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June 26, 2011

ARB challenges design for Stonefield’s theater and grocery store

DailyProgressBy Tracie Cabler & Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, June 26, 2011

Approval for Stonefield’s first buildings may come later than expected, following discussions at two recent meetings of Albemarle County’s Architectural Review Board.

Architects for Edens & Avant are being challenged by the ARB to present an atypical design for a theater and nearby grocery store that will occupy prominent locations along Hydraulic Road and its intersection with U.S. 29.

20110620-Regal-corner “This would be perfectly fine down at Short Pump,” said board member Bruce Wardell. “But Short Pump’s out in this contemporary, entirely newly constructed environment.”

“I think if we approve a building with this much stucco in it, we’ll never be able to say no to anybody else with anything this size ever again,” said board member Paul Wright. “Either we’re making an enormous change in our design criteria here or we’re not.”

The new Regal Cinema, a state-of-the-art 14-screen theater with IMAX, and a Trader Joe’s grocery store are the first buildings of many that will undergo review by the ARB.

Stonefield, formerly known as Albemarle Place, is a mixed-use development that encompasses an area twice as large as the blocks surrounding Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall. Stonefield will include apartments, a hotel, restaurants and a variety of retail businesses.

Originally approved in 2003, the project was delayed for a number of years, awaiting a more favorable market and necessary upgrades to the Meadow Creek sewer interceptor. There was also a change in ownership, with Edens & Avant acquiring the property in August 2007. The official groundbreaking was held earlier this month.


20110620-Regal-long

During work sessions this month, the ARB has not been completely satisfied with adjustments made in building materials, color choices and respect for existing architecture in the area.

“I think of these changes as minimal,” Wright said. “I’m getting the same sort of blank white building. I’m getting a building that doesn’t respond to local architecture, and you’re tinkering on the edges.”

Wright, along with other board members, has continued to take issue with the dominant use of stucco along the theater’s exterior. At 320 feet long and more than 40 feet in height, a large part of the ARB’s concern stems from the fact that most of the theater’s façade sits along the edge of Hydraulic Road, a designated entrance corridor.

Some ARB members want a style more like the brick-heavy look approved for the previous owners. When Wright suggested the current plans were based more on cost effectiveness than aesthetics, project developer Bill Caldwell agreed that was a factor.

“This absolutely is cost driven, no doubt,” Caldwell said. “There is a reason the previous design wasn’t built. I mean our site costs here are significant, they’re significantly more than most other developments in this region.”

Board member Fred Missel said he thought the plans were progressing, but that the ARB should be consistent with past decisions.

“We’re going to be consistent to the past,” Missel said. “We have to be fair to the folks that have become before us. At some point we’re just going to have to come together and have a compromise.”

20110620-Trader The Trader Joe’s, which will anchor the corner of the development at the location of the former 7-Eleven, faces similar design challenges, particularly as the back of the building is what is proposed to face Hydraulic and U.S. 29.

“It’s not a background building, it’s a foreground building,” Wright said. “It’s the sign, it’s the corner, it’s the most prominent building you have.”

The ARB members asked the architect to consider alternative materials for the Trader Joe’s and said they looked forward to what officials would bring back in July.

“It’s obvious we want you to be successful,” Missel said.

Representatives for Stonefield are scheduled to return to the ARB with revised plans on July 5. If approved, construction could begin as early as October.

Stonefield site plan - Click to enlarge to review building locations

20110620-Stonefield

June 11, 2011

VDOT may assume control of U.S. 29/250 project

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Charlottesville City Council will ask the Virginia Department of Transportation to take over a $4.7 million project to provide congestion relief at the U.S. 29/250 bypass.

“This is a win-win for everyone,” said James Rich, the area’s representative on the Commonwealth Transportation Board. “We can get this project going so we can get people moving through that terrible back-up.”

Council voted Monday night to send a letter to VDOT to begin negotiations for the transfer.

