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January 17, 2010

County planners to debate whether Albemarle has enough industrial land

Reader comments (0) DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, January 17, 2010

Landscaper Scott Watkins was told by Albemarle officials in February 2005 that the landscaping business he had operated for more than twenty years was in violation of county zoning because its headquarters and storage yard was located in the rural area off of Route 20.

Five years later, Watkins is still working with community development officials to move his company into the development area.

“The process is like crawling through forty miles of barbed wire because there are so many pieces to it,” Watkins said. He estimates he’s spent nearly half a million dollars to stay in Albemarle County.

After much research, Watkins found property on Route 250 near Crozet that could be rezoned. In March 2008, the Board of Supervisors granted him the rezoning, but he is still working to meet the requirements detailed in his site plan.

Watkins’ story is one of many that has prompted some members of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors to back an “action plan” of steps designed to make the county more business friendly. Among the proposals in the plan, adopted earlier this month, is the call for an expedited review of a report on the availability of light industrial land.

That report, initiated well before last November’s elections, will be presented to the Albemarle County Planning Commission on Tuesday night. Susan Stimart, the county’s business development facilitator, analyzed real-estate records and conducted interviews with business owners to produce a “snapshot” of available industrial land.

“Staff concludes there is a shortage of high-quality, vacant industrial land compared with existing users’ stated demands, workforce projections and comparable supply in other jurisdictions,” Stimart writes in the report.

Download Download Susan Stimart's assessment of light-industrial land in Albemarle County

One of the conclusions is that there are currently less than 200 acres of available vacant land in Albemarle zoned for “light industrial” uses such as research and development, printing, and light manufacturing.  

20100117-map1 Stimart's report includes maps showing where vacant industrial land remains in Albemarle County
However, the report also indicates the true figure is closer to 100 acres because some of the land is in the rural area and because other properties are undergoing environmental remediation. One such location is the former Acme Visible Records complex in Crozet, which sits on 52 acres, but is scheduled for six more years of environmental clean-up.

Another conclusion is that the County’s comprehensive plan has over 900 acres of land designated for “industrial service” but which is currently zoned for other purposes. With the plan and the zoning out of accord, a company looking to locate here or expand would have to would have to go through the county’s rezoning process.

In general, the report recommends the county take several steps to increase the amount of land available for industrial use. Using employment statistics extrapolated from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Stimart estimates the county will need between 184 and 500 additional acres of land zoned for industrial uses by 2018 in order to meet future employment needs.

Recommended steps include bringing zoning into conformance with the comprehensive plan, allowing for more uses (such as storage yards) on land zoned for light-industrial, and using the upcoming master planning process for the county’s southern development area to designate new areas for industrial use.

Mike Harvey, the executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development, said whether the County has enough land or not, the issue is whether individual parcels are large enough to attract industrial development. He said many companies evaluate localities first through Internet-based research.

20100117-map2 The report shows that the majority of vacant land designated in the comprehensive plan for industrial service tends to be in the Places29 area
“Sometimes you don’t make the cut because you don’t have the basic property,” Harvey said. One Albemarle landowner has offered to increase the county’s inventory by expanding the designated growth area. Will Yancey has introduced a comprehensive plan amendment that asks for 184 acres of mostly rural land near his family’s Yancey Lumber Company to be moved into the growth area, specifically to create a light industrial business park.

“I think the report clearly states what we’ve known anecdotally for some time,” Yancey said. “There is an inadequate amount of land zoned for industrial uses in the county.” He added that his land is close to I-64, has access to water and sewer, and contains at least 50 acres of developable land.

Jeff Werner with the Piedmont Environmental Council said the county has squandered much of the land that had been zoned light industrial. During the residential and retail boom of the last decade, many properties that had been zoned for light industrial use were rezoned to make way for new developments such as Albemarle Place and Hollymead Town Center.

Werner specifically pointed to the March 2008 rezoning of 88 acres off of Fifth Street Extended to make way for a new shopping center.

“I don’t recall anyone from the development community raising any concerns about that,” Werner said

“Given that the county has been willing to rezone light industrial lands for retail, I see no need to expand the growth area.”

Harvey said that, in Albemarle, the problem is often companies that grow here but can’t expand because land is either too expensive or unavailable. For his part, Watkins said he wanted to make sure he could stay in Albemarle because most of his clients are located here.

The Albemarle County Planning Commission will receive and discuss the report at their meeting Tuesday evening at 6:00 PM at the County Office Building.

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