The University of Virginia Foundation wants to add a massive new mixed-use development with up to 1,400 homes to its North Fork industrial park property in Albemarle County, but concerns about water infrastructure could stop it in its tracks.
The foundation is requesting a rezoning of 172 acres of its approximately 540 acres from Planned Development Industrial Park to Neighborhood Model Development, to allow for residential, commercial and retail uses.
But the proposal still needs to move through the county process, and the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority has expressed concerns around the size and timing of the project.
“The issue in this particular rezoning is that it is a large number [of homes] without a set schedule,” said Jennifer Whitaker, the director of engineering and maintenance for RWSA. “There is a max capacity number that we cannot serve.”
A consultant for the foundation completed a master plan and study of North Fork in 2017, which recommended that retail shops and a hotel as well as residential be added to the park.
“We do believe that this addition of residential will do exactly what we hope it will do — it will catapult us to a new level where we can continue to grow and create great jobs in our community,” said Deborah van Eersel, chief administrative officer and director of marketing for the UVa Foundation.
Van Eersel made her comments at a community meeting for the project earlier this month.
In a letter submitted by RWSA in January, Victoria Fort, a senior civil engineer with the utility, said any significant increases in water demand may mean that “several important projects, most notably, the South Rivanna Reservoir to Ragged Mountain Reservoir Transfer System” be accelerated.
A water pipeline from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to the Ragged Mountain Reservoir is part of the long-term community water supply plan that was adopted in 2008 by the RWSA. Charlottesville and Albemarle County’s governing bodies formally adopted the plan in 2012.
The pipeline will replace the 100-year-old water line that currently supplies water to Ragged Mountain Reservoir from the Sugar Hollow Reservoir.
The construction of the water pipeline is currently planned to begin in fiscal year 2027. The estimated cost of the project is $80 million, in 2017 dollars.
According to several different online inflation calculators, the price tag is now closer to $92 million.
Fort said a recent urban water demand study did account for some growth in and around North Fork, but this rezoning proposal “far exceeds the anticipated growth in this area.”
“The study estimated 42,000 [gallons per day] of additional demand from the North Fork Research Park through 2030, and an additional 172,000 through 2070,” she said in the letter. “This proposal has the potential to add over 500,000 gallons per day of additional demand to the North Zone.”
Whitaker said RWSA has met with the foundation to discuss these issues, including, if this rezoning is approved, how quickly it anticipates the development will be built out.
“There’s a growth plan for that northern area, but a large rezoning on the end of the system increases the need to bring some of that online either faster or at a mitigated pace,” she said. “So depending on how fast the development happens, that will drive how fast we have to do projects in order to meet the demand.”
The southern part of the North Fork property near Airport Road is the focus of the proposed zoning changes. The new proposed zoning district, Neighborhood Model Development, “has the widest variety of uses of all the districts that we have,” said Bill Fritz.
The zoning allows property owners and developers to set a custom code of development for the property, in which developers can craft specific regulations for the district and decide which uses are permitted in each area, or block, of the property.
In the code of development submitted by the foundation, it is asking for eight types of residential uses and 36 non-residential uses to be permitted by-right across the 172 acres in all blocks.
The allowed non-residential uses include office space, restaurants, retail, private schools, data centers, hospitals, parking structures, and cell towers. Residential use types include single family attached and detached, apartments, condos, carriage units and accessory apartments.
“We have a very wide range [of residential types proposed] because we’re not exactly sure how fast this will work, how much interest there will be,” said Valerie Long, an attorney with Williams Mullen who is representing the foundation. “But we have specified that there will be at least 200 residential units and no more than 1,400. Those will be built out most likely over many years.”
At least 15% of the homes built must be affordable to those who make 80% or less of area median income. Area median income is currently $93,700 per household, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The county adopted a new housing policy last year that would require more affordable housing at lower price points, but those requirements are delayed until the county decides on developer incentives.
North Fork is one of three properties where the university is planning to create 1,000 to 1,500 affordable housing units over the next decade, but specifics, such as target income levels and the type of homes that will be available, have not yet been announced.
The foundation also wants to continue to allow a maximum of 3.7 million square feet of non-residential across the entirety of North Fork, which is allowed under the current zoning, Long said.
Total area of green space and open space over the entirety of North Fork will not be less than 200 acres, according to the submitted code of development.
In Albemarle’s Places29 Master Plan, which is part of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, most of the property is shown on the future land use map as Office/Research and Development/Flex/Light Industrial, which designates those as primary uses. Retail, commercial, light manufacturing, residential, open space and institutional uses are designated as secondary uses.
Large portions of the property are also shown on the future land use map as open space. A portion of the property near Airport Road is part of the “The Uptown Center,” which, according to the master plan, could be “a vibrant new urban center similar to a traditional downtown and intended to serve the needs of many people in a relatively small area.”
The foundation includes the possibility for a hotel and/or conference center in the uptown area, which is also mentioned in the Places29 Master Plan.
Public hearings before the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors have not yet been scheduled.