Download Download Maurice Jones letter to James Utterback

The project, which is currently being administered by city staff, would add an additional southbound lane on U.S. 29 from Hydraulic Road to the interchange, a second ramp leading up to the U.S. 250 Bypass near the Best Buy and a third lane on the bypass that would extend to the Barracks Road exit.

The city has saved up $4.2 million in state, federal and its own funds for the project. The transfer would allow some of that money to be transferred to other projects.

“The money that we were going to spend on this project can be used for other projects, such as the Belmont Bridge [replacement],” said City Councilor Satyendra Huja, a member of the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services, said the project has been managed by his staff under VDOT’s First Cities program. He told council a final design for the project had not been done because a $1 million proffer from the developer of the Shops at Stonefield had not been received.

“We’ve not gone forward on this project because a city-state agreement says we have to spend the developer’s proffer money first, and we don’t have [that],” Tolbert said.

Edens & Avant, Stonefield’s developer, does not have to transfer the money to the city until Albemarle County approves a final site plan.

If VDOT takes over the project, its internal engineers will be able to produce the final design.

Each member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board has some amount of discretionary funding to allocate toward specific projects.

“Some of our projects are coming in under budget and we can use those funds for the 29/250 improvements,” Rich said.

Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker applauded the move.

“VDOT has the ability to move this project forward expeditiously, and I also think it increases the chances of getting additional primary road funds for its completion,” Rooker said. “It is very important that this project move forward in a timely manner.”

The city will continue to administer the Belmont Bridge replacement. The cost estimate for that project was recently increased from $9.8 million to $14.5 million due to inflation.

May 19, 2011

Business leaders briefed on transit expansion

DailyProgressThe manager of Charlottesville Area Transit told business leaders Wednesday that increased bus service is an asset for the local economy.

“Public transit can improve access to employment for those that are working in our community,” said Bill Watterson at a North Charlottesville Business Council luncheon.

The NCBC was created in part to oppose the construction of grade-separated interchanges on U.S. 29, a proposal that was considered as part of the Places29 master plan. The group later supported the plan after transportation improvements were limited to projects that had a reasonable chance of moving forward.

“[Transit] is one of the five doable things that we want to work towards,” said L.F. Wood, chairman of the NCBC.

20110518-watterson
Bill Watterson addressing the NCBC (Source: Andrew Shurtleff/Daily Progress)

Watterson said his agency hopes to relieve congestion on U.S. 29. Already the corridor’s route 7 is the second-most used CAT route, surpassed only by the free trolley.

“Together they serve about two-thirds of the approximately 2.3 million passengers that we’ll be serving this year,” Watterson said.

Watterson said new service could include an express route between Fashion Square and downtown via the Meadow Creek Parkway, a route connecting Barracks Road and the new Martha Jefferson Hospital, and a route between the Charlottesville Albemarle Airport and the University of Virginia.

Download Download Connetics Transportation Group's Transit Development Plan

Airport CEO Barbara Hutchinson said she would welcome the transit, but added that several obstacles would have to be overcome. For instance, parking revenues make up approximately 50 percent of the airport’s $4 million budget.

“We wouldn’t want the transit system to assume that transit would be successful, so we would want to work together to ensure it would be,” Hutchison added.

Many of these routes will mean a rise in the number of buses that will pass through the Barracks Road Shopping Center. That will require construction of a new $1.7 million station.

Watterson said the number one request he hears is to extend service to Hollymead Town Center.

“It certainly was planned to be transit-ready, but, come this summer, it’s six years [since opening] and there’s still no bus service,” Watterson said.

Wendell Wood, the owner of Hollymead, is responsible for contributing $50,000 a year for 10 years once service is expanded there. In January, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors denied a request that he be released from that obligation.

Watterson said the Stonefield development will bring new roads, providing an opportunity to better serve the city’s Meadows neighborhood. That will also lead to the eventual removal of a bus stop at the corner of Angus Road and U.S. 29, a factor in traffic congestion in the southbound lane that leads to the U.S. 29/250 interchange.

