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June 12, 2012

City resident seeks alignment for Eastern Connector near Pen Park

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DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, June 12, 2012

When the Charlottesville Planning Commission holds a public hearing tonight on a rezoning for a new 204-home neighborhood called Lochlyn Hill, both short-term and long-term transportation issues will be discussed.
 
Ec-milestone
A conceptual drawing depicting the 204-home Lochlyn Hill development. (Source: Milestone Development)
City staff are recommending against the project because of immediate traffic impacts on Rio Road. Longer term, city officials will consider whether the site should accommodate a proposed Eastern Connector.
 
“What is essential now is to protect probably the only viable right-of-way for a future Eastern Connector, which the proposed development at Lochlyn Hill sits astride,” said Bruce Odell, a city resident who has been raising the issue with area officials.
 
However, Milestone Development would have to depict that alignment on their site plan for the neighborhood.
 
The company is seeking a rezoning of 25.8 acres of land in Charlottesville to the west of the city’s Pen Park. The land is currently undeveloped and was once home to the now-closed Meadow Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.
 
“We feel we can sufficiently proceed forward with the development of the neighborhood because we have a line on the perimeter on which the road will be shown,” said L.J. Lopez of Milestone Development. “We like to think we’ve been thoughtful for providing an alignment.”
 
However, the company’s materials for the public hearing do not clearly show the alignment, in part because it has never been considered as an official option.
 
The Eastern Connector has long been proposed to connect Albemarle County’s Places29 and Pantops planning areas. Recent modeling data conducted by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission estimated the Eastern Connector could carry between 18,000 and 30,000 vehicles a day.
 
David RePass, a member of the board of the North Downtown Residents Association, said the city’s approval of the Meadow Creek Parkway in October 2007 was conditioned on planning for an eastern connector.
 
“No city official and no councilor followed through to see that the solemn commitment made in October 2007 was honored,” RePass said.
 
RePass asked the City Council to appoint a new task force to make another recommendation for an alignment. He also called for the city not to approve a rezoning for Lochlyn Hill until a route for the Eastern Connector is secured.
 
Lopez said if the city, county, and the Metropolitan Planning Organization decided to consider a new alignment, Lochlyn Hill could be reconfigured. However, his company wants to move ahead with development.
 
"Projects like the Meadow Creek Parkway and the Western Bypass are not without controversy and the same could likely be true of the Eastern Connector," Lopez said.
 
Odell said he envisioned this discussion taking months and not years if all parties can be brought to the table.
 
Albemarle Supervisor Rodney S. Thomas said he thought it will be a long time before an Eastern Connector could be constructed. He said he is skeptical whether the cost of such a road would be worth it because its eastern terminus would place traffic onto Pantops.
 
“If you can get any traffic off of Pantops, you would help the situation but anything going back on to U.S. 250 is going to quadruple the problem,” Thomas said.
 
In the short-term, Thomas said he is more concerned that the Lochlyn Hill development will cause heavy traffic in Albemarle County. Eleven acres of the development are in Albemarle County and the project there is by right because the land is already zoned for relatively high residential development.
 
City planning staff are concerned with the traffic impact on the intersection of Rio Road and Pen Park Lane. Because of that, staff has recommended denial of the rezoning.
 
“This development projects growth that will greatly change the character of the existing Pen Park and Vegas Court neighborhood and the applicant needs to supply adequate information that will mitigate those impacts,” reads the staff report for the public hearing. 
 

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