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January 16, 2008

Neighborhood stops sidewalks, warned of future road connections

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A divided Planning Commission releases Beights from sidewalk project

20080115mosby1 Developer Gaylon Beights promised in his original sub-division plans for Mosby Mountain on Old Lynchburg Road to include asphalt paths along the neighborhood streets.  However, the paths were not built at the time the homes were constructed in 2005-06.  Residents bought their homes and moved in with accompanying mailboxes and landscaping projects along the streets.  When Beights came back in 2007 to install the paths, the neighbors asked why they were even needed.  County staff waived the requirement for sidewalks in part of the development, but insisted that plans move forward on two of Mosby Mountain’s cul-de-sacs.

Residents learned that a corner of the development was in the County’s designated growth area and came with expectations that residential streets there should have sidewalks.  The twenty homes in this part of Mosby Mountain are in what is known as Neighborhood 5 of the County’s southern urban growth area.  The rest of Mosby Mountain is in the rural area. [see map above]

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The Mosby Mountain residents on Hatcher Court and Turnstone Drive strongly favor eliminating the proposed paths and asked Gaylon Beights to intervene with the County and get authorization to stop the project.  Attorney Valerie Long presented Beights’ case for a waiver request before the Albemarle County Planning Commission at their meeting on January 15, 2008.

Long said her client was trying to be responsive to the neighbors’ concerns and argued that because the streets were short, did not connect to anything else, and had a limited number of homes, the sidewalks were unnecessary.  Against the County staff's recommendation, the Planning Commission agreed to support the developer’s request and granted the waiver by a 4-3 vote (Edgerton, Joseph, and Morris against).

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Mosby Mountain's Hatcher Court

One of the residents who signed the petition opposing the paths was Donald Mitchell.  Mitchell said that it was his understanding from the time he purchased his lot that there would not be sidewalks in the neighborhood.  When he saw them starting to be built last year, he was one of the residents that started asking questions.  According to Mitchell, neighbors were concerned about their mailboxes being moved and landscaping being disturbed.  He also wasn’t pleased with the choice of asphalt over concrete.  “They’re ugly.  They are completely ugly,” said Mitchell.  Mitchell said he has lived in Mosby Mountain for three years and has never had a safety concern for his family’s use of the street in the absence of sidewalks.

Tom Loach (White Hall) asked Mitchell if he would have objected to the sidewalks if they had been made of concrete and been a clear expectation or already in place at the time he purchased his lot.  Mitchell responded that it would have been different, “had they been concrete poured, aesthetically pleasing, as opposed to just paved asphalt that could be lumpy, bumpy, not completely straight…. Asphalt is not very appealing.”

Long said that the developer also wanted to support the neighbors’ request for a cohesive look to all of Mosby Mountain.  Loach is a Crozet resident and contributor to the committee that recommended to County the adoption of the Neighborhood Model.  The Neighborhood Model specifically calls for pedestrian oriented neighborhoods with sidewalks on both sides of streets.  Typically the sidewalks are separated from the roadway by a planting strip for trees and vegetation.  The Neighborhood Model also calls for neighborhood roads to be interconnected to each other.

There are two good examples of how the sidewalk requirement has been met in new developments in Crozet at both Wickham Pond and Waylands Grant.  The first photo show the construction of Wickham pond in mid-2007 with the sidewalks, planting strip and street trees already in place ahead of the homes.  The second photo shows a completed street in Waylands Grant.

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Click images to enlarge
Crozet's Wickham Pond in mid-2007 (left) and Laura Lane in Waylands Grant (right).

Long said the developer chose not to install the sidewalks in the beginning because he did not want them to be torn up by subsequent construction.  Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller) said that he was concerned the developer was avoiding his obligation and not replacing it with an alternative amenity for the neighborhood. 

Bill Edgerton (Jack Jouett) also expressed sympathy for the neighbors, but he could not support making an exception, in part because of the history of neighborhoods changing their minds on sidewalks, particularly when faced with the prospect of a new neighborhood being connected to an existing development.  “The developer had an obligation to make sure that the people on Hatcher Court knew that the sidewalk was coming in,” said Edgerton.  “I can see at a later date Hatcher Court connecting with other properties to the north.  At that time, the sidewalk is going to become very critical.”

Several Commissioners expressed serious concerns about setting a precedent by relieving Beights of the obligation to build the paths.  However a motion to support the staff recommendation and deny the waivers failed by a vote of 3-4.  Then Eric Strucko said he would "very reluctantly" make a motion to approve the waivers.  That passed by a 4-3 vote.  After the vote that stopped the sidewalk project, Mitchell said he was very pleased.  “They listened to us as homeowners.  Mr. Beights has also been very supportive.”

20080115mosby3 Mr. Mitchell was, however, quite surprised to learn that, at least in the view of some of the Planning Commissioners and staff, his cul-de-sac was seen as accommodating a road interconnection to future development adjacent to his property.  “I am very surprised,” said Mitchell.  “My lot backs up to the land and there is probably not much development potential there.  That’s why I bought my lot.”  Mitchell said that if the County ever tried to connect Hatcher Court he would both be opposed to it and try to buy the land behind him.

Brian Wheeler

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