 

May 05, 2011

Stonefield groundbreaking scheduled for Tuesday

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, May 6, 2011

Construction will soon get under way for the Shops at Stonefield, a mixed-use commercial and residential development in Albemarle County.

Developer Edens & Avant has scheduled a groundbreaking ceremony for Tuesday at 10 a.m.

Albemarle
An early site plan for Stonefield. Sperry Marine is located in the center of the development. (Source: Edens & Avant)

“This is going to create for us a very dynamic new shopping, entertainment and residential district in the heart of the county,” said county spokeswoman Lee Catlin.

The Board of Supervisors first approved the project, which was originally known as Albemarle Place, in 2003. It will be developed in two phases.

The first will concentrate on the south side of the property and will consist of 270,000 square feet of commercial space. Two confirmed tenants are specialty grocery store Trader Joe’s and a 14-screen RegalTheater that will feature stadium seating and an IMAX theater.

“At its completion, the Shops at Stonefield will offer about 1.2 million square feet of retail and mixed uses,” Catlin said.

Catlin said Edens & Avant expects the project to generate 722 retail jobs, as well as 1,700 construction jobs as it is built.

Other tenants are soon to follow, but have yet been announced.

“We don’t discuss ongoing negotiations until they are finalized but you can be assured the merchandising mix will be reflective of the needs of the community,” said Robbie Robertson, a spokesman for Edens & Avant.

Robertson said construction of the first phase is expected to be completed by the fall of 2012.
A 7-11 convenience store on the property has now been closed. Near that corner will be the home of the Trader Joe’s.

The county has issued a permit to allow crews to begin grading the site, even though a site plan has not been approved.

“A revised preliminary site plan has been submitted and we should have an action on it in about two weeks,” said Mark Graham, the county’s director of community development.

The first phase will also include construction of a new lane on southbound U.S. 29 from Westfield Road to Hydraulic Road.

Graham said VDOT has already issued permits allowing for work to begin on that section of the road.

However, the extension of the lane south to the U.S. 29/250 interchange will be delayed until Edens & Avant pays a $1 million proffer to the city. The city will use that money to help fund a final design of a $4.7 million project to improve the interchange.

Graham said the $1 million is expected to be released to the city as soon as the final site plan for Stonefield is approved.

“That will probably in the July or August time frame,” Graham said.

March 21, 2011

City expects 29/250 interchange improvements in 2014

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, March 21, 2011

Motorists traveling south on U.S. 29 often experience long waits to access the U.S. 250 Bypass, leading to congestion during peak driving times.

“You have the basic problem of too much traffic using a roadway that doesn’t have enough capacity,” said Stephen Williams, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.

The city of Charlottesville’s 2007 Comprehensive Plan identifies the capacity limit at the intersection as a major reason for congestion on its portion of U.S. 29.

20110321-dp-image

“Congestion on Emmet Street is largely due to the high traffic volumes, lack of access management and the merge onto the U.S. 250 Bypass westbound from southbound U.S. 29,” the plan reads. “Currently, improvements to the ramp from U.S. 29 onto the bypass are being explored to improve traffic flow in the area.”

Now those improvements are set to move forward. The city is administering a project that would add an additional southbound lane from Hydraulic Road to the interchange, a second ramp leading up to the U.S. 250 Bypass near the Best Buy and a third lane on the bypass that would extend to the Barracks Road exit. The preliminary cost estimate is $4.7 million.

The city has saved up $4.2 million in state and federal funds to implement the plan, but a final design must be produced before construction can begin.

The TJPDC manages regional transportation planning through the Metropolitan Planning Organization. In 2010, the MPO requested a $517,000 earmark through former Congressman Tom Perriello to pay for the final design, but it did not make it through the federal budget process.

However, engineering work has proceeded anyway. An engineering survey of the area is completed, according to Angela Tucker, the city’s development services manager.

