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July 05, 2012

VDOT pilots new traffic signal technology on Pantops

DailyProgressBy Courtney Beale
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, July 5, 2012

A new type of adaptive traffic signal technology is being used in the Pantops area of U.S. 250 to relieve traffic congestion. While other parts of the community have intelligent traffic signals, the Pantops system goes beyond timing plans and adds scanning of side-street traffic needs.

The Virginia Department of Transportation installed InSync signal controllers last fall to improve the flow of traffic following the move of Martha Jefferson Hospital to its new home on Pantops.

20070702-Pantops250b“It’s a relatively inexpensive way to increase the capacity of the corridor there,” said VDOT engineer Joel DeNunzio.

Pantops was the first place in the greater Albemarle area to receive the technology, which uses sensors and cameras to monitor traffic flow. It analyzes the data it collects and programs the stoplights to allow traffic from the side streets to merge into gaps in oncoming traffic on 250.

“It knows when a platoon of traffic is moving along the main line and senses the demand along the side streets and is able to change its timing based on that,” DeNunzio said.

InSync was developed by Rhythm Engineering, a Kansas-based engineering firm that has installed the technology at more than 700 intersections in 19 states. It costs about $30,000 per intersection.

Jenny Kutz, the firm’s marketing manager, said InSync has other benefits beyond improving traffic flow.

“With less stopping there is less chance for accidents,” Kutz said. “InSync is proven to reduce crashes by up to a third and we are seeing that in three different cities with police data.”

Kutz also said InSync can reduce travel time up to 50 percent and fuel consumption and emissions by up to 30 percent.

Not everyone who drives the corridor has noticed improved traffic flow, though.

Continue reading "VDOT pilots new traffic signal technology on Pantops" »

May 24, 2012

Traffic model projects heavy use for a future Eastern Connector

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, May 23, 2012

A traffic model conducted by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission shows that an Eastern Connector linking U.S. 29 with Route 20 would carry high traffic volumes if its alignment went through a section of Charlottesville’s Pen Park
This map depicts the traffic model generated by the MPO for a four-lane Eastern Connector that travels through or near Pen Park
However, at Wednesday’s meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, local officials said they found challenges with all four different road alignments and expressed doubts it could be built.
“This project has some of the most substantial [traffic] rearrangements of any of the projects we’re looking at,” said Stephen Williams, the executive director of the TJPDC. 
The TJPDC is currently updating the MPO’s long-range transportation plan. That document lists all road projects that are both planned for the next 25 years and eligible for federal funding. 
In February, the MPO policy board directed staff to model hypothetical projects such as the Southern Parkway, an expansion of the Western Bypass of U.S. 29, as well as the Eastern Connector. 
MPO staff used a computer model to calculate how much traffic would be generated by each of the projects. The model is built on projected traffic conditions for the year 2040 and assumes that all projects on the current long-range transportation plan have been completed. 
The work involved four alternatives for the Eastern Connector, including two that would enhance Polo Grounds Road and Proffit Road. It also included two alternatives that would travel west of Route 20 north of Darden-Towe Park, cross the Rivanna River, travel along the southern and western edges of Pen Park, and connect to Rio Road. 
“Both of these alternatives draw an awful lot of traffic,” Williams said. 

Continue reading "Traffic model projects heavy use for a future Eastern Connector " »

October 13, 2011

Albemarle to apply VDOT funding to four sidewalks

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, October 13, 2011

Pedestrians in Albemarle’s development areas could have more places to walk if the county’s request for Virginia Department of Transportation revenue-sharing funds is granted.

“We have come up with a list of four sidewalk projects that we feel are important to us and are identified in our master plans and consistent with goals we have in our comprehensive plan,” said David Benish, the county’s chief of planning.

The program requires a local match and is ordinarily used for road projects.
Benish said VDOT intends for the program to pay for projects that can get under construction with two years of the funds being awarded.

“We just don’t have very many road projects that are in that stage of development,” Benish said.
The four projects are spread through the county’s growth area.

