The future of the ten mile stretch of U.S. Route 29 through Northern Albemarle County is under consideration as the Places29 Master Plan continues to make its way through the County Planning Commission.
The commission considered the Transportation Framework section of the Plan during a work session held on August 28, 2007. This session is a continuation of the Commission’s previous meeting in July. Although time ran out on them last month, the review had to be completed before September 5th, when the Board of Supervisors will take up the same chapters.
Albemarle County Senior Planner Judith Wiegand told the Commission the Transportation Framework has been influenced by numerous studies and public workshops held throughout the last few years. She detailed the numerous traffic forecasts and modeled different construction scenarios that guided the plan, which provides methods as to how new pathways, both vehicular and pedestrian, might be constructed to give people more choices in getting to their destinations.
Some such roads as Northern Free State Road (a northern extension of the future Meadowcreek Parkway) proposed for construction after the scope of the Places29 study – have been taken off of the framework map. However, there are still references to it in the narrative, because its existence was taken into consideration in some of the forecasts.
The Transportation Framework Map
Chairman Marcia Joseph (At-Large) expressed concern that the Transportation Framework depicts elements not likely to be built until after the 2025. She wanted to know if development in the region could be tied to the creation of those transportation improvements.
“There has to be a connection between the roads and the development that occurs,” she said. “We can't have the development without the roads.”
Wiegand explained that the land use depicted on the framework assumes full build out and redevelopment, which may take longer than the period of 2025. “If the pace of development slows down, it may take us a while to get to what we're calling the 2025 point.” That process will be tracked by the Metropolitan Planning Organization as it shepherds its UnJam Area Mobility Plan.
The Transportation Framework recommends grade separations at six interchanges (Hydraulic Rd., Rio Rd., Hilton Heights Road, Ashwood Blvd., Timberwood Blvd, and Airport Road) as being in place by 2025. A seventh at Greenbriar Road is projected to occur after 2025.
Commissioner Duane Zobrist (White Hall) asked Joseph if she was looking for a statement of principle connecting transportation infrastructure to be in place before development. “We've heard an awful lot of discussion about development getting ahead of infrastructure, and why can't we get a strong statement of principle to the extent that if infrastructure is not in place, development projects will not be approved?”
Wiegand pointed out that Places29's Guiding Principle #8 contains language that does stress this. It reads:
“It is important to provide infrastructure at or before the time it is needed to serve new
development. Infrastructure may be funded by local government, the private sector, or a
combination of funding sources.”
Commissioner Bill Edgerton (Jack Jouett) said that language was not strong enough. “Since we are bound to evaluate any rezoning or variance based on how it complies with the comprehensive plan, I for one would like to see a stronger statement saying that if the infrastructure is not in place, that would be a legitimate reason for denying the request for rezoning.”
Commissioner Jon Cannon (Rio) was more cautious, and said he did not feel the commission should box itself into a corner and restrict itself. Commissioner Pete Craddock (Scottsville) agreed, and said that in many cases, the Commission would not have the legal authority to require off-site improvements for a proposed development. “It's a great idea about having infrastructure in place,” he said. “But if there's nothing we can do about it because of the Dillon rule or some other things, are we putting ourselves into a box?”
Albemarle County Chief Planner David Benish said the implementation portion of the Places29 narrative, Chapter 8, will establish priority areas for infrastructure improvements. “Improvements in the implementation plan is going to set a strategy for which projects will need to be done sooner rather than later.” He said the Commission's recent approval of U.Va's Area B study recommendations contained language that set timing for certain improvements. He says in the past, the Comprehensive plan did not specifically articulate what kinds of improvements the County might want.
DOES PLACES29 GO FAR ENOUGH TO PROMOTE TRANSIT?
Proposed Bus Rapid Transit Map
In addition to roads, Chapter 5 also outlines how a series of transit improvements could connect the various Centers being created as part of the Places29 plan. For instance, the section suggests a two-phase approach to implementing a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. Under the first phase, the BRT would terminate at Rio Road, before being extended to Airport Road in the second phase.
"The Charlottesville Transit Service in the Places29 area is entirely south of the South Fork of the Rivanna and we are looking for ways to expand that,” Wiegand said, adding that more details on this would be available when the Commission takes up Chapter 8. She added that the Places29 Plan in general puts a priority on transit-ready development, especially in areas where circulator roads are desired.
The traffic models used to develop the Transportation Framework estimate that by 2025, 2 percent of total trips in the Places29 area will be accomplished by transit. Julia Monteith, the University of Virginia’s Senior Land Use Planner, expressed the concern that this number was far too low.
Harrison Rue, Executive Director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District, explained that the numbers used in the modeling process are fairly conservative. He added that the MPO is beginning to develop a formula to calculate the number of additional trips that might switch to transit as a result of higher fuel costs. “We think [the number] could be higher, and part of that will depend on the development decisions that both the county makes as well as individual developers.”
Monteith felt language used in the Places29 Plan should be strengthened to further encourage transit use. “To me, part of the idea behind doing a master plan is to help lead you in the direction you want to go, not to accept everything as a fait accompli,” she said.