“The plan is to complete the design work in fiscal year 2013 and complete construction in fiscal year 2014,” City Manager Maurice Jones said in an email.

Some of the money to pay for final design could come from a $1 million proffer the city is to receive from Edens & Avant, the developer of the Stonefield mixed-use center in Albemarle County. (The center was formerly known as Albemarle Place.)

“We’ve conducted all the work that we can without having all the funding in place,” Jones said. “We’re now just waiting for the funding to come together, including the $1 million proffer and the $500,000 local match, before we move forward with design and construction.”

In 2009, the Virginia Department of Transportation estimated that an average of 51,000 vehicles travel through the intersection of Hydraulic Road and U.S. 250.

Stonefield, which will include the area’s first IMAX movie theater, will add more traffic at both the interchange and on U.S. 29.

A separate project would see a fourth southbound lane from Westfield Road to Hydraulic Road, but that project will be administered by VDOT and paid for through another proffer connected to the original rezoning for Stonefield.

County Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker said he feels the project is important for the entire region.

“This improvement has been judged by the city and the county through the MPO to be perhaps the most important project in the area,” Rooker said. “My concern is that if the city doesn’t move to utilize those funds they could end up being lost to the area.”

September 02, 2010

Controversial interchanges removed from Places29 master plan

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, September 2, 2010

The transportation section of Albemarle County’s Places29 Master Plan has been slimmed down to include only projects that have a reasonable chance of being constructed within its first five years. That means county staff will not perform any design work for a grade-separated interchange at the intersection of U.S. 29 and Rio Road.

 

Listen using player above or download the podcast:

Download 20100901-BOS-Places29

“The plan doesn’t eliminate the reference to grade separations but it emphasizes that the first step should be to prolong the need for [them] for as long as possible,” said county planner David Benish during a work session Wednesday with the Board of Supervisors.

Benish wrote in a staff report that the current capital improvement budget contains only $2.57 million for transportation improvements during the next five years, with only half of that designated for the Places29 area. He also added that the county does not expect to receive more than $320,000 each year in secondary road funds from the state.

 

Download Download staff report for September 1, 2010 Board of Supervisors' meeting

 

The draft Places29 plan now recommends that the county channel that money towards preliminary engineering studies to advance the widening of U.S. 29 to six lanes from Hollymead Town Center to the North Fork of the Rivanna River. The plan also calls for a study to determine where a bridge over the river would be located to allow Berkmar Drive to be extended.

“We’ve only got [limited] dollars for five years,” Supervisor Duane Snow said. “I’d rather take money we’re going to spend on studies for things we won’t do for 20 years … and [instead] put all our time and effort into these five things that we know will make a huge difference. Once those are accomplished, then we can come back and examine what we want to do in the future.”

The plan also acknowledges that the Hillsdale extension and improvements to the U.S. 250/29 intersection are key components to reduce congestion on U.S. 29. Those projects are being shepherded by Charlottesville.

Additionally, lines depicting potential road connections will be removed from maps, except in cases where they have been proffered as part of rezoning or agreed to by existing property owners.

Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum has long campaigned against Places29 but welcomed the changes.

 

20100901-Carter-Myers
Carter Myers

“It is possible to take the good out of Places29 and get something done,” Williamson said.

Carter Myers, a former member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board who owns several car dealerships on U.S. 29, said grade-separated interchanges would threaten Albemarle County’s bottom line.

“Jobs and taxes come out of U.S. 29,” Myers said. “That needs to be our engine for our economic development and our economic income.”

But Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council said the interchanges would provide a way for motorists to cross U.S. 29 without stopping, a necessary step in alleviating traffic congestion.

“Those cars cannot get across 29 and it’s going to get worse,” Werner said. “For whatever reason, the business community … prefers gridlock.”

Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center was disappointed the interchanges would not be actively planned for several years.

