Dunlora residents are calling for a moratorium on rezonings and new development along Rio Road in Albemarle County.
More than 450 residents of the development signed petitions opposing development of the Rio Road-U.S. 29 corridor, and more specifically, against two projects — Parkway Place and 999 Rio Road — and sent them to the county Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission.
“We in the neighborhood two of the Rio District request that no further development be considered until the infrastructure surrounding the area is evaluated and improvements in road safety and traffic flow are implemented,” the letter associated with the petition states.
A developer is proposing approximately 328 apartments on about 27 acres near the intersection of the John W. Warner Parkway and Rio Road, called Parkway Place, on the Wetsel family property. A rezoning application to the county has been submitted to change the current R-4 zoning to Planned Residential Development.
Another developer is proposing between 16 and 46 residential units at 999 Rio Road, with a mixture of apartments, small houses and commercial space. A rezoning application to the county to change the current R-4 zoning to Neighborhood Model District was supported by the county’s Planning Commission on Tuesday night.
In Albemarle’s Places29 Master Plan, which is part of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, both properties are shown on the future land use map as urban density residential, which recommends density of between six and 34 units per acre.
The Comprehensive Plan is the county’s guiding document for its 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 letter associated with the petition says that the request is consistent with what was granted to the Village of Rivanna, which states that “future residential development should only be approved if and when transportation improvements to U.S. 250 have been made and sufficient sewer capacity is in place to support that development.”
Kevin McDermott, a transportation planner with the county, said the Village of Rivanna is in a different situation.
“It’s much more difficult to control the road between the center of activity and Rivanna because you’ve got that giant stretch of U.S. 250 that you would have to address,” he said.
“Part of the reason we tend to support these projects that are this close to the development area is because we can provide access to transit, to bike/ped, which gives people the option to use those alternative modes of travel,” McDermott said of the 999 Rio Road project.
Andy Herrick, the deputy county attorney, speaking on the requested moratorium, said each application deserves a case-by-case analysis.
“When an applicant comes forward, they’re entitled to have their application judged on its own merits,” he said. “There may be reasons for approving it, there may be reasons for denying it, there may be the same reasons for approving or denying for similar applications that come along.”
At a Albemarle Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, the commissioners voted, 4-1, to recommend the 999 Rio Road project. Commissioners Bruce Dotson and Pam Riley were absent.
Commissioner Daphne Spain said she appreciated the turnout from the Dunlora residents and that’s why she voted against the proposed rezoning.
“I think the residents of Dunlora made a very compelling argument about the traffic, they had data to support the problems there,” she said. “I appreciate that turnout, the turnout certainly was very impressive.”
Commissioner Jennie More said the decision was difficult for her, but she saw benefit from the rezoning that wouldn’t happen if it was developed by-right.
“Some of the things that can happen with a rezoning, like screening and these sorts of things that don’t happen with a by-right project, that’s something I think we all have to consider in this,” she said.
Commissioner Karen Firehock said she felt the development fit with the surrounding area, which is near Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center and two churches.
“This is not a development that causes a jarring change for what’s already at that intersection,” she said.
Commissioner Tim Keller said he remembered camping on the land that is now Dunlora, and that change is something that has to be dealt with all the time in this community.
“I really am trying to listen and hear the younger generations that are talking about the real challenges that they’re facing in the housing markets today, and I’m positively inclined towards a project like this that is trying to think about creative ways to do this and thinking outside the box,” he said.
Almost all members of the public who spoke at the public hearing were from Dunlora and were opposed to the 999 Rio Road project, citing concerns about increasing traffic and fit with the area.
Alexis Hally, who lives on Shepherds Ridge Road, said her property faces the proposed development and that she has “grave concerns.”
“The rezoning is going to ruin our neighborhood and the value of my property is likely to plummet,” she said. “Had I known this would happen, I would’ve never had bought this house, and if this development happens, I will have great difficulty selling this house in the future.”
Martha Springett, who lives on Charter Oaks Drive, said residents in Belvedere area are “forced” to use the back roads into Dunlora.
“The idea of using quiet neighborhood streets as major collector roads is a travesty,” she said. “These neighborhood roads were not designed to be made collector roads.”
Laura Thomas, who said she lives in Dunlora, purchased her house in part because of the beautiful scenery around her, which she said is now gone. She shared traffic information with the commission.
“I urge you to decline this because we need to say ‘no,’ we need to say ‘enough,’” she said. “Enough traffic, enough developments — we’re saturated.”
Charles Kelly, who said he lived at Arden Place apartments, was the only person who spoke directly in favor of the project. He said when he moved here three years ago, he had difficulty finding housing with his starting salary.
“Some people are priced out of areas — I can’t live downtown. I can’t rent downtown, because I’m priced out of that area,” he said. “Having more options closer to the downtown area like this development would allow people to have a chance to be in communities of people who’ve been here for a long time, who understand what the area is, and can share with them the things that they enjoy about this area.”
The Planning Commission also requested the board consider a multi-model transportation review of the Rio Road corridor from the city limits to U.S. 29.