Continue reading "Albemarle to apply VDOT funding to four sidewalks" »

October 12, 2011

Albemarle planning commission votes against growth area expansion


By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Albemarle Planning Commission voted 4-2 Tuesday to end further study several requests to expand the county’s growth area as part of the continuing review of the county’s comprehensive plan.

“We don’t need any more residential [development] right now,” said Linda Porterfield, a planning commissioner who represents the Scottsville district.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20111011-APC-Part2

The commission was asked to review 12 specific requests by landowners who wanted their property to be added to the growth area.

Since 1980, the county has set aside five percent of land for development with opportunities being limited in the rest of the county to preserve environmental resources.

The commission’s vote was the first action taken in the comprehensive plan review and update.

“This is a very small piece of the whole project, but this is important in terms of what the future land use maps will look like,” said Elaine Echols, a senior planner with the county.

Continue reading "Albemarle planning commission votes against growth area expansion" »

Albemarle planning commission considers growth area expansion

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, October 12 2011

The Albemarle Planning Commission began the review of the county comprehensive plan Tuesday with a work session on whether to expand the growth area to accommodate new development.

The county adopted a comprehensive plan in 1980 that designated 5 percent of its land to be used for dense residential and commercial use. Development is discouraged in the rest of the county in order to preserve environmental resources.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: 

Download 20111011-APC-Part1

Landowners can ask that their property be added to the growth area. Requests made over the past few years have been deferred until the comprehensive plan began.

“The reason for the postponing of the analysis and decision has to do with an overall look at the ability of the current land use plan designations to help the county accomplish its goals and specifically its growth management goals,” said Elaine Echols, a senior planner with the county.

The county is estimating that it will have an additional 34,000 residents by 2030. Staff estimated there would need to be between 1,770 and 7,438 new units to accommodate that population growth. However, they also concluded there are just over 8,000 units that have been approved by the county but not yet built.

“There is sufficient residential capacity to accommodate population growth through 2030 within current development area boundaries,” said Andy Sorrell, a planner in the county’s community development department.

Since the last comprehensive plan review, 792 acres that had been designated as growth area were sold to the state of Virginia for creation of the new Biscuit Run State Park.

Staff has suggested the county make up for the loss in part by adding the Whittington and Mosby Mountain developments to the growth area for a net gain of 348 acres.

Download Download staff presentation on growth area expansion requests

On the other hand, staff has recommended against approving the 12 requests received including one that would allow for the expansion of Redfields, which is further north of the planned Whittington development on Old Lynchburg Road.

Attorney Stephen Blaine objected that expansion at Whittington might be granted over a project he represents.

“[Redfields] is an area that’s being skipped over for other areas that are less suitable for development,” Blaine said.

But Christina Parker, a Redfields resident, reminded the commission that they denied a rezoning request to expand the development in late September. She said the commission had agreed with the neighborhood that the infrastructure is not in place to handle the additional growth.

Landowner James Morris is seeking to add his land off Barracks Road into the growth area.

“The property is located in the urban ring and surrounded by much more intense usage than the rural area [designation] will allow,” Morris wrote in his request. “It has lost its appeal as a single family home, but would work great for me to have an office there.”

Next door is a 14.7-acre property near the Montvue neighborhood which developer Charles Hurt wants to include in the development area. Hurt is also applying to add a 156.8-acre parcel further up Barracks Road that, if approved, could see an additional 312 to 628 housing units.

Both properties are in the watershed of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

“I cannot support any development in the watershed,” said commissioner Tom Loach. “We should take this time when we have extra capacity to look at our patterns of development.”

But Jo Higgins, who is representing Hurt, said the rezoning process could easily allow the developer to mitigate any impact on the watershed.

“The government can be smart about it and use [the comprehensive plan] as a strategic tool,” Higgins said.

The Vermillion family has asked for 27 acres on Stony Point Road to be included in the development area. The Board of Supervisors denied a similar request when the Pantops Master Plan was approved in March 2008.

“Years ago when the growth area began we were included in the initial drawing and we felt it was to our best advantage at that time not to be in the growth area,” said Vermillion said. “We now regret that. It’s become apparent it’s to our advantage because we are 25-acre island surrounded by development.

