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May 29, 2012

Success, challenges of neighborhood model debated

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DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The ongoing update of Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan is giving county officials an opportunity to review a key planning strategy meant to encourage density within the designated growth areas.
 
“The Comprehensive Plan talks about the neighborhood model as being the preferred model of development,” said Elaine Echols, principal planner for the county.
 
12-principles
An abbreviated list of the 12 principles in Albemarle County's Neighborhood Model
The neighborhood model, which was adopted in 2001, has 12 principles ranging from orienting buildings to be more pedestrian friendly to providing clear boundaries between urban and rural areas.
 
“Since that time we’ve had many developments which are achieving the [goal] of the neighborhood model,” Echols said at a recent county Planning Commission work session.
 
Other principles include encouraging a mixture of commercial and residential uses, and relegated parking.
 
Each new neighborhood that makes its way through the community development department is measured against these principles.
 
“It puts [applicants’] eyes on the individual aspects that they need to address, or if they can’t address them it becomes clear why they can’t,” Echols said.
Another principle is for new developments to have transportation links to adjoining areas “so that pedestrians can walk easily to many destinations, traffic has alternative routes, and car trips are reduced in number and length.”
 

 

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 “It’s important that we have the connections between both existing and new developments and … within the different blocks and parts of a neighborhood,” Echols said.

 However, achieving the goal of interconnectivity has not always been easy. Residents of the Woodbrook neighborhood fiercely resisted a walking trail proposed as part of the adjacent Arden Place apartment complex.
 
“In my time here there has been a real resistance around connectivity between neighborhoods,” said Julia Monteith, the senior land use officer for the University of Virginia. “While we can show pictures of some success stories, I think we have to be careful about assuming they’re all success stories.”
 
Calvin Morris, chairman of the Planning Commission, said it is one thing to have a principle calling for pedestrian-friendly developments, but the county’s own infrastructure presents a challenge.
 
“In Places29, you have U.S. 29 itself cutting off right straight down the center,” Morris said. “We can walk around a neighborhood, get in a car and then drive across the road to get to the shopping centers. The same thing applies in Pantops.”
 
Echols said that the Western Bypass may give the county an opportunity to redevelop U.S. 29 in order to make it more pedestrian friendly.
 
Commissioner Tom Loach said he wants the Comprehensive Plan update to reflect the need to have infrastructure built before development occurs.
 
“We knew [the neighborhood model] was going to require additional infrastructure to accommodate the higher density,” Loach said. “Within the growth area, we should expect at least a level of service equal to the level of development that’s occurred.”
 
As part of the plan update, staff recommended condensing the 12 principles into eight, though Echols said this is a move to simplify them and not to remove any of them.
 
The commission was mixed on this idea.
 
“Years of time went into developing the 12 and I wouldn’t want years of time to go into developing the eight,” said Commissioner A. Bruce Dotson. “Unless there’s a compelling reason to change it I would favor not changing it.”
 
However, Commissioner Don Franco could see the point of doing so.
 
“What I see the eight doing is consolidating some of those bullets together. It’s not really watering anything down. I think it’s just sort of grouping things to better understand how things can trade off better,” Franco said.
 
Echols said staff may end up keeping all 12 principles.
 
“If you like the 12 principles better and feel like those better reflect the way the neighborhood model should be articulated, we certainly could continue those,” Echols said.
County planning staff are now writing up the text of the new Comprehensive Plan. A public hearing on the updated plan will be held later this year.
 

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