The Albemarle County Planning Commission on Tuesday recommended denial of a housing and commercial development proposed for the Fifth Street and Old Lynchburg Road area.
Commissioners cited the requested zoning district criteria, as well as a failure to adequately address increased traffic and school enrollment, as reasons for the unanimous recommendation.
The rezoning request by Kyle Redinger would have allowed for a maximum of 300 residential units, proposed as a mix of apartments and townhouses, and a maximum of 125,000 square feet of non-residential space on about 13.6 acres around the intersection of the roads.
The proposal was to rezone two parcels of land and a portion of a third parcel from R2 residential, R10 residential, and commercial office, to a Planned Unit Development zoning district, which typically allows for a mixture of uses and building types on a site.
At the meeting, Commissioner Karen Firehock said the application was “trying to shoehorn into a zoning class that was created for other purposes.”
“The purpose of a PUD is for a creative arrangement of the space that is brought about by difficulties with topography and layout, and those things, and it allows you that flexibility,” she said. “Of course, it also encourages mixed use.”
Addressing topography and other environmental features are not specifically mentioned in the PUD section of the county’s zoning ordinance, but ensuring preservation of “natural features” including topography is mentioned as an objective for PUDs in Charlottesville’s zoning ordinance.
The county ordinance says PUD districts are intended “to serve as neighborhoods or mini-neighborhoods within designated communities and the urban area.”
After the meeting, project engineer Justin Shimp said he and Redinger don’t know what they are going to do next.
“I think the unfortunate thing is if you were to follow along with the purpose and intent of the PUD in the county code, it’s not what was stated in [the meeting],” Shimp said. “That was the purpose and intent the city PUD code. I don’t even know where to begin with that; it’s like the city has followed me here.”
Firehock on Wednesday added that the applicant did not make a case for how or why the site required a more creative layout of the space and uses.
“In fact, no layout nor design were shown,” she said.
County staff said PUDs are not a common zoning district request though there are few in the county, such as Mill Creek, Mill Creek South, Forest Lakes South, Branchlands and Willoughby.
County Senior Planner Andy Reitelbach said a PUD is the only zoning district permitted by the ordinance that allows for a mixture of uses besides the Neighborhood Model District. Reitelbach said county staff recommended Redinger apply for a PUD instead of neighborhood model because the latter is “very time intensive” for staff, because each NMD requires its own code of development.
“It was kind of staff’s suggestion that the applicant may want to look at the PUD for this project due to the complex nature of NMDs, and with PUDs we’re really looking for more flexible, more creative ways to allow for different zoning districts, and for zoning districts that are already within our ordinance, instead of creating what is essentially a new zoning district every time a new development is created,” he said.
The commission recommended denial of five special exceptions Redinger requested, including to reduce the acreage requirement for a PUD zoning district from 100 acres to 13.63 acres and to modify the minimum area requirements for open space from 25% of the residential area to 20%.
Planning commissioners were concerned with the project’s multiple special exception requests.
The purpose of special exceptions for PUDs is to allow for site flexibility, Reitelbach said.
“It’s important to note that the PUD does allow for all of these special exceptions,” Reitelbach said. “Every single regulation in the PUD can be waived or modified by the board.”
After hearing concerns from the commissioners, Shimp requested a deferral to address some of the issues. The commissioners denied the deferral 4-3 — with commissioners Firehock, Bruce Dodson, Jennie More, and Tim Keller casting the dissenting votes — before moving to recommend denial.
Without Board of Supervisors approval, county staff said, the property owner could build 48 units by-right, and possibly up to 73 units with bonus options.
In the Southern and Western Urban Neighborhoods Master Plan, part of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, the area is labeled on the future land use map as Community Mixed Use, which allows for residential up to 34 units per acre, community-scale retail, service and office uses, among other things, and Urban Density Residential, which allows for six to 34 units per acre.
The Comprehensive Plan guides the county’s long-term vision for land use and resource protection, and includes master plans for the designated development areas of the county. County staff and the Board of Supervisors look to the Comprehensive Plan as part of the rezoning process.
The proposed residential density for the site is around 22 units per acre.
Commissioners asked to have a future work session on this type of zoning district.
Firehock suggested the county create a new zoning class for similar properties and lay out exactly what is expected of them, “instead of trying to take a zoning class like a PUD, which is terribly inappropriate in how it has been applied.”
“I don’t blame the applicant and how staff suggested it to you, but I don’t think it works here,” she said.
Planning commissioners were also concerned about the site’s traffic, the proposed reduction of open space and elementary school capacity issues.
The Virginia Department of Transportation and the county are currently studying the Fifth Street corridor and the results of the study are expected to be available by the summer of 2020.
A proffer was also proposed for transportation improvements at the intersection of Fifth Street and Old Lynchburg Road, where the applicant would contribute either $200,000 to the county or $100,000 and the dedication of property for right-of-way improvements, which was about half the cost of a traffic signal, Shimp said.
Commissioner Pam Riley asked Kevin McDermott, a county transportation planner, if he thought those amounts were a reasonable contribution to the traffic from this proposed project.
McDermott said that since the applicant deemed it reasonable and appropriate, which is a new requirement for proffers, the county would accept it.
“Obviously, it’s not going to address all the problems in the corridor, but they didn’t cause all the problems in the corridor, either,” he said.
The proposed project would have added students to Cale Elementary, which is already experiencing capacity issues.