Tag Archives: density

Forest Lakes Outlaws

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

outlawThe Brookhill development that is in the early planning stages is located north of Polo Grounds Road and East of US29.  To be clear, the Free Enterprise Forum does not take positions on projects and has no position on the Brookhill proposal.  Our concern is focused on planning policy and how those policies stifle creativity and consumer choice.

This project is located just south of the Forest Lakes South development, that has been well received by the market since its inception over twenty years ago.  Considering Forest Lakes appeal and the location of the project, one might think a thoughtful applicant would attempt to mimic some of Forest Lakes “desirable” characteristics.

But as I was sipping my morning coffee reading Elise Cruz’s Daily Progress/Charlottesville Tomorrow article about the neighborhood meeting concerning Brookhill, I found myself nodding in agreement with the quote from Alan Taylor of Riverbend Development:

“This is the new way that communities are developed,” Taylor said. “If I tried to build a development like Forest Lakes now, … it wouldn’t be allowed to happen.”

Taylor’s comments reflect the reality of development in Albemarle County.  Over the last decade, via ordinance changes and policy direction, residential development has been forced into a new urbanist form that includes a higher level of density than the neighbors or the market wants.

The Neighborhood Model, which originally was sold as A model not THE model includes several concepts many of which are not only required in rezoning applications but are mandated by code:

Pedestrian Orientation
Mixture of Uses
Neighborhood Centers
Mixture of Housing Types and Affordability
Interconnected Streets and Transportation Networks
Multi-modal Transportation Opportunities
Parks, Recreational Amenities, and Open Space
Buildings and Space of Human Scale
Relegated Parking
Redevelopment
Respecting Terrain and Careful Grading and Re-grading of Terrain
Clear Boundaries with the Rural Area

The reality is that no longer can an applicant put forth the imageneighborhood design that they believe is best, will best sell or best fits the character of the surrounding neighborhoods. 

They are forced into new urbanist designs that prefer mixed use products, density over distance and pocket parks over parkways.

The buyer that is seeking a more traditional design, is left to look to existing housing stock, rural area development or to the surrounding localities with less restrictive design parameters. 

That how Albemarle is forcing the new housing market forward.  

Yes, when Albemarle County planning officials outlawed Forest Lakes, Forest Lakes became outlaws.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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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 www.freeenterpriseforum.org

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Albemarle Development Area Report Card 4 “D”s–Disappointment, Density, Delusions and Decay

Albemarle County has been rewriting their state mandated Comprehensive Plan for over four years.  The Free Enterprise Forum has been an active participant in these conversations.  With the plan now headed to its final public hearing on June 10, we will provide our chapter by chapter review over the next two weeks culminating with our overall analysis prior to the public hearing.

By. Neil Williamson, President

To understand the conceptual underpinnings of the Development Areas Chapter of Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan, one must understand that the over arching planning goal is to drive the majority of county residents to live in the development areas where it is more efficient to provide government services.

The generally accepted methodology for encouraging this population movement is to incise new dense development by making the development areas more attractive than rural area development by virtue of better service delivery, enhanced recreational opportunities as well as other amenities.

If you accept this premise, then the question is who will provide the amenities that make the development areas more attractive than rural area development.  In the early 2000s, the Development Initiatives Steering Committee (DISC) and the Development Initiatives Steering Committee II (DISC II AKA “Son of DISC”) believed that it was a joint public private partnership to provide such infrastructure.

THE BIG LIE – Concurrency of Public Infrastructure

The private side of the equation has held up their part of the bargain mainly as required “voluntary”  proffers for rezoning applications but the public investment has been lacking.

