Albemarle’s Manifest Density

By. Neil Williamson, President

As Albemarle County’s Land Use philosophy of focusing development in the 5% of its land mass is under review as part of the Comprehensive Plan, we are starting to see significant push back from those already living in the designated development areas.  Residents are seeking not only to limit the amount of higher density development in the development areas; they are raising alarms at the lack of infrastructure spending to support existing communities and to encourage infill development.  The Home Builders have raised concerns that the calculation used to determine the residential land capacity fails to recognize market realities and at least one Supervisor has raised concerns that the existing neighborhoods are being left behind in plan.

Citizen Concern In their final recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, the Village of Rivanna Community Advisory Council [a non elected citizen group appointed by the BOS] requested significant edits to the plan that addressed their concerns regarding density and how new development may impact existing residents.

Major consideration must be given to protecting surrounding properties from the impact of high density development[Emphasis added – nw].  The impact of the plan on existing development should be sensitive to the character of surrounding Rural Areas and major consideration should be given to the needs and wishes of those persons already living and owning property in the the area. The effect on existing transportation infrastructure should also be a major consideration in permitting the development.

Industry Concern In a letter to the Board, the Blue Ridge Home Builders Association (BRHBA) raised several questions about the development area and asked if staff had appropriately calculated the “Marketable Density”

The proposed Comprehensive Plan speaks of low and high capacity of units in the development areas. From multifamily apartment buildings to townhomes to single family homes, BRHBA members build all types of homes to serve all types of citizens. Each of our members proudly builds with the end user in mind – the occupant. As such, the reality capacity is likely significantly lower than the high end proposed in figure 5 of the Development Area chapter.

While there is a market for dense new urbanist style development, and our members serve that market, the vast majority of the new home buyers in Albemarle County are looking to live in single family detached housing. We are curious if based on the current market mix of housing, would those numbers multiplied by the dwelling unit demand would result in a different calculation of required land area? [emphasis added-nw]

Supervisor Concern In an October 6, 2014 memorandum to the Board of Supervisors, Rio Supervisor Brad Sheffield raised a number of issues with the Development Areas Chapter including the tone of the chapter, infrastructure investment, land use, industrial and residential capacity, and protecting existing neighborhoods.

Not to worry, as we wrote about in a September post,  the Comprehensive Plan clearly suggests a lack of understanding is the cause of such resident concerns. From Page 8.11:

It is natural for residents to fear the effects of change as the County makes efforts to create more dense and urban neighborhoods in the Development Areas. However, when residents understand the relationship between density and preservation of rural areas and the goals of the Neighborhood Model, they seem to find more acceptance of density. Conveying the benefits of density, such as neighborhood schools, parks, sidewalks, and bicycle paths is also important. Understanding that the Development Areas can be great places to live can help residents embrace density in the Development Areas.

The Free Enterprise Forum has to ask if citizens, industry and Supervisors continue to have significant concerns with Albemarle’s “Manifest Density”, why does it continue to move forward?

If such issues are unfounded why has the elongated public process of Comprehensive Plan update not alleviated these concerns?

Once again, we find we have more questions than answers.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President


20070731williamson 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

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