 seconds in the morning peak hours, compared to if the development wasn’t built. In the evening peak the delay would increase by 7.5% from 59.9 to 64.4 seconds.

The study also shows that the proposed road changes “greatly improve safety and operations” at the intersection of Dunlora Drive and Rio Road East, with up to about 78% less delay in the morning peak hours and about 65% less in the peak hours for the westbound left movements on to Rio Road E., even with the maximum 328 units proposed at Parkway Place.

County staff said the development could generate about 40 elementary school students, 10 middle school students and 16 high school students, and that only Albemarle High School, which is already over capacity, would be over capacity by Parkway Place.


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