Consider the (empty?) promises in the Development Areas chapter:

The urban neighborhoods are expected to provide a full array of residential types and densities and look and feel like a city. All levels of retail, business, and industrial activities, along with regional employment centers. In addition, extensive urban and regional public facilities and services and infrastructure are to be provided. (8.4)

Strategy 2c: Continue to promote pedestrian safety through construction of crosswalks for sidewalks. The County has developed a capital needs list which includes locations for crosswalks to improve pedestrian safety. Funding and prioritization takes place through the Capital Improvements Program (CIP). This activity should be continued to improve pedestrian safety. (8.14)

New centers should be created in accordance with Master Plan recommendations. Existing centers should be recognized and, in some cases, enhanced. Public investment may be needed to create a center, such as a new public park in or near an existing neighborhood. New centers should be created in accordance with Master Plans. As destinations, centers should be visually discernible to help create and facilitate a sense of arrival. (8.17)

Strategy 3c: Work with residents and property owners to identify property maintenance concerns, establish maintenance expectations and programs to address them, and determine the resources that will best enable the programs to be effective.(8.30)

Existing neighborhoods are also key features of the Development Areas. Investments in infrastructure, such as water, sewer, sidewalks, and drainage, help to strengthen these neighborhoods. Improved street networks, connections to employment centers, and excellent school facilities help support residential development as well as encourage businesses to expand. (Introduction 8.3)

Decaying Core?

The public infrastructure investment in existing neighborhoods in Albemarle County has been tepid at best.  Some Supervisors are awakening to the fact that it is NOT new development that is generating the demand for infrastructure investment but instead deferred public investment.

As neighborhoods age new community investment will be needed not only to provide the amenities that supposedly draw residents to the Development Areas but basic infrastructure investment to keep citizens safe.

Adequate Public Facilities?

Later in the chapter, recognizing that the county has not met its investment obligations to support the Development Areas, the Comp Plan throws what can only be described as an illegal “Hail Mary” pass suggesting it can postpone development applications based on this County failure:

Strategy 9c: Do not approve proposed rezonings and special use permits outside of Priority Areas when planned facilities are not in place to support the project and existing neighborhoods, unless the proposed project will provide significant improvements to ensure adequate infrastructure and services are available to the area.

Planning staff may want to run this passage past legal once more.  Annually, Albemarle County and other localities attempt to gain such legislative authority via Adequate Public Facilities legislation.  It has failed in each of the last 10 General Assembly sessions.  Absent such legislation, under the Dillion Rule,  Albemarle County does not have the ability to reject development proposals on the basis that Albemarle County has failed to properly provide for their existing residents.

Density Desires-Stack’em and Pack’em

Objective 5: Promote density within the Development Areas to help create new compact urban places.

Albemarle County’s Growth Management Policy relies on development within the density ranges recommended for the Development Areas. Although parts of Albemarle County’s Development Areas were developed at less than two units per acre, low-density development prevents opportunities for transit and increases maintenance costs for roads and utilities. For these reasons, Albemarle County expects new development in a different pattern so that residents can have more opportunities to walk, bicycle, or take transit to work and entertainment. To avoid expansion of the Development Areas and to help create livable walkable places, density of new development is expected at a minimum of three units per acre in places designated as Neighborhood Density and a minimum of six units per acre where land is designated as Urban Density.

New Urbanist theology revolves at the altar of density – it is little surprise however that most existing neighborhoods balk at the concept of having such high density new development built around them.

Yet, rezoning applications that need to go through the public process and hear these neighborhood concerns also must answer the Comprehensive Plan demands:

Strategy 5b: Encourage developers to build at the higher end of the density range, on greenfield sites, provided that development will be in keeping with design recommendations in the Neighborhood Model.

Even worse than being just stuck between these competing goals, the Comprehensive Plan also seeks to maintain the unelected, unregulated “advisory” role of Community Councils –

The Gatekeepers – Community Councils hinder Property Rights 

Strategy 1b: Continue to use Community Advisory Councils to help develop Master Plan updates, provide guidance on conformity of proposed projects with the Master Plan, assist in implementation of the Master Plan, and to act as a clearing-house for information that is important to the Development Area.

The Freenimby1_thumb.jpg Enterprise Forum finds these unelected councils to be superfluous to the process and often counter to the County’s stated positions and goals.  One of the largest battles at the first Community Council was over the density planned for Crozet.

