New 206-unit apartment complex raises interconnectivity concerns with Woodbrook neighbors
By Sean Tubbs
Monday, June 22, 2009
One of the goals of the Places29 Master Plan is to encourage greater housing density in Albemarle County’s growth area. One way to achieve that goal is through in-fill development on empty parcels of land. However, the reality may be that some of the plans will be hard to implement due to a lack of cooperation between adjoining property owners, fears from existing residential neighborhoods, as well as County regulations designed to ensure that the transportation infrastructure can support the additional density.
On Tuesday, June 23, 2009, the Albemarle County Planning Commission will take up a preliminary site plan for a 206-unit by-right multifamily apartment complex called Arden Place. The property is located off of Rio Road and Putt Putt Place and is being developed by Coleway Development for the Charlottesville Realty Corporation. The project does requires a critical slopes waiver as well as a waiver to disturb an existing buffer between the property and the Woodbrook neighborhood. On the surface, it would seem that the development is in keeping with the spirit of Places29. Because of appropriate efforts to mitigate impacts, staff has recommended approval of the two waivers.
However, even with the waivers, County staff initially recommended that the Planning Commission deny the preliminary site plan application because the developer cannot currently build a second road to support the complex. County regulations require that an apartment complex with over 50 residential units have at least two vehicular connections to public streets.
County Engineer Glenn Brooks wrote in a May 1, 2009 review that building only one vehicular entrance at Putt Putt Lane and Rio Road would not be enough to support the development. In particular, those seeking to turn left from Putt Putt Place onto Rio Road will experience long delays. However, Brooks also noted in his letter that the intersection did not yet meet the minimum guidelines for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to build a traffic signal. Additionally, Brooks said the development would further congest the intersection of Rio Road and U.S. Route 29, as well as the intersection of Putt Putt Place and Rio Road.
However, Deputy County Attorney Greg Kamptner intervened in the review late last week with a June 18, 2009 letter which states that the County lacks the authority to deny a site plan based on anticipated off-site transportation impacts.. Since then, the developer has asked for a waiver of the County regulations that require two vehicular connections. Instead, of a vehicular connection to Woodbrook, the developer is proposing to build a pedestrian path connecting to a strip of property owned by the County, a public right-of-way which was intended for future neighborhood connectivity. This would allow pedestrian and bicycle traffic between Arden Place and Mallside Forest Apartments to the Woodbrook neighborhood, location of the neighborhood elementary school. In an updated staff report, County Planner Gerald Gotubu recommended approval of this waiver.
Additionally, the developer is also in negotiations with the owners of the Albemarle Square commercial development to build the second road connection near the former Circuit City building. This would allow traffic to reach Rio Road via the traffic light for Albemarle Square. However, negotiations have not yet been successful.
With seemingly reluctant support of the site plan, County staff continues to warn against the traffic impacts Arden Place will have on Rio Road.
“Without a signal, and anticipating normal growth as well as the addition of the Arden Place development, in approximately 5 years the expected delay for a vehicle attempting to turn left from Putt Putt Place onto Rio Road East will be over 19 minutes,” the amended report states. “Without the Arden Place development, this delay would be 7.3 minutes.” The report goes on to say that if the connection to Albemarle Square could be constructed, the wait would be only 5 minutes.
As the site plan evolved, residents of the Woodbrook neighborhood mobilized to take action to oppose the connection of a public street through their neighborhood. They created their own blog to monitor the situation and will be on hand for the Planning Commission’s meeting this week to provide input.
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