By Sean Tubbs
Thursday, April 21, 2011
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has deferred a vote on a proposal from developer Richard Spurzem to rezone land near the I-64/U.S. 250 intersection to residential so he can build 399 homes.
After a two hour discussion, a majority of supervisors said they were not ready to take a vote without more information.
In January, the county planning commission recommended denial of the proposal.
Since then, Spurzem reduced the number of units in the project and made other changes to win the support of the board. He also proffered to give the county $100,000 towards construction of a proposed Pantops fire station.
County staff recommended denial of the plan for several reasons, including a lack of a traffic study and the absence of provisions for affordable housing. Staff also estimated Spurzem should pay $5.3 million to the county to help pay for necessary community infrastructure.
The Pantops Master Plan recommends the site have a density of no more than 300 units.
Cal Morris, a member of both the planning commission and the Pantops Advisory Council, urged supervisors to reject the plan.
“This location is in a transitional area going from county’s development to rural areas,” Morris said. “We want to see it more on the size of 300 units.”
However, Spurzem’s attorney disagreed.
“We contend the proposed 399 units is fully consistent with the comprehensive plan,” said Valerie Long of the firm Williams Mullen. “Virginia code is clear that a comprehensive plan is [just] a guide.”
Long said the development would build a key piece of infrastructure called for in the Pantops master plan. VDOT has called for an existing median at Hansens Mountain Road and U.S. 250 to be closed due to safety concerns.
| Spurzem has hired an engineer to develop plans for a relocated Hansens Mountain Road, but Supervisors wanted more information. Click for a full-size .PDF of the plans.
As part of the rezoning application, Spurzem has offered to relocate Hansens Mountain Road so it connects with Viewmont Court in the Glenorchy neighborhood. Residents of Pantops Ridge, as well as 130 homes in the Ashcroft Neighborhood, would use the upgraded road to get to U.S. 250 at the Peter Jefferson Place intersection.
Supervisors expressed some desire to see the road relocated.
“There’s a horrible traffic situation out there that’s getting worse, and this might help that,” said Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker.
However, Rooker said the proffer language calling for the road could be interpreted in such a way that the county would have to condemn property.
“If Spurzem makes an offer and the property owner declines, this puts the onus on the county to condemn the property,” Rooker said. “We don’t want to be in a mode where we’ve approved this and he doesn’t have to build the road because we won’t condemn the property.”
However, County Attorney Larry Davis said he felt the county would be justified in taking the property if negotiations between Spurzem and property owners fell through.
“This is a road improvement I think everyone has identified as being needed,” Davis said.
During the public hearing, two residents of Viewmont Court pledged to fight eminent domain to the fullest extent possible.
Deborah Parsons said the relocation of the road would radically transfer her quality of life by routing 7,000 vehicles past her house, which is currently on a cul-de-sac.
“To me, that’s an abomination,” Parsons said. “It would be a traffic nightmare.”
“I warn you, I will not acquiesce quietly,” said Ronald Dimberg, who also said property crime would increase.
However, the president of the Ashcroft Neighborhood Association pleaded with the board to approve the rezoning so the road improvement would be made.
“At least we would have a way out of our neighborhood,” said Kelly Oakes. “You must give us some way out of our neighborhood.”
Spurzem had previously planned to build a shopping center on the 37.5 acre property. In 2005, Albemarle lost a court case with Spurzem that sought to deny the by-right shopping center development known as Gazebo Plaza.
Long said Spurzem could still build the shopping center if he is not granted the rezoning.
“The value of the road and other amenities are worth several million,” Long said. She added the county’s cash proffer policy provides for flexibility.
“This road intersection is extremely dangerous and there are not a lot of options to fix it in the future,” Long said, hinting the only way to guarantee improvement would be to approve the rezoning.
She said the road would have a 25-mile-per-hour speed limit and would have traffic calming measures.
After a two hours of discussion, a majority of supervisors said they did not have enough information to support approval.
“We’ve got a lot of loose ends here,” said Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier. He said the applicant should work with staff to resolve the issues.
Rooker said he would prefer to hold at least one work sessions, especially on the issue of condemnation.
“The [Viewmont Court] residents did not create this problem,” said Rooker. “It's unfortunate you have a small neighborhgood on a cul-de-sac that is being asked to bear the brunt.”
Supervisors directed staff to work with the applicant to conduct a traffic study before scheduling a work session.