Albemarle County officials want to see flexibility around what uses are permitted in the Rio Road-U.S. 29 area.

On Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission held a joint work session where members ranked topic priorities for the development of a form-based code for the Rio Road-U.S. 29 area.

The Rio29 Small Area Plan was adopted by the board in December 2018, and the implementation chapter of the plan includes a recommendation to implement form-based code as one method to achieve the vision in the plan.

Members ranked building location, area bulk regulations, streets, use, parking, green space, architecture and affordable housing, which will all be included in the code, but the level of detail will be different.

The Rio29 Steering Committee — which is made up of residents, developers, architects and others from the Rio Road-U.S. 29 area — had chosen priorities at a recent meeting, and “use” and “area bulk regulations” were top priorities for most.

“When asking questions about why ‘use’ came up, it was really about prioritizing flexibility of use, then actually regulating it more firmly than we already use, so there’s a little bit of nuance to that,” said Michaela Accardi, a county neighborhood planner.

“Use” was ranked highly on Tuesday, as well, and supervisors and commissioners also wanted to see flexibility.

Because there isn’t much residential space abutting the area, Commissioner Bruce Dotson said he thinks they can be more flexible.

“What I mean by ‘use’ is, we’re looking at a very broad array of uses, but at the same time, I think we need to be very clear that we’re looking for some mixture of uses,” he said.

Board Chair Ned Gallaway said they have to get the mixture of uses right or it doesn’t work.

“If you don’t have that multi-use piece of it, why even bother,” he said. “We’re not going to encourage people to live there, we’re not going to encourage them to go there as a destination.”

Other officials had green space ranked highly, and multi-modal transportation and the view of the mountains were some of the topics that were also discussed as priorities for other members.

Gallaway said affordable housing should be a priority of everything.

“To ask me to prioritize it against ‘area bulk regulations’ in a small-area plan means it’s going to get forced down, and that goes counter to what we’re saying ... is an important issue for us,” he said.

He said they have to make sure it’s part of the culture with everything the county does.

“If somebody goes into this area and thinks that affordable housing shouldn’t be part of it, then shame on them for not paying attention to what the county is saying is an important issue,” Gallaway said.

If the county does form-based code as an optional overlay zoning district and maintains the existing underlying zoning, staff can then require affordable housing through the optional overlay, said Rachel Falkenstein, county principal planner.

“If we decided to go in and just flat out rezone the area to just do form-based code, we cannot require affordable housing,” she said.

Falkenstein said county staff are working on a draft framework for form-based code first, which will be presented to the board at the end of the year, and will then move forward with the actual form-based code ordinance that would be brought to the Board of Supervisors for a public hearing around mid-2020.

The bodies also had a work session on proposals to improve stream health in the county’s development areas, some of which will require further board approval at a later date.

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