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July 16, 2007

Biscuit Run: A detailed look at the discussion on parks, transportation, and water needs

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The Biscuit Run development took a giant step forward at last week’s meeting of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors. The project made its first appearance before the Board since being recommended for approval by a unanimous Planning Commission last May.  During a two and one-half-hour work session, proffers dominated the Board’s discussion.
20070711bos
Developer Hunter Craig has volunteered numerous proffers as part of his rezoning request in order to mitigate the impact of the new development on the community.  Proffers are used to fund infrastructure needs like parks, schools, roads, libraries, and public safety. 

By the end of the meeting, the Supervisors had:

Attorney Steve Blaine, representing Craig, pointed out that Biscuit Run’s proffer proposals had come together in response to specific issues raised by the community and prior to the development of the County’s new per-home cash proffer expectations.  Reconciling these proffers with the County’s emerging cash proffer policy is one of the key considerations before the Board. 

20070711biscuitrunBlaine described the development’s proffer contributions as being valued at $30.86 million.  However, County staff told the Board that the proffers actually represented a shortfall of between $17.4 to $30.7 million.  In part, this shortfall is the result of staff’s calculation that $12 million in proffers should not be counted unless the Board granted some exceptions to their new guidelines.  One example is the 402 acre district park which has an estimated value of $5.3 million.  This amount is included in the applicant’s total, but excluded by staff because a park this large is not a specific project currently in the County’s Comprehensive Plan or capital improvement budget. 

Thus County staff asked the Board to weigh the value of the applicant’s proffers versus the cash that might be paid for each of the development’s 3,100 homes (for example, a one-time charge of $17,500 per single family detached home as required in the County’s new guidelines).  Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) stated that he thought the cash proffers, estimated by the developer at $11,711 per unit, showed a deficit of about $3,000 per unit that the applicant would need to make up in their rezoning request.

COUNTY AGREES TO 402 ACRE DISTRICT PARK

In their deliberations, the Board agreed new ideas like the park had to be considered on a case by case basis.  Blaine pointed out that had the new cash proffer policy been in place in the beginning, the Biscuit Run development would have looked much different and “innovative things” such as the park would have been absent.

Pat Mullaney, Director of Albemarle County Parks & Recreation, was asked about the value of the park proffer.

“This park will be here forever, and as the County grows that property becomes more and more valuable.  They print money every day.  They won’t make any more land….Accepting this park land is directly in line with your strategic plan objective to increase the total combined acreage, either in conservation easements or in qualifying public park land.  I really don’t want to see us miss this opportunity to set this land aside.  It’s one of the best things we can do for the quality of life of our citizens in the future….Parks are forever.  It may be a hundred years from now, but someone is going to thank you for protecting this park land.”

During questioning about the construction of the road and bridge to allow access to the park, developer Hunter Craig made it clear to the Board that he could do other things with the 402 acres of rural land.

“I have a verbal offer for over nine million dollars for that piece of property.  So if you would like, we would be more than happy to just give you that five and one-half million in cash [the estimated proffer value].  We were doing that to be community-minded.  It is my heartfelt belief and desire that the entire community will benefit.  There are not enough fields for [soccer], youth lacrosse, and this was entirely meant to be a community benefit.”

In a separate cash proffer of up to $1.8 million ($500 per home built), Craig has offered to build one or more playing fields.  Chairman Ken Boyd (Rivanna) said that this was a proffer he had personally advocated for with Craig in an effort to get additional playing fields for the community.  The Board reached consensus that the district park was a benefit to the community and an acceptable proffer.

DEVELOPERS SAY VDOT OVERSTATES TRANSPORTATION NEEDS

At multiple points in the meeting, Supervisor Sally Thomas (Samuel Miller) asked questions about the scope of the general transportation proffers as compared to the needs identified in memos from VDOT.  Thomas asked, “How do we get from a memo from VDOT that says that the figure, just on Route 20 [improvements alone] ought to be $12.974 million to something called 'general transportation fund contribution' of $7.75 million?”

