Are Albemarle’s High Density Dreams a Neighborhood’s Nightmare?

By. Neil Williamson, President

In this week’s, Albemarle County Planning Commission meeting there was a public hearing on the Dunlora Forest Preliminary Site Plan.  To be clear, the Free Enterprise Forum has no position on this, or any, project.  Neighbors raised significant concerns regarding the density of the development and the traffic impacts it would create. 

It seems like in the abstract, the public is blissfully unaware of the ongoing Comprehensive Plan Density drama but when a specific high density project comes forward in their neighborhood, they tend to be opposed to the impacts of such a community.

The question to the policy makers is “Is High Residential Density a Planning Dream Come True or a sweet dreamsNeighborhood Nightmare?”

freddy-kruegerPlease let me explain.

In last week’s Planning Commission meeting, the commission held a work session regarding development area capacity.  It is important to understand the density discussion. 

The Livable Communities Coalition (Atlanta,Georgia) site provides a solid primer:

Housing density or residential density refers to the number of homes per unit of land. It is typically reported in dwelling units per acre (or du/ac). For example, the average density in the Atlanta Metro area is 1.3 dwelling units per acre.

In evaluating the capacity for new development in the existing development area the staff report determined that:

Staff has concluded that 11% or 2,498 acres of the Development Area designated land is able to accommodate future residential and non-residential development.

As we mentioned in a previous post “Light Industrial Land Availability = Jobs” the light industrial land uses will be competing with residential uses in the never expanding development area.  This creates pressure to move those uses out of Albemarle County.

If we accept the premise that no new land will be rezoned light industrial and ALL available land will be used for residential use, how dense are we?

The report contained several population projections:

The additional dwelling units needed to meet the projected housing need of 2030 is 1,770 to 7,437 dwelling units. As can be seen, there is significant residential capacity within the confines of the existing development areas yet to be developed.

Based on the Planning Commission’s decision not to consider development area expansion in the next Comprehensive Plan (2013-2018), increased density is required to provide required capacity for the higher end of population projections.

Any new residential project in these areas will likely require a rezoning.  Such rezoning will mandate that 30% of the project be open space. This reduces the available residential land to 1,748 acres.

Roadways and interconnectivity of such roadways will eat up about 200 acres of the developable land leaving 1,548 acres available.  AT the high end of the population projects this equates to in excess of 4.8 units per acre required to meet the projected need.    

That means more dense development in the development area which, if the latest Planning Commission meeting is any guide, the public may not have the same density desires as the County.

RiverwoodTownhomesRyanIt makes sense that the County would lean toward denser development as it provides a much more economical model for delivering County services (Schools, Fire, Police).

The previously mentioned Livable Communities Coalition has a pro-density, pro-transit agenda:

Higher-density, compact development provides more housing choices in the places that are most convenient, especially in our region’s job and activity centers and near major transportation corridors.

So the “new urbanists” want density because to them that is good planning, but what of the new “unit” buyer, what do they want? 

Should it matter?

The Free Enterprise Forum thinks so; not only for the buyers but for the entire community, the ripple impacts of development area restriction are significant.

If the market rejects the higher density model and the County does not allow expansion of single family homes in the development area, the Comprehensive Plan will push such home buyers into the rural areas.

If this occurs, and without development area expansion we believe it will, the blame falls to the planners (and the politicians who support the plan)  who chose to design the development areas for their dense transit friendly dreams rather than the wishes of future home buyers.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.  For more information visit the website

Photo Credits: New Line Cinema, Ryan Homes


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