Lack of Infrastructure Investment Dooms Albemarle’s Neighborhood Model

By, Neil Williamson, President

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

Almost thirty years ago,  Albemarle County decided to attempt to focus population growth into 5% of its geographic area.  On a philosophical level this policy makes perfect sense, put the population where it is most efficient to deliver government services. The promise was for a 5% bustling urban core surrounded by 95% natural beauty of (privately held) rural areas.

Places29 Bistro Corner
Albemarle Development Vision from Places29

Conceptually, the 5% development area was to develop with concurrent amenities and investments along with the development.  The idea is for the smaller more compact home have access to amenities, employment and green space to make the development area home more attractive than a home on a couple of acres in the country.

As Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs chronicled in a front page story in The Daily Progress this morning (5/1/18), Albemarle County has failed to build the infrastructure required to make the development area work.  Further, they have done a poor job explaining to residents the need for development in the development area.

Sean Tubbs reports on two developments planned for the Pantops area that went before the Pantops Community Advisory Council:

Rita Krenz, a Pantops committee member who said she was speaking as a resident of the Overlook Condominiums, said there are big issues with the plan.

“I think I speak for my neighbors when I say traffic is a problem that is not going to go away,” she said. “It’s unwise to put more residential units on this side of [Free Bridge].”

Krenz said the property was zoned in 1980 and much has changed since that time. She said if Pantops develops simply according to the plan as it exists now, it will hurt efforts to use the Rivanna River as a pastoral setting.

At one time there was some momentum for appropriate concurrent infrastructure spending along side private sector investment.

From December 8, 2004 staff report:

At the Board of Supervisors strategic planning retreat in October 2003, the Board identified the County’s growth and urbanization as a critical issue and established a new strategic planning goal related to urbanization. At this year’s retreat, the Board continued its focus on growth and urbanization by providing direction to staff regarding the desire to pursue an “Urbanizing County” level of service for the County’s transportation and streetscape needs. For transportation needs, this level of service focuses on providing “essential link” transportation projects, minimizing the use of private streets, and continuing to rely on VDOT for street maintenance. For streetscape needs, it includes the County becoming more involved in the construction and maintenance of streetscape in development areas, as determined by master plans.  For streetscape outside master planned areas, construction would be considered through the CIP process, based on the availability of funds.  In both transportation and streetscape, the County would continue to expect development to provide a significant portion of the initial infrastructure.  Emphasis added – nw

A funny thing happened on the way to Albemarle urbanization.  Elements of the Neighborhood Model of development [which had been sold as “A” model not “The” model] became part of the Albemarle County code forcing developers to put in curb, gutter, street trees and other Neighborhood Model “amenities”.  Developers built sidewalks interior to their development and Albemarle County has failed to connect the developments and thus failed to create the “walkability” they promised.

In November 2014, then Albemarle County Executive Tom Foley acknowledged the lack of planned transportation infrastructure investment:

Mr. Foley stated that the Board has set up specific funding in the Capital improvement Program (CIP) for master planned areas but that was for new developments. He stated that there was some money designated for interconnecting streets, but there has not been a focus on infrastructure funding for sidewalks and things in existing neighborhoods. Mr. Foley noted that the County never even got to the new areas due to limited capital funding

The vision of the Neighborhood Model was to have a variety of housing types and sizes as well as owned and rented properties intermingled to promote diversity.  Interestingly, the residents don’t seem to be interested in this diversity of housing types.

Again from Sean Tubbs article:

“It’s [the proposed development] a mixture of one- and two-bedroom apartments,” said Trey Steigman, a vice president at MSC. “These are not condominiums but for-lease apartments.”

Steigman said he did not know what the rates would be, but they would at least be market rate. The one-bedroom units would have an average of 700 square feet and the two-bedroom units would average about 1,000 square feet. . .

…“Those units are tiny,” said one resident of the Overlook Condominiums. “Who can live in 700 square feet?”

The unasked question that is inferred by this inquiry is perhaps more insidious ‘Who would want to live near someone who wants to live in such a tiny space’.  In addition, there is a palpable tension between owners and renters reflected in this discussion.