Blaine responded by quoting from the memo saying it was provided for “informational purposes only and did not necessarily reflect improvements that are needed entirely due to the impacts associated with the proposed rezoning.”  Blaine continued:

“I think what VDOT was attempting to do was to make certain that the County understands that there is planning needed for the widening of Route 20.  What we found in the public hearings and the meetings with the community is there’s not necessarily a consensus right now for the widening of Route 20.”

Blaine shared his view that VDOT had overstated the share of costs attributable to the development, including the needs for widening Route 20. VDOT's March 2007 analysis addressed improvements required only to Route 20, Avon Street, and Old Lynchburg Road. The total cost of the improvements for these three roads alone was estimated to be $88 million (in 2014 dollars) with VDOT suggesting the pro-rata share that should be proffered in cash by the developer totaling $32 million.

Further, Blaine indicated VDOT had oversimplified the cost allocation and he cited the comprehensive transportation study conducted for Biscuit Run. 

“We have spent eleven months on a traffic study that recommended various improvements, and that’s what the staff’s recommendation is based upon and what our proffers are based upon.  And so the VDOT memo does not provide anything other than a planning tool and a suggestion, and we disagree with it if it is suggesting that our fair share is $14 million [for Route 20 improvements].”

Biscuitruntia5thst The Biscuit Run transportation study also called for the widening of the 5th Street bridge over Interstate 64 to allow for two full-length parallel turn lanes, a need not yet addressed by VDOT, County staff, the applicant’s proffers, or the Board of Supervisors (see diagram prepared by Charlottesville Tomorrow at left). 

By the end of the meeting, when Chairman Boyd was encouraging board members to submit their questions in advance for the next work session, he suggested the board not revisit matters already addressed by the Planning Commission.  After Thomas again mentioned that some of VDOT’s concerns had not been fully addressed, Blaine told the Supervisors that the Planning Commission had fully vetted the transportation issues.  “Their findings were supported by a unanimous, enthusiastic recommendation,” said Blaine.

WATER AND SEWER CAPACITY WILL BE ADEQUATE


Supervisor Thomas asked the Gary Fern, Executive Director of the Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA), to address the adequacy of water and sewer infrastructure to support Biscuit Run.  Fern started his response by saying he didn’t know of any unresolved water or sewer issues.  He assured the Board that water would be available for the development and he detailed the two memorandums of understanding that outline the developer’s agreement to help pay for increased sewer capacity in the future.  Fern said he had no concerns about the agreements reached between the County and the developer.

ROAD CONNECTION TO MILL CREEK SOUTH

Interconnecting our neighborhoods is a goal of the County’s neighborhood model form of development.  However, a proposed road interconnection between Biscuit Run and Mill Creek South has been a hot potato bounced around by the developers as they have received conflicting feedback from Mill Creek residents and County decision makers. 

Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier (Scottsville) raised concerns he had recently received from Mill Creek residents who were opposed to the road connection.  He favored a bicycle and pedestrian only connection to the existing neighborhood.  Other Supervisors like Sally Thomas, David Slutzky, and Dennis Rooker expressed their support for a future vehicle connection.  Thomas had feedback for both the timing and design of the connection.  She suggested that it might start as a pedestrian/bicycle connection then be upgraded for vehicles only after the elementary school was built or a certain amount of retain space was built.  She asked for a revised plan that showed this road being built as a “T-intersection” with a stop sign which would minimize cut-though traffic.  Slutzky indicated that he did not want to specify when the connection would occur out of deference to the neighbors’ concerns, but that he was confident the community would ask for it in the future and that the proffers gave the County the flexibility to establish the road when needed.

WHAT’S NEXT

The Board of Supervisors has allocated another hour and a half for a second work session on August 8, 2007 at 2:00 PM.  A public hearing will be held in September 2007.

Brian Wheeler

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