“We have to keep in mind this is a master plan,” Butler said. “It requires we identify land use designations and the transportation projects that we need to handle the growth that we know is coming. … If we start taking off road projects, all we’re going to have left is the growth, with no plan to handle the traffic.”

Supervisors discussed whether to honor a request from Timothy Hulbert, executive director of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, to remove all references to the interchanges. At issue was whether a small group of stakeholders could begin discussing what a Rio Road interchange might look like.

“I think to be intellectually honest we have to say all the traffic studies indicate that we should put the interchanges in,” Boyd said. “But I think I’d rather simply say at this time there’s no funding and no intent to do it.”

Supervisors also voted 4-2 to include an expansion of the county’s growth area to accommodate more commercial development north of the river. Developer Wendell Wood has offered to contribute towards the bridge’s construction if the Comprehensive Plan is amended. A second expansion to expand the growth area near the Rivanna Station military base will also be considered.

Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker explained his opposition to the Hollymead expansion.

“We can create ghost towns in the existing commercial areas by continuing to improve more and more greenfield development,” Rooker said. He said the county should not consider zoning more land for commercial use until Albemarle Place, North Pointe and Hollymead Town Center are built out.

Boyd disagreed on philosophical grounds and said Berkmar won’t be extended as a parallel road unlessWood’s land is brought into the growth area.

The Places29 Master Plan will go to public hearing in November. Supervisors will have more chance to review the plan’s language before that occurs.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - Staff report from David Benish
  • 12:45 - Supervisor Ken Boyd asks about planning for improvements at Rio Road
  • 14:00 - Supervisor Dennis Rooker describes how planned improvements at U.S.29/250 will prolong Hydraulic Road intersection
  • 16:00 - Supervisor Duane Snow calls for plan to be amended to include only projects that will be built
  • 17:00 - Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier says he can't visualize what a grade-separated interchange would look like
  • 19:15 - Benish explains modifications to how Rio Road small area plan are presented in the plan
  • 22:15 - Benish concludes his presentation and Board discussion begins in earnest
  • 24:45 - Dorrier asks when Berkmar Bridge would be built
  • 33:15 - Benish     prompts discussion about other roads being eliminated from the plan
  • 46:00 - Discussion of growth area expansions at Hollymead and Piney Mountain
  • 1:16:00 - Public comment from Timothy Hulbert of the Chamber of Commerce
  • 1:19:00 - Public comment from Carter Myers
  • 1:23:00 - Public comment from Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council
  • 1:26:00 - Public comment from Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum
  • 1:28:00 - Public comment from Jo Higgins
  • 1:31:00 - Public comment from Lloyd Wood of the North Charlottesville Business Council
  • 1:34:30 - Public comment from Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center
  • 1:38:00 - Further discussion by the Board

 

June 24, 2010

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

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.

May 07, 2010

Business leaders seek removal of grade-separated interchanges from Places29

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, May 7, 2010

Business leaders have asked the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors to eliminate grade-separated interchanges from the Places29 Master Plan. The plan, which has been in development for over five years, lists dozens of infrastructure projects designed to ease traffic congestion in the U.S. Route 29 corridor. 

“I think you’re treading in very dangerous waters here,” said Timothy Hulbert, the president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce. Hulbert and other business leaders have called for the county to include only projects on which the community can reach consensus.

Listen using player above or download the podcast:

Download 20100505-BOS-Places29


Hydraulic-interchange
Cox Company design for a grade separated interchange at Hydraulic and U.S. 29 (Click for a higher resolution image)
The plan calls for the creation of several grade separated interchanges to help the flow of east-west traffic. The cost for both construction and design of the Hydraulic Road interchange, for example, is estimated to be $39.6 million. The estimate for one at Rio Road is $40.5 million, but would require an additional $17.1 million to build ring roads to make the project work. Henry Weinschenk, who owns a business that would be affected by an interchange at Hydraulic Road, insisted that planners are trying to convert the road into an expressway.  He said ramps for the grade-separated interchanges would keep customers from businesses.

