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April 11, 2008

Clifton Lake development depends on road access from Clifton Inn

Reader comments (0) 20080408-CoPC-CliftonBehind the Shadwell Estates neighborhood on Route 250 E are 62 undeveloped acres of lake front property.  Dr. Charles W. Hurt received approval from the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors to develop Clifton Lake in 1978.  Thirty years later, the County Planning Commission has reluctantly approved a preliminary subdivision plat for applicant Greg Baldwin to build Phase I, 30 single-family homes.  

There remains one major obstacle to this new development--The 1978 rezoning requires a “road across the dam” to establish a second entrance to the neighborhood via North Milton Road, Route 729.  Even in 1978, Supervisors were concerned about traffic on Route 250 and the safety of the Shadwell Road entrance used by Shadwell Estates.  Today Route 250 carries significantly more traffic and there is a traffic signal where North Milton Road meets Route 250.  To the neighbors in Shadwell Estates, it makes even more sense today to encourage traffic to go around the lake to the signalized intersection that services Stone Robinson Elementary School.

Lee Ewing, General Manager, Clifton Inn
However, the dam and surrounding land are the property of Mitchell Willey and the historic Clifton Inn, portions of which were intended to be Phase II of Clifton Lake.  Despite a letter of agreement between Hurt and Willey circa 1990, the Clifton Inn’s General Manager, Lee Ewing, told the Albemarle County Planning Commission that the Inn’s owners today had no intention of granting an easement over their property.

“There are safety concerns, there are environmental concerns.  We have children of guests [and] guests going down to the lake. It opens up all type of safety and environmental issues for the Willey’s operation, i.e. the Clifton Inn,” said Ewing.

Kelly Strickland with Dominion Development Resources spoke on behalf of Mr. Baldwin.  “We have never proposed to anything other than the by-right development of the property,” said Strickland.  He apologized for the past confusion about the road access requirements which had led to the Commission’s denial in February 2008.  

“We went back and listened to the [Board of Supervisors meeting] from 1978 and it was clear that the Board intended for the private road across the dam to be an open thru access road serving the community to access Route 729.”  Having made that adjustment to their plan, Strickland was back before the Commission seeking approval.

Steve Houchens lives on Shadwell Road and he spoke to the Commission about his neighborhood’s traffic concerns.  “Our road cannot handle that traffic,” said Houchens.  “If they can come in the other way, more power to them.”

The Planning Commission was very uneasy being asked to approve anything related to a thirty-year old development proposal that was outside of the County’s designated growth areas (to the East it borders Glenmore and the Village of Rivanna growth area).  When Commissioner Marcia Joseph (At-Large) moved approval, recognizing she could articulate no legal reason to deny the plan, there was silence.  No commissioner seconded the motion.

Commissioner Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller) asked the County’s Deputy Attorney Greg Kamptner what would happen if they just sat there silently and didn’t take action.   Kamptner said that three days later the deadline for action would pass and the applicant would have the right to go to court to compel action.  Kamptner reminded the Commission that if they wanted to deny the plan, they would have to cite the exact part of the County ordinance that was not being satisfied.  Stale zoning and off-site concerns about traffic safety could not be used as justification.
20080408-CoPC1So the Commission zeroed in on the disagreement between the landowners that made a road easement look like an impossibility.  The development is in Commissioner Linda Porterfield’s Scottsville District.  “It would be really nice if you deferred and came back with signed agreements with the property owners…showing that you have the easement.  It would make it easier on everybody,” said Porterfield.

Greg Baldwin came to the podium and told the Commission that he needed the preliminary plat approved so he could take care of those requirements.  Staff made it clear that the easement and actual road construction would be a condition for final plat approval.  The development could not start without the second entrance.

The second time Joseph made the motion to approve the preliminary plat for Clifton Lake, she got a second.  The vote was 4-2 in favor with Tom Loach (White Hall) and Porterfield voting against (Cannon absent).

With preliminary plat approval, Greg Baldwin will have a year to get the necessary easement to build a connector road behind the Clifton Inn.  Let the negotiations begin.

Brian Wheeler


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