Map depicting location of Somerset Farm

Another expansion request is for Somerset Farm, a 710 acre tract owned by developer Wendell Wood that is to the east of Route 20. Wood plans to build up to 1,902 homes in the area with 350,000 square feet of commercial or office use.

“Somerset Farm is within walking distance to Monticello High School and Cale Elementary School,” Wood said. “It has public water and sewer. It’s within a mile of an interstate highway and a mile and a half away from downtown Charlottesville.”

Wood said he would develop it by-right if the growth area expansion was not granted.

“I don’t think that would be good planning for this county,” Wood said.

Echols said the goal is for the Board of Supervisors to adopt the comprehensive plan update by January 2013.

Update: After press time, the commission voted 4-2 to recommend against approving any of the growth area expansion requests. Details of the vote will be covered in an upcoming Charlottesville Tomorrow article.


  • 01:00 - Planning Commissioner Cal Morris explains discussion
  • 02:15 - Elaine Echols explains comprehensive planning process and begins review of county demographics
  • 07:15 - Discussion of development in the rural section and whether comprehensive plan goals are being met
  • 14:30 - Planner Andy Sorrell begins review of land-use analysis that concluded the county has enough approved dwelling units
  • 33:30 - Public comment period on demographics and land-use begins
  • 49:30 - Commission further discusses demographics and land use analysis
  • 58:30 - Elaine Echols begins discussion of the 12 expansion areas
  • 1:24:45 - Commission begins discussion of expansion areas


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.

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.


April 21, 2011

Supervisors want more info on proposal for 399 new homes on Pantops


By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
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.


January 13, 2011

Albemarle planners deny rezoning for 562 homes on Pantops


By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, January 13, 2011

Developer Richard Spurzem’s bid to build 562 homes at the corner of Hansens Mountain Road and U.S. 250 on Pantops has received a cold reception from the Albemarle County Planning Commission, though commissioners welcomed his decision to abandon plans to build a shopping center there.

Commissioners on Tuesday said they could support residential uses for the 37.5-acre property, as called for in the Pantops Master Plan, but not at the scale the developer was proposing.


The commission voted 5-1 to recommend denial of the rezoning, in part because of the number of homes and in part because a plan of development had not been submitted with the application.

“We’re all very happy with the idea it’s not going to be a shopping center and going to be residential,” said the commission’s new chairman, Duane Zobrist. “The question is, what are the components going to be? This is a good idea, just not the way it’s presented.”

In 2005, Albemarle lost a court case with Spurzem that sought to deny the by-right shopping center development known as Gazebo Plaza. Transportation capacity and safety were among the concerns raised by the county and VDOT at the time.

Listen using player above or download the podcast:  Download 20110111-APC-Pantops-Ridge

Development of Gazebo Plaza has stalled in part because VDOT has threatened to close off the U.S. 250 median — preventing drivers from turning left — because of safety issues. As part of the new plan, Spurzem would close the existing entrance leading from Hansens Mountain Road, also used by nearly 130 homes in the Ashcroft Neighborhood, and relocate the road so it connects with Viewmont Court in the Glenorchy neighborhood. That would direct traffic through a signalized intersection at Peter Jefferson Place and U.S. 250.

“There is no doubt that residential use is more consistent and in keeping with what we propose in our land-use plan,” county planner Claudette Grant said in an interview. However, she added the current request is for double the amount called for in the Pantops Master Plan.

Valerie Long, an attorney for Spurzem, urged commissioners to support the rezoning to achieve long-held county objectives.

Attorney Valerie Long

“We think what’s important to keep in mind is the big-picture issues,” Long said. “No one wants a shopping center, not even the applicant. … We’re proposing an extremely less intensive use. … Most importantly, we’re proposing to fix an incredibly challenging road and traffic situation.”

Several neighbors spoke out against the project during the public hearing. Ashcroft resident Stan Lapekas questioned whether Spurzem could even find a buyer for the shopping center given VDOT’s threat to close off the median.

Viewmont Court resident Ron Dimberg said the road re-location would harm his property.

“To reroute Hansens Mountain Road through Viewmont Court will for all practical purposes destroy the community,” Dinberg said.

