By. Neil Williamson, President
Funny what a difference a few years makes.
In order to coordinate land uses with recommended road improvements and to offer business and property
owners the opportunity to be involved in the design of the road improvements, this Plan recommends preparation of Small Area Plans for two areas:
1) The area around the intersection of US 29 and Rio Road
2) The Airport Road Corridor
Remember Places29? A six year $1 Million dollar planning exercise complete with renderings and an implementation plan. Lest anyone think the small area plans were just a throw away line in a lengthy Master Plan — the promise included great detail. (and we fought it, and lost)
During preparation of the Small Area Plan and design of the road improvements, business and property owners will be invited to work with County, VDOT, and TJPDC staff to identify and eliminate or minimize possible impacts of the road improvements. When the Small Area Plan and preliminary design are completed, the short-term (construction) impacts and long-term impacts of the road improvements will be known.
Now specifically as it relates to US29 and Rio Road intersection, the Places29 Master Plan clearly outlines what is to occur:
Intersection Improvements at Rio Road and US 29. The process of improving this intersection and the transportation network around it will begin with preparation of a Small Area Plan. The small area planning process will include evaluation and development of the preliminary design concepts for transportation improvements that could prolong the life of the at-grade intersection and provide a design
concept for long-term improvements, as determined necessary at the time based on updated traffic information. The small area planning process is not expected to begin until the second five years of Plan
As we now know, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is in the process of steam rolling past the Comprehensive Plan and having conceptual plans in front of the Route 29 Solutions Project Delivery Advisory Panel (PDAP) next Thursday (8/28). It has been made abundantly clear that the design concepts will be for a grade separated intersection despite Page A2-23, Project Reference No.18 of the Master Plan calling for:
Pursue design concepts that provide, to the extent feasible and practical, at grade relationships of roads to business to facilitate visibility and access.
The Free Enterprise Forum, and others have been incredibly concerned about the sequencing of the US29 improvements. The Master Plan also considered this issue:
Short-term issues related to the construction of intersection improvements should be addressed through strategic construction phasing, development of the parallel local road network to provide alternative access prior to the construction of intersection improvements, and other strategies.
As we see private applicants held up to the exacting standards of the Master Plans as compared with their development plans, one has to wonder what kind of double standard Albemarle County is pursuing.
To be clear, if a developer wanted to make such a significant change staff would mandate a Comprehensive Plan Amendment process (likely a year) be initiated before they would ever look at a such a development proposal. Then if successful, a Zoning Text Amendment (another 18-24 months) would be required.
The timetable for the VDOT projects is significantly truncated. According to the summary minutes of the August 7th VDOT PDAP meeting:
The panel should see conceptual drawings at the next PDAP meeting on Aug. 28. Design Public hearings for Rio intersection and Rt. 29 widening are currently scheduled for November 2014, and for Berkmar in July 2015.
The July 24th PDAP presentation provided the final milestone on VDOT’s projected timetables:
No-Excuses Deadline to complete
Berkmar, 29 Widening and all associated
work outside Rio intersection
Oct 30, 2017
No where is there any discussion of conformity with the Master Plan.
Could the County is possibly unaware that their Million Dollar citizen involved Places29 master plan is being steamrolled by VDOT?
As a state agency, is VDOT a super developer with extraordinary powers over the mandates in the Comprehensive Plan?
Clearly a Master Planning development double standard exists in Albemarle; the question is will anyone do anything about it?
If the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors fails to act and provide the citizens the promises contained in Places29 perhaps the entire Master Planning process should be questioned.
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org