In addition, the Councils provide Planning Commissioners and Board of Supervisors members political cover and the ability to avoid making important decisions regarding the County’s direction.  While encouraging citizens to be engaged in the legislatively mandated planning process, the Free Enterprise Forum continues to call for the elimination of the illegal gatekeepers known as Community Councils.

Design Dysfunctions

In mandating Comprehensive Plans, Virginia State Code prescribes the nature of the plan:

§ 15.2-2223. Comprehensive plan to be prepared and adopted; scope and purpose. …

The comprehensive plan shall be general in nature, in that it shall designate the general or approximate location, character, and extent of each feature, including any road improvement and any transportation improvement, shown on the plan and shall indicate where existing lands or facilities are proposed to be extended, widened, removed, relocated, vacated, narrowed, abandoned, or changed in use as the case may be.

Albemarle County has a different concept of general in nature as the Development Area Chapter goes to great length to be rather specific regarding their new urbanist philosophical positions:

image

It is important to visually define the center to help create and facilitate a sense of arrival. In Figure 10, the clock tower and cupola help people to see their destination. Centers should be approximately ¼ mile from homes as seen in the illustration in Figure 11. This distance can be increased up to ½ mile if a center contains a transit stop.

This granular level of design can inhibit creative street alignment.  While the above figure might work well on paper the rolling hills that we appreciate in Albemarle County often require a less grid like pattern.

In the nearly 50 pages of the Development Areas chapter of Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan, several new urbanist themes are demanded of private developers increasing the cost and increasing the Development Area amenities while Albemarle County continues to fail to make similar investments allowing some neighborhoods to decay and depreciate.

A robust infrastructure investment program is needed to support the lofty (and so far empty) promises of the Development Areas Chapter.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

TOMORROW – Albemarle Transportation Policy – Multimodal or Anti-Automobile?

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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 www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credit: Source: Community Design and Architecture 2011

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

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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 www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Fluvanna BOS Rejects Walker’s Ridge Revision

By.  Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors kept Walker’s Ridge to the original Rivanna Ridge plan during the Feb. 19 meeting.

There were 14 public speakers during the opening general public comments. Of them, 11 of them outright opposed, two spoke of general concepts to consider for the Walker’s Ridge action item and one person spoke on a different subject matter.

Public concerns ranged from the alternative drain fields to too many home sites to complaints the project did not fit in with how residents view Palmyra planning area.

“I think this project would be a disaster financially for the county. I think it would be a disaster environmentally for the county,” said Marvin Moss.

Three supervisors agreed with the public sentiment.

“It will change Palmyra, historically,” said Don Weaver (Cunningham District).

Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District) said he supports property rights but couldn’t vote for the project.

“[Future supervisors] are going to be tearing down our pictures from the Morris Room [if we pass this],” said Ullenbruch. The entrance of the Morris Room in the county administration building has pictures of many Board of Supervisors.

Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) tried to defer action on the special use permit of Walker’s Ridge. The SUP was for major utilities and without it, the rezoning to a planned unit development (PUD) would fail. His motion to defer failed to receive a second.

O’Brien mentioned that state projections, that have been eerily correct historically, have the county growing significantly in future decades. He noted the project was not a five year project but would develop over many years.

“Reality is, where are those [new] people going to go?” asked O’Brien. “We have to have smart growth. Are we going to have them spread out across the county?”

He defended his motion to defer because of the procedures of the rezoning. The expert opinions the applicant provided defended the major utilities, such as the wells for the first phase and the alternative drain fields for the entire project.

Other documents that are part of the rezoning process, including staff reports, disagreed with some findings.

Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) mentioned some of the best parts of the Rivanna River includes the section that passes by the project.

Ullenbruch motioned to reject the SUP for major utilities and received a second by Weaver. The motion to reject passed 3-0-2, with chairwoman Mozell Booker and O’Brien abstaining.

The motion to reject the PUD rezoning passed 3-2, with Booker and O’Brien voting against rejection.

The owners of the property, Hotel Street Capital LLC, could begin another process of rezoning of the land or could develop using the original R-3 zoning granted to Rivanna Ridge. Walker’s Ridge PUD rezoning process took over a year.