Long acknowledged that the Glenorchy neighborhood would be affected, but said that decision was made by the Board of Supervisors when it approved the Pantops Master Plan.

“The owner is proposing to build that relocation at his expense entirely, which is estimated between $3 million and $4 million,” Long said.

The six members of the commission who were present Tuesday all opposed the development of a shopping center, but disagreed over whether the submitted plan was ready for their review.

Commissioner Calvin Morris said he could support residential development on the property, but not at the density requested by Spurzem.

“There is no clear measurement in this [application] that says how many acres of the overall plot should be urban, how much should be green space, so on and so forth,” Morris said.

Commissioner Tom Loach said he could not be convinced 562 housing units would work on the site unless he knew how the development would be designed.

“Without good design, it will fail, and what we’ve seen here is not one scintilla of design that’s consistent with the master plan that the neighborhood spent a considerable amount of time on,” Loach said.

However, Commissioner Linda Porterfield said she thought Spurzem should get the density requested because of his willingness to relocate Hansen Mountain Road.

“I think it is very important we work with this applicant,” Porterfield said. “Everything is not wonderful, but the ability to build Hansens Mountain Road where it can be brought out to a signalized light is very important.”

With four commissioners unwilling to support the requested density, Zobrist suggested the applicant request a deferral in order to submit a plan that could win approval. However, Spurzem opted to seek a full vote by the commission. Commissioner Don Franco negotiated with commissioners in writing a motion that would explicitly tell the Board of Supervisors why they voted to recommend denial of the application.

The vote to recommend denial was 5-1 with Porterfield dissenting. The rezoning will move to the Board of Supervisors later this year.


  • 01:30 - Staff report from planner Claudette Grant
  • 08:30 - Commissioner Tom Loach says the application does not conform to the neighborhood model
  • 09:10 - Presentation from Valerie Long, representing Richard Spurzem
  • 22:30 - Public hearing comment from Ashcroft resident Stan Lapekas
  • 24:30 - Public hearing comment from nearby resident Jean Wiebel
  • 26:30 - Public hearing comment from Viewmont Court resident Ron Dimberg
  • 30:30 - Public hearing comment from Key West resident Kirk Bowers
  • 32:30 - Public hearing comment from Dennis Roethlisberger
  • 34:00 - Public hearing comment from from Halsey Blake-Scott
  • 35:45 - Public hearing comment from Ashcroft developer Paul Beyer
  • 39:00 - Public hearing comment from Andrew Dracopoli of Worrell Land and Development
  • 41:50 - Public hearing comment from Ashcroft developer Richard Beyer
  • 42:30 - Rebuttal from Valerie Long
  • 50:00 - Comments from Commissioner Calvin Morris
  • 52:15 - Comments from Commissioner Tom Loach
  • 53:30 - Comments from Commissioner Ed Smith
  • 54:30 - Comments from Commissioner Linda Porterfield
  • 58:20 - Comments from Commissioner Don Franco
  • 1:38:30 - Commission votes on motion from Don Franco

October 22, 2010

Fire station slopes waiver prompts requests for Pantops community room

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, October 22, 2010


The last two fire stations built by Albemarle County feature training rooms that can be used by community groups for meetings. Now, one planning commissioner is calling for a planned Pantops station to include one as well.

“If we are building a public building, let’s make it for multiple uses,” said commissioner Cal Morris during a public hearing on a critical slopes waiver required for the new station.

The station is to be built on land donated to the county by the Worrell Land & Development Company, the developers of Peter Jefferson Place. The conditions of the donation specify that the facility is to be sited at the location of an existing maintenance shed. The Planning Commission endorsed the location for the station in September 2009.

Listen using player above or download the podcast:  Download 20101019-APC-Pantops

The slopes waiver application asked for permission to disturb less than a quarter of an acre to allow for construction of a one story 9,889 square foot building. However, the public hearing and commission discussion focused on the possibility of adding community space, and not the particulars of the requested slopes disturbance.

Dick Jennings, the chair of the Pantops Community Advisory Council, said the Pantops community does not have its share of county resources.