“You have to show people the ramps, you have to show people the expressway you’re building,” Weinschenk said.

At least three supervisors vocally expressed opposition to the interchanges at a work session held on Wednesday. 

“There’s no way you can build an interchange that’s not going to take out businesses on the four corners,” said Supervisor Ken Boyd.

Boyd said because the community could not afford to pay for the interchanges, they should not be planned at this time.

However, Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center said planning should continue despite a lack of funding.

“We’ve known for quite a long time that 29 simply won’t work unless we untangle the north-south and east-west traffic movements at both Rio and Hydraulic,” Butler said. He said a decision on whether to go forward with grade-separated interchanges should come when more detailed plans for those intersections are created.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker, a supporter of grade-separated interchanges, said traffic conditions will eventually deteriorate to a point where crossing U.S. 29 will be very difficult.

Rioroad-smallareaplan

Future Land Use Map depicting intersection of Rio Road and US 29. The area inside the white dashed line will be included in the Small Area Plan.

“There is no way you can accommodate east-west movements across 29 as future traffic conditions deteriorate without having a way to go over or under 29,” Rooker said.

Supervisor Rodney Thomas, an opponent of the grade-separated interchange, pointed to Broad Street, one of Richmond’s main commercial roads.

“There’s no interchanges on that road, and it operates fine,” Thomas said. “I don’t go along with this idea that you can’t get across 29.”

Rooker said putting two grade-separated interchanges on 29 is not the same as creating an expressway. He pointed out the speed limit would still remain 45 miles per hour.

Thomas said he would like to go further and reduce the limit to 35 miles per hour, and turn the road into more of a commercial boulevard. 

Supervisors also disagree over whether Berkmar Drive should be extended north of the South Fork of the Rivanna River. Supervisor Rooker questioned the logic of planning for a multimillion dollar project that would only qualify for secondary road funding from VDOT.

“Even if you get somebody to kick in four or five million dollars of private money, that’s only ten percent of a road funded,” Rooker said. “We got three hundred thousand dollars this year in secondary road funds.”

No supervisors opposed the notion of widening U.S. 29 to six lanes north of the South Fork of the Rivanna River, nor did anyone oppose the idea of creating a second ramp onto U.S. 250. Both projects are also in the plan.

The board agreed to hold a public hearing on the plan on June 9. A final draft has been posted on the county website for public review.  Chair Ann Mallek suggested a decision to reduce the scope of the plan may come after that meeting.

A reduction in efforts to actually carry out the plan is likely to occur.

Every master plan in the county sets up an advisory council of stakeholders to shepherd its implementation. However, the county’s community relations manager said it will become necessary to reduce the scope of these councils because of a lack of staff to help them do their work.

“The councils were originally conceived of at a time when things were different than they are now,” Catlin said. “The county [capital improvement program] was much more robust. It had significant funding programmed and anticipated for capital investment in the infrastructure projects called for in the plans.”

Catlin suggested the councils will likely become less hands-on, but will evolve into providing more of a liaison role. 

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:
  • 01:00 - Presentation from Steven Williams of the TJPDC on Berkmar Drive traffic model
  • 56:30 - David Benish begins review of his memo
  • 57:45 - Duane Snow asks for update on Places29
  • 1:05:45 - Benish discusses ability of Places29 area to absorb growth
  • 1:07:15 - Benish describes transportation improvements under way
  • 1:17:45 - Lee Catlin presents how Places29 plan will be presented to the public
  • 1:24:00 - Thomas asks if there is a section in the draft plan that lists impact to stakeholders
  • 1:41:40 - Catlin describes possibility of changing the structure of advisory councils
  • 1:55:00 - Benish asks for guidance
  • 2:03:00 - Public comment from Tim Hulbert
  • 2:07:00 - Public comment from Henry Weinschenk
  • 2:13:00 - Public comment from L.F. Wood
  • 2:16:30 - Public comment from Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum
  • 2:19:00 - Public comment from Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center

January 14, 2010

Key elements of County’s Places29 will require City cooperation

DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, January 14, 2010

Newly elected members of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors got their first opportunity to weigh in on the County’s Places29 master plan at a Wednesday work session.  Instead of making major changes, officials called for increased cooperation and coordination with the City of Charlottesville.