David Benish said he felt the plan does promote transit, but that reality constrained how quickly higher transit numbers can be achieved. “We could be overestimating if we have approved a number of developments with a significant square footage in residential that's not at the ultimate level of density that we'd like to achieve. So, the plan shows a lot of mixed-use development, and a lot of increases in density, but some of those are overlaying developments that have been approved but haven't even broken ground yet.”
Commissioner Cannon asked what the relationship was between density and transit use. Harrison Rue answered that it's a combination of density plus how “walkable” an area is. “We do have a significant
amount of developments up there that don't have a place to walk to,” he said. But he added that more detailed study was needed, and will be part of the discussion of a regional transit authority.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE TRANSPORTATION FRAMEWORK
Since the Places29 process began, public input has influenced the development of the Transportation Framework. To illustrate this, Wiegand walked the Commission through eight sections of the area that have been changed.
First, the Framework originally showed a roadway connecting the end of Ashwood Boulevard in Forest Lakes South to Polo Grounds Road. Wiegand said this was then taken out after overwhelming opposition from the Forest Lakes Association. The connection is still shown on the map but with the support of the neighborhood and as a pedestrian-only trail.
Next, a local access connection was suggested to link Ashwood Boulevard and Hollymead Drive as a road to run parallel to Route 29. This will now be depicted as an alleyway to provide rear access to any developments that may occur along that portion of Route 29, which is listed as residential. Another proposed local access connection was suggested between Timberwood Boulevard and Hollymead Drive, behind the cemetery. Partially built, this road will no longer be connected.
One of the most controversial aspects of the Places29 process is the proposal to construct grade separated interchanges along Route 29. The North Charlottesville Business Council is concerned about the disruptions that may occur during construction, as well as uncertainty over whose businesses might be taken to accommodate the interchanges. The NCBC took their concerns to the Board of Supervisors earlier this year, and Wiegand said a series of workshops will be held in late September with business owners around each proposed interchange. She added that specific details about each interchange won’t be known until those projects move into the design phase.
“The only way we’re going to know who’s going to be affected is by doing a preliminary design and engineering study which is not something that’s done until we actually get ready to build the road,” she said.
VDOT’s John Giometti said the plan would also be influenced by input from public hearings, but he said that before that happens, officials still need to demonstrate a purpose for the interchanges.
“The important thing is not how people are impacted, but whether the need exists, and you really have to come to agreement as to whether there is a need for grade separation,” he said. VDOT would reimburse property owners if their land is required in the right-of-way.
Harrison Rue said the grade separations were crucial to get people moving throughout the area, but reminded the Commission that proposed roads going through existing shopping centers will not be built without the participation of future property owners.
“The roads are likely to go where someone wants to redevelop,” Rue said. “There’s some flexibility in the roads leading up to the grade separation.” That means that any grade separation at Rio Road will likely be several years off as redevelopment continues. Wiegand says the County will work closely with VDOT during the design process for Rio Road, and the goal is to improve access to businesses in that area.
“The [existing] road network through here doesn’t make some of those parcels as accessible as they would be if you put in a different type of road network,” she said.
"JUG HANDLES" AT FOREST LAKES
Places29 also calls for a grade separation at the intersection of Ashwood Boulevard and Route 29. A “jug handle” access road would lead to a bridge that would allow traffic from Forest Lakes South to cross Route 29. The location of this jug handle is depicted on the map as traveling through the northeast corner of Ashwood and 29, but this has been opposed by the Forest Lakes Association because that land is currently the site of a mobile home park.
“[The consultant] said they found that actually putting it over on the north side would work better from a road design standpoint,” Wiegand said. “It was the opinion of staff that we were not looking at any time to put this through the mobile home park. The assumption behind that was that [the interchange] would not happen until the mobile home park redevelops.”
The Commission asked Wiegand to update the map to show the road as traveling through the southeast corner over County-owned land. However, the text will continue to reflect both development possibilities for the future road.
The plan originally also depicted an interconnection between Polo Grounds Road and Ashwood Boulevard. Wiegand said the area to be served is designated as Neighborhood Urban Residential in the current Comprehensive Plan, and the roadway is necessary to help support the Neighborhood Model form of development, if that section of land is ever developed.
“The precise location of this road doesn’t have to be exactly where it is shown, but what we’re trying to do is convey a message to a potential developer that he needs to somehow connect the two places, Ashwood and Boulevard,” Wiegand explained.
During the July 31st meeting, Commissioners were asked to consider expanding the growth area and recommended denial of several boundary changes, though they deferred a decision on one section of land near Piney Mountain and NGIC. Commissioners did not revisit that issue at this meeting, but will do so before the Places29 Master Plan is sent to the Board of Supervisors.
There was no public comment during the work session, but when the Commission began its regular meeting, Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum stood to express his concern that no cost estimates have yet been released. He requested that a cost section be written into the chapter. "As we all know, we don't have an unlimited budget," he said.
The Commission stopped the discussion just before getting to the Green Infrastructure Map, and did not have time to consider it publicly before the Board of Supervisors considers it next week.