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June 24, 2010

Albemarle Place progress could speed up widening of U.S. 29

Reader comments (2) DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, June 24, 2010

While the nearly 65 acres of land that make up the future Albemarle Place development currently lie dormant, the project is moving forward behind the scenes.

“We are a critical juncture right now in terms of the leasing,” said Tom Gallagher, a principal with South Carolina-based Edens & Avant.  “Not withstanding the current economic trend we’ve gotten some positive momentum.”

Gallagher was on hand Tuesday to answer questions from the Albemarle County Planning Commission as it considered several requests to modify the terms made when the land was originally rezoned in October 2003.

20100622-Albemarle-7-11
The former owners of the 7-Eleven sold the property to Edens & Avant in October 2009, paving the way for the project to move forward
Groundbreaking for Albemarle Place has been delayed by a change in ownership, the economy, and inadequate sewer capacity.  The site includes about 65 acres zoned for 7-800 apartments, a grocery store, parking garages, a theater, a hotel, and retail stores.

At the meeting, Edens & Avant sought several amendments to proffers made by the site’s original developer, the Cox Company. While these changes mostly involve slight changes to the timings for the development’s two phases, the major change involves transportation priorities.

Originally, the company had been responsible for contributing $500,000 to Charlottesville to help make improvements at the intersection of Hydraulic Road and U.S. 29.  However, if the Board of Supervisors approves the rezoning, Edens & Avant will give $1 million to the construction of a fourth southbound lane on U.S. 29 that would travel from Westfield Road to the U.S. 29/250 interchange.

This project also includes adding a second lane on the on-ramp that leads to westbound U.S. 250. 

“The city has indicated that they would rather the applicant spend the funds… towards the Best Buy ramp,” said Valerie Long, an attorney who represents Edens & Avant. “It will have a much more significant impact…in terms of improving the traffic flow on U.S. 29.”

The developer also wanted the property at the corner of Hydraulic Road and U.S. 29 rezoned from commercial to Neighborhood Model District so the entire development will have the same zoning. Last October, Edens and Avant purchased the property, which currently is home to a 7-Eleven convenience store. A second turn lane from U.S. 29 South onto Hydraulic Road will be located on portions of the parcel.

“This site will be primarily used for road improvements,” said county planner Claudette Grant.

Another group of requests related to signage regulations.  Edens & Avant wants to increase the maximum height wall signs can be placed on buildings from 30 feet to 58 feet. In addition, the developer wants its signs to be allowed to be up to the same size as other highway commercial properties on U.S. 29. 

Gallagher said the larger signs were necessary so his development could be competitive with others along U.S. 29 which allow the larger signs.

“What we’re asking for is reasonable and kind of consistent with the other commercial projects on 29,” Gallagher said.

Commission Chair Tom Loach said he was not sure if this was the best time to make changes to the code of development’s rules on signage, given that planning staff are revisiting ordinances that govern the entire county.

Long said other developments such as sections of Hollymead Town Center have been built in different zoning districts which allow larger signs.

“Where the Kohl’s is going in, for instance, is Planned Development Mixed Commercial,” Long said.

The Planning Commission unanimously recommended that the Board of Supervisors approve the amended rezoning for Albemarle Place. The board will take the proposal up for consideration later this year, though a date has not been scheduled.

As for the future timing of Albemarle Place, Gallagher said when construction starts, there will likely be about 8 months of site preparation work and then another six to 12 months to build the first phase, which will be entirely commercial.

Gallagher said he could not yet release any details about potential tenants, but hoped to be able to make an announcement soon.

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