This is just the latest example of how Albemarle’s growth management (growth restrictive) policy is undermined by existing neighborhoods (often recently built) who oppose new development via the rezoning process. Most often the rationale for the opposition is the failure of Albemarle to meet existing resident expectations for services.  The lack of political will to stand up for the concepts and aspiring density rhetoric in the Comprehensive Plan is disappointing.

Tipping Point? An interesting byproduct of the Growth Management Plan and Magisterial design – about the same time the development area was designated, the magisterial districts were redrawn so that every supervisor had a portion of the growth area in their district.  With the level of development most districts are now population dominated by development area residents – mathematically speaking if you win Mill Creek and Glenmore neighborhoods, you win the Scottsville District.  Will this new electoral reality result in super representation of the development area concerns stated above?  Should it?

The Free Enterprise Forum does not believe the current development area reality comes close to the aspirational vision that was endorsed by the Development Initiative Steering Committee (DISC) or DISC II (AKA son of DISC).

Despite significant private sector investment in infrastructure (roads, water, sewer, parks, sidewalks, etc.), Albemarle County has failed to create the connective linkages between developments (and in existing neighborhoods) to make the community vision a reality.

Based on the comments from Pantops, it soon might be too late to ever catch up.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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.

3 comments

  1. I’ve never understood why the Rivanna isn’t spiffied as a drawing card, at least in sections near Free Bridge but really everywhere other than the reservoir and private property.

    On Tue, May 1, 2018 at 12:27 PM, Free Enterprise Forum Blog wrote:

    > neilswilliamson posted: “By, Neil Williamson, President FORUM WATCH > EDITORIAL Almost thirty years ago, Albemarle County decided to attempt to > focus population growth into 5% of its geographic area. On a philosophical > level this policy makes perfect sense, put the populati” >

  2. Mr. Williamson,

    Thank you for covering the PCAC meeting in your forum. I appreciate your historic perspective and discussion on the planning process, and share the sense that past visions no longer seem to be working as desired. However, I am quite troubled by this statement:

    “The unasked question that is inferred by this inquiry is perhaps more insidious ‘Who would want to live near someone who wants to live in such a tiny space’. In addition, there is a palpable tension between owners and renters reflected in this discussion.”

    I completely disagree with this inference, and having communicated with my neighbor who made the statement, know that he disagrees as well. Additionally, I have asked a number of my neighbors (owners and renters alike) and none of them made the inference stated in the article. I took the comment to mean exactly what was said- who can live in 700 square feet? What American adult can live in 700 square feet? This is not meant to be student housing, and is generally in the wrong location to be such. Furthermore, there was no tension expressed or implied at the meeting between owners and renters. In fact, of the Overlook residents present at the meeting, nearly half are renters. One is a previous renter now owner. We, as a group of citizens living on Pantops, are making our appeals to County government: to slow down/stop residential development on Pantops in hopes of keeping traffic from getting even worse, maintaining a tiny amount of green space, providing river access and improving walkability. We are not opposed to a variety of housing, or even additional housing: we are opposed to further residential development on Pantops because we believe the traffic infrastructure cannot tolerate it. 250 is already a parking lot coming in and out of town for the majority of any day. There is no solution to this and that is a well known fact. Free Bridge cannot be expanded, nor can 250 on either side of the bridge. Perhaps additional developments could go in the pockets of land remaining along 29N, where there are now 6-8 lanes of traffic?

    In closing, I find the implication that we at Overlook are or would be prejudice against people who can live in small spaces offensive. Personally, I applaud a less materialistic lifestyle. The discussion at this last PCAC meeting was lively, intelligent, thought-provoking, and so much larger than this single comment. I do hope citizens will be able to look at the broader issues we discussed. I encourage all County residents to review the progress of the Pantops Master Plan revision by going to the County website:

    http://www.albemarle.org/department.asp?department=cdd&relpage=3734

    If the link does not work, Google search for ‘Pantops Master Plan’- it is the first link which comes up. Review the Plan, and give your feedback. This is not just for residents of Pantops- it is for residents of Albemarle County. If you think traffic on Pantops is terrible, say something. If you would like to be able to park your car and access the river somewhere in the vicinity of Overlook, say something. The County is making decisions based on the input of a very small number of voices; your opinion matters.

    Sincerely,
    Rita Krenz

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