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July 10, 2006

Realtors touting walkable, livable villages

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Local realtor Jonathan Kauffmann has a blog that focuses on the Old Trail development in Crozet, VA.  In a post today, he makes mention of a CNNMoney.com article entitled "The next real estate boom: Dense settlements, not sprawling ranch houses, are the future of housing - and could make for a smart real-estate investment."  Mr. Kauffmann wants his readers (and future investors) to know that Old Trail is intended to have many of the benefits described in the article as a similar "New Village" redefining the housing product in areas outside of a city center.  According to the article's author, Chris Taylor:

"The demand for such developments is real, and it's only going to get greater as consumer preferences rapidly shift away from the McMansions preferred by boomers. According to a study by the nonprofit Congress for New Urbanism, while less than 25 percent of middle-aged Americans are interested in living in dense areas, 53 percent of 24-34 year olds would choose to live in transit-rich, walkable neighborhoods, if they had the choice."

The demand in Albemarle for "walkable" and "livable" communities has been spurred by Albemarle County's Neighborhood Model Development (NMD) ordinance.  Developers wishing to get their property rezoned (e.g. Biscuit Run, Rivanna Village, Old Trail) know the County is expecting mixed-use communities (housing combined with retail/commercial), town centers, interconnected streets instead of cul-de-sacs, and a variety of housing types and cost ranges.  The article also points out that developers also know simple math--There are more housing units selling at higher prices in these denser villages.

Another large County development designed with this model in mind is North Pointe.  North Pointe is currently at the rezoning stage and will be in front of the Board of Supervisors on August 2nd for another public hearing.  One of the things I noticed at the North Pointe public hearing was how many people said favorable things about the idea of pedestrian and bicycle friendly neighborhoods following the County's Neighborhood Model principles.  One of the challenges is that we do not have a large NMD project in Albemarle completed that we can look at and evaluate.   

As a result, the public often questions whether denser developments are a good thing.  For example, residents of existing neighborhoods ask not to be connected to new neighborhoods which will have schools and shopping they could easily drive, walk or bicycle to IF they were effectively and safely connected. New roads would allow them to take shorter trips off congested thoroughfares. However, the Neighborhood Model will only work if the developer, County and the state government can fund and build the infrastructure required to support a growing population. 

Another factor we have to consider in Charlottesville and Albemarle is the impact on our roads of developments located on the outskirts or separated from the existing urban area (Rivanna Village at Glenmore, Old Trail in Crozet, North Pointe up 29N, and Biscuit Run south of Charlottesville).  What needs will develop for new transportation solutions as people commute to jobs at UVA and in the City of Charlottesville.  What will the impact be on traffic congestion?  What impact will the over 3 million square feet of additional retail under review by Albemarle have on existing stores and roads?  Transportation infrastructure and retail saturation are two issues Charlottesville Tomorrow has asked the Board of Supervisors to consider carefully as they consider future rezonings in the County's growth areas [our letter].

What do you think about denser neighborhood villages in our community?  Are you ready to invest?  Are you ready to move in?

Brian Wheeler

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