Many of the projects called for in the Places29 plan affect both jurisdictions, including the extension of Hillsdale Drive and a second on-ramp leading from southbound U.S. 29 to the U.S. 250 Bypass.

Yet, one of Places29’s most controversial recommendations is to build grade-separated interchanges at six key intersections. One of those spots is at Hydraulic Road and U.S. 29 where three corners are within Charlottesville city limits.

 “It’s a common situation in any [metropolitan planning organization] that you have major projects that impact and concern more than one of the members,” said Stephen Williams, executive director of the Charlottesville MPO. “You always have to figure out how to get both members to be supportive of the same project.”

In the early 1990’s, Charlottesville, Albemarle and the University of Virginia entered into an agreement that outlined the timing of road projects. The first step was to widen U.S. 29, followed by the construction of the Meadowcreek Parkway. Next, grade-separated interchanges were to be built at Hydraulic, Greenbrier and Rio Roads. A western bypass of U.S. 29 would only be designed if those improvements did not sufficiently reduce traffic congestion. .

However, citing concerns on the impact to city businesses, the Charlottesville City Council voted against the Hydraulic interchange in January 1995. That prompted the Commonwealth Transportation Board to direct VDOT to begin designing of the bypass, invalidating the so-called “three-party agreement.”

Grade-separated interchanges resurfaced as part of a transportation study conducted by the MPO in the early 2000’s that later became incorporated into the Places29 Master Plan.  That plan does not include a Western Bypass and instead focuses improvements on parallel roads and on U.S. 29..

20100113-BOS-shot The Board discussed Places29 during a work session
At Wednesday’s Places29 work session, Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) asked if the county should move forward with the Hydraulic interchange if the city did not support the project. David Benish, the county’s chief of planning, said the city supports the concept in theory, but wants to make sure the design has a minimal impact on businesses on those three corners.

Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris said in an interview that he thinks many businesses along U.S. 29 are not supportive of the grade separated interchanges. Yet Norris said he personally supports the project.

 “I’m convinced by urban planning types that there’s a good argument to be made for a grade-separated interchange at Hydraulic,” Norris said. He said the city’s hope of attracting high-quality redevelopment in the area around the Hydraulic interchange would depend on how it is designed.

“We have a vested interest in working with the county,” Norris said. “But there’s been fairly little engagement with the city in the Places29 process.”

Supervisor Rodney Thomas (Rio) said it was crucial that the city and county cooperate on the design of the interchange. Supervisor Duane Snow (Samuel Miller) said businesses along the U.S.  29 corridor need to play a larger role in the planning. No Supervisors spoke out directly against grade-separated interchanges during the work session.

“What our traffic numbers tell us is that all of those intersections will fail to the point where people will not be able to cross [U.S. 29] within any reasonable period of time, which then affects the businesses,” said Wayne Cilimberg, the county’s director of planning.

Chair Ann Mallek (White Hall) said she felt the design voted down by City Council in 1995 had too large an impact on the intersection.

“There are lots of ways to do this with small interchanges so it can be done within a minimum footprint,” Mallek said.

Hydraulic-plans A section of the plans for a Hydraulic Road grade-separated interchange developed by an engineer for the Cox Company, the previous owner of the Albemarle Place development
Late last year, the Board approved an official map for an interchange which would involve U.S. 29 lowered by about 25 feet through the intersection, allowing Hydraulic Road to remain at its existing elevation passing overhead. According to the Places29 Master Plan, the cost estimate for the project is around $40 million in today’s dollars.