“There are no schools… there are no churches within the development area boundaries, there are no police stations,” Jennings said. “We on the Pantops council would like to be able to enhance the quality of life on Pantops and start a conversation about how to strengthen the quality of the community.”

The county fire chief said he did not think the Pantops station was an appropriate location for a community space.

“This particular station, just because of the constraints of the site and the owner’s desire to move it back as far as possible really limited our opportunity to add any additional community space or other amenities to this station,” said Dan Eggleston. He suggested the community ask Martha Jefferson Hospital if there is any community space on their new campus.

The plan is for the station to initially open in the spring of 2013 with six full-time crewmembers.  There will be one engine with volunteers staffing the station on nights and weekends, according to Eggleston. As currently designed, there are only 12 parking spaces on the site. The long-term goal is to add a second engine and an ambulance.

Ron Lilley with the county’s office of facilities development said the building’s footprint was reduced due to budget cuts, leaving no room for community space. The plan is currently to spend $3 million on the building.

He said the county has not discussed the possibility of two stories with Worrell, but a memorandum of understanding between the county and Worrell restrict the use to fire-rescue only.

“They have a real sensitivity to maintaining an open space field to that parcel as much as possible,” Lilley said.

Download Download Memorandum of Understanding between Worrell and Albemarle

After a unanimous vote approving the waiver request, Morris asked Lilley and Eggleston to approach the Worrell group and specifically ask if they would accept a two story building.

“There are ways of doing this,” Morris said.

David Benish, the county’s chief of planning, said the planned Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center in Darden Towe Park also offered opportunities for community meeting spaces.

October 08, 2010

County planners deny critical slopes waiver for new homes in Fontana development

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, October 7, 2010

The Albemarle County Planning Commission has denied a critical slopes waiver required before further development can occur in the Fontana neighborhood on Pantops.

The applicant, Fontana Land Trust, is seeking to build 34 homes on 17 acres on a new road off of Fontana Avenue Extended. To do so, approximately 1.7 acres of critical slopes would need to be disturbed.  

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20101005-APC-Fontana

The red areas indicate the location of the new development

Staff recommended approval of the plan because it met the county’s guidelines for mitigating a disturbed slope, and because the land use requested meets both the comprehensive plan and the underlying zoning. The land was rezoned to allow for residential development in March 2008.

One planning commissioner was unhappy with the way the greater Fontana subdivision has turned out.  

“This particular subdivision has been used as an example of poor planning,” said Commissioner Cal Morris. “The incline of driveways, the lack of sidewalks, the narrowness of the streets… I’m quite reluctant to contribute to an ongoing problem.”

For instance, Morris said the roads as depicted on the location plan were too narrow and he could not support the critical slopes waiver.

Download Download staff report for Planning Commission hearing

However, a county engineer said the roads were consistent with the plan presented when the Board of Supervisors voted for the rezoning. Phil Custer said the main road for this section of Fontana would include a sidewalk and a planting strip for trees, but two other roads envisioned did not because they have fewer homes intended to be served by a rural trail.

“That matches what was approved in the rezoning plan,” Custer said.

Fontana Land Trust is being represented by Steve Driver of Terra Engineering. However, Driver was not present for Tuesday’s hearing.

The Commission took two votes on the waiver. The first was made to recommend approval and it failed on a 3 to 3 vote. The second was a motion to deny approval, which also failed.

Commissioner Linda Porterfield voted against the waiver because there was no representative from the developer present, and because she was concerned the trail could not be built.

“I really don’t think staff should have to present an application for someone else,” Porterfield said. “Somebody should have been here to talk about concerns we have.”

Commissioner Mac Lafferty voted against because he was concerned that the critical slopes ordinances is too often overlooked.

“If we looked at this in ten years, we’d be hard to justify why we allowed houses to be built on these kind of slopes,” Lafferty said.

Morris also voted no. Commissioner Duane Zobrist was not present.

 “The plan that’s been presented is consistent with the rezoning expectations that were established by [supervisors],” said Commissioner Don Franco.

Because both motions failed, and the applicant was not present to ask for a deferral, the waiver was not granted.

The applicant will have the chance to appeal to the Board of Supervisors. Efforts to reach Driver to comment on this story were unsuccessful.