Rivanna Ridge was approved for R-3 rezoning in the late 2000s but the owner did not submit a site plan. In order to develop, a site plan must be submitted and approved by the county planning director. Rivanna Ridge called for over 200 residential units with an idea of condominium style.

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bryan-rothamelThe Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum.

Greene County Planning Commission Denies Fried Companies Rezoning Request

By Pauline Hovey, Field Officer

The Greene County Planning Commission unanimously denied the Fried Companies’ request to rezone its development off US 29 and Preddy Creek Road from residential to planned unit development (PUD) at a December 21st public hearing. When asked after the meeting whether he would pursue his company’s request with the incoming Board of Supervisors, Steve Jones, Fried’s chief operating officer, said he was uncertain what direction the company will take from here.

Fried Companies has been attempting to address changes in the real estate market by asking the county for more flexibility in changing its planned residential development from 800 single-family homes on one-acre lots to 1180 homes, 580 of which would be townhomes. The thought is that less expensive townhomes on smaller lots would provide more diverse and affordable housing for county residents and create more rooftops, which would be attractive to commercial development. Jones explained this would be a 20-year project, with the first single-family home being built in 2014. “It’s a long-haul project,” Jones said, “and we believe it’s consistent with the county’s vision for the comp plan.”

Among the proffers Fried Companies offered for the rezoning included cash proffers of $1,500 per unit, a public use area of 3 acres set aside on the property, and a connector road through the development, connecting Preddy Creek Road and US 29, which Jones said would alleviate the additional traffic created by the development and help ease traffic concerns of residents already meeting heavy traffic on their morning commute along Preddy Creek Road. Other benefits the county would experience as a result of this rezoning, according to Jones, include increased revenue through tap fees and property taxes that the additional townhomes would generate.

Although there was a full house in attendance, only a handful of residents spoke against the rezoning. However, the Planning Department had received numerous letters and emails from residents opposed to the rezoning. Residents questioned Fried’s statistics concerning vehicle traffic and number of school children a development this size would incur. Most were concerned with the traffic along Preddy Creek Road—a narrow winding and dangerously curved road on which drivers sometimes travel at unsafe speeds. Brian Higgins, of the Piedmont Environmental Council, also addressed environmental concerns affecting Preddy Creek Park, which has trails abutting the proposed development.

In addition to opponents, three county resident business owners spoke in favor of the rezoning, citing the county’s need for commercial growth, which will be enhanced and encouraged by “more rooftops” in the county. “We need potential new customers for our business,” said Larry Dudding, a Stanardsville resident and State Farm insurance agent who is a member of the Greene County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Authority board.

Commissioner Bill Martin said he “appreciate the diversification of the housing stock, but the main issue here revolves around Preddy Creek Road. It’s an unsafe road right now. I can’t see an additional 380 townhomes without VDOT making improvements to the roads.”

Chairman Norman Slezak agreed, noting that his major concern with this request is the traffic on Preddy Creek Road and how it will affect the quality of life for residents in that area.

Commissioner Frank Steele said he was also concerned about the impact on schools and the environment. He suggested the county would have to raise taxes to meet the increase in services needed for the additional residents in that area. “I think it will cost us more than the revenue [the project] will generate.”

Jones argued that “the commercial development won’t come without increased rooftops. You need a mix.”

The commissioners had an easier and shorter time deciding to approve the rezoning application to amend proffers for Ted Corp, Inc., Greenecroft LLC, located on Rte. 33 West. The proffers that the Board of Supervisors had accepted back in 2004 required the development to consist of a maximum of 21 1-acre commercial parcels. The company was requesting an amendment to allow greater flexibility in the use and design of the commercial property.

Commissioner Martin said he was “pleased to see the developer is maintaining 30 percent commercial. This will be our first mixed-use PUD.” Chairman Slezak was also pleased with this model, and the commissioners unanimously approved the application.

During the meeting, Commissioner Davis Lamb excused himself from the proceedings, citing conflict of interest since he will begin serving in his new position on the Board of Supervisors in January.

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Pauline Hovey is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.

The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

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

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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 www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits: New Line Cinema, Ryan Homes