 “The devil is the design of that interchange and we haven’t gotten to that step,” Benish said to the board during the work session. “The intent for the finished project is to minimize the impact to adjacent properties to the interchange.”

Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said the current developer of Albemarle Place, Edens & Avant, is willing to develop and open the complex up even though they are aware that the construction of the nearby interchange could be disruptive.

“They set aside property for the grade-separated interchange,” Rooker said. “They’re not afraid of it.”

A representative from Edens & Avant told Charlottesville Tomorrow last October that Albemarle Place is being planned to be developed with or without a grade-separated interchange.

Cilimberg said the interchanges would also provide a way for pedestrians and cyclists to cross U.S. 29.

The Board will schedule a second work session, which is expected to include public input, before sending the Places29 master plan to a formal public hearing.

December 31, 2009

Regal Cinema may opt for new site instead of expanding in current location

DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, December 31, 2009

Plans announced in May to expand Regal Cinema 4 theater behind the K-Mart shopping center in  Charlottesville may not come to fruition. The Regal Entertainment Group has yet to submit a site plan for an expanded theater and announced this week they may build a larger theater elsewhere along U.S. Route 29.

The news will surely disappoint some movie-goers  anxiously awaiting the arrival of state-of-the-art theater amenities such as stadium-seating and digital projectors.

Seminole The Regal Seminole Square cinema may not expand as previously announced
They have nice comfy chairs and your view is never blocked,” said Barb Pollard of Crozet. Pollard stood in line Tuesday to catch a screening of “It’s Complicated” at the Regal Downtown Cinema .

The Charlottesville-Albemarle community has four commercial movie theaters. Two are owned by Regal, a six-screen cinema on Seminole Trail is owned by Carmike Cinemas, and a one-screen theater is owned by Staunton-based Visulite Cinemas.

None of the area’s 17 movie screens are located in a theater with stadium seats, where each row is significantly higher than the one in front so all audience members have a good view.  Rows in traditional theaters have a more gradual slope.

In May, the Regal announced plans to expand its existing cinema on India Road to add five screens, some of which would include stadium seating and digital projectors. Those plans raised the alarm of City officials who had assumed the cinema would be abandoned in order to make way for the extension of Hillsdale Drive from Greenbrier Road to Hydraulic Road.

20090501-hillsdale-plan
Location of theater and proposed Hillsdale Drive Ext. in
Fall 2008 project update newsletter (click to enlarge)

Preliminary plans for Hillsdale Drive have the road passing through the site of the current Regal Cinema 4 theater and the City had planned on negotiating the right-of-way on the property.  The $30.5 million project is currently on hold while efforts are made by the city to secure funding. Due to the ongoing recession, the state of Virginia will likely not resume funding for new transportation projects until at least 2016.


Regal has not yet submitted a site plan for the Seminole Square location to the City of Charlottesville’s Department of Neighborhood Development. Vice President of Marketing & Communications  Russ Nunley told Charlottesville Tomorrow that his company’s primary goal is to find a place for a “state-of-the-art” theater.

“After announcing our plans to move forward with a re-build and expansion at our current location, we were approached with a new proposal from another project along the popular Seminole Trail corridor,” Nunley said. “If we are successful in securing a deal, then we will abandon plans to expand our existing theatre. “

Nunley would not identify exactly where this other location might be, but a top Albemarle official says there are many options.

"I would think there's a number of developments that are approved in the county where there's an opportunity for that type of use," said Mark Graham, Albemarle County's director of community development.
      
One candidate could be Albemarle Place, a 1.8 million square foot commercial development planned just across U.S. 29 from the Regal’s existing location. Officials with developer Edens & Avant would not comment on whether a movie theater is currently under consideration on their site. 

Even without an expansion, Charlottesville appears to be an attractive market for Regal. Nunley said his company’s Seminole Square and Downtown Mall cinemas set box office records for the Christmas weekend.