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May 17, 2012

VDOT to fully fund Belmont Bridge, Hillsdale Drive Extension

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, May 17, 2012

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton appears to have fulfilled a promise to pay for several road projects in return for local support for the Western Bypass of U.S. 29 in Albemarle County.
Last summer, Connaughton indicated in writing that he would recommend funding for the Belmont Bridge replacement and an extension of Hillsdale Drive in VDOT’s six-year improvement program for fiscal year 2013.
Albemarle Supervisors Duane E. Snow and Rodney Thomas said they would not vote to allow construction funding to be allocated to the bypass unless those projects were also funded.
 Jim Utterback
“The draft [six-year improvement program] has an additional $10 million for the Belmont Bridge and there’s about that for Hillsdale as well,” said Jim Utterback, the administrator of VDOT’s Culpeper District.
Utterback’s comments came during a briefing before the Planning and Coordination Council, an entity made up of Charlottesville, Albemarle and University of Virginia officials.
The extension of Hillsdale Drive has a cost estimate of $29.9 million. With only around $13 million allocated, the project will only move forward if shopping center owners along its alignment donate land for the right of way.
With this funding, VDOT engineer Brent Sprinkel said the Hillsdale Drive extension would go to advertisement in July 2015. Previously no advertisement date had been specified because funding sources were unclear.

Continue reading "VDOT to fully fund Belmont Bridge, Hillsdale Drive Extension" »

March 08, 2011

Planning team calls for athletic fields at Biscuit Run State Park



Related Biscuit Run Stories:

State kicks off Biscuit Run State Park planning effort as deal remains under scrutiny - 1/30/2011, By Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Biscuit Run state park could open in 2014 - 7/27/2010, By Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Kaine speaks at Monticello to announce success on conservation goal, Biscuit Run acquisition - 1/8/2010, By Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Biscuit Run bought by Virginia to create new state park in Albemarle - 12/31/2009
By Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Windfall for Biscuit Run developer? Tax credits could become cash - 12/28/2009
By Bryan McKenzie and Brandon Shulleeta, The Daily Progress

Biscuit Run may become state park - 12/9/2009
By Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow

By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Albemarle County officials on the advisory committee planning the future Biscuit Run State Park said Monday that they want the park’s master plan to include new athletic fields and uses that will complement the county’s existing parks.

Other community members told staff visiting from the Department of Conservation and Recreation that the park presented a unique opportunity to connect the community’s urban and rural spaces.

Janit Llewellyn, an environmental program planner at DCR, said the second meeting of the 27-member committee planning the state park was intended to discuss future uses and to identify the park’s specific purpose.

“The purpose of this meeting is to brainstorm what types of uses this park might have,” said Llewellyn. “At this point it’s information gathering, and we are here to listen to the public.”

Albemarle County is trying to get back some of the community infrastructure it lost when Biscuit Run changed from a major residential development into a state-owned park property. At the first planning meeting in January, however, DCR officials indicated that athletic fields are typically not included in state parks.

“The one thing that I would like looked into is whether or not we could have any areas of active recreation,” said Supervisor Dennis Rooker at a separate meeting earlier on Monday. “On 1,200 acres it would seem there would be some way we can get playing fields.”

“They could make a deal with our Parks and Recreation department, or even convey over some lands, given that they kind of raided our growth area [to acquire the park land],” Rooker said. “Some of that area was designated as active recreation and now we don’t have it.”

Before being acquired for a new state park in December 2009, Biscuit Run was the largest residential development ever approved in Albemarle County. The 2007 rezoning of the 1,200 acre property would have allowed up to 3,100 homes and resulted in numerous proffers to be paid by the developers valued at more than $38 million, including a 400 acre county park, a school site, playing fields and major road improvements.

Bob Crickenberger, Albemarle’s parks and recreation director, serves as a member of the Biscuit Run advisory committee and was one of the officials who called for inclusion of new athletic fields.

“We are still in need of rectangular, multi-purpose fields,” said Crickenberger in an interview. “There is not enough field space for practice and competition, and the original Biscuit Run development proffers allowed for more of both types of fields.”

One local business owner, involved for many years in local club and high school athletics, thinks Albemarle needs to take care of its existing fields first.

“Before we start talking about building more fields, we need to take better care of the fields we have,” said Dan Pribus. “The field at Baker-Butler Elementary is a dust trap right now and it used to be beautiful.”

“It’s absolutely ludicrous to think that we would cut down trees and build new fields, parking lots, and run utilities when we already have open space with utilities and parking that’s suitable,” Pribus added.

Crickenberger said overuse of the county’s existing fields was contributing to the maintenance challenge, and that was another reason he wanted to add to the inventory.

“We don’t currently have the resources, the manpower, to give the type of attention that each one of these fields deserves, we recognize that,” said Crickenberger. “We also don’t have the number of fields, where we can pull fields out of service and rest them, because each and every one is used 7 days a week.”

Pat Reilly, president of the Monticello United Soccer Club, is seeking the county’s approval for a project to add four soccer fields along Polo Grounds Road.

“In general, the more fields the better, we are underserved in the county,” said Reilly in an interview. “At the same token, it seems like any time a new county field is built or redone, it’s not long before it is beaten into the ground. With the money the way it is these days, it’s impossible to keep a field in good shape.”

Committee member Rex Linville, a land conservation officer with the Piedmont Environmental Council, raised another topic that he said presented a unique opportunity in a park at Biscuit Run.

Janit Llewellyn, Environmental Program Planner  
Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

“One of the opportunities with this park, given its proximity to downtown Charlottesville and all the suburban neighborhoods, is to easily connect these people to this rural amenity -- it’s right there,” said Linville in an interview. “They could ride bikes to it, push strollers to it, walk to it, that is what’s unique.”

The DCR’s Llewellyn said calls for connectivity between urban areas and parks were a growing theme in statewide park planning.

“People want to get out of their cars and that’s a new thing we are hearing as compared to ten years ago,” Llewellyn said. “People want to get on trails and walk or use their bikes.”

Linville said he brought up the issue because it was going to take a joint effort of state and local officials to make the connection.

“It’s going to take more than just the state planning for it, it will take buy-in and investment from both Charlottesville and Albemarle,” Linville said. “If we don’t locally invest in connecting to the park, it’s never going to happen.”

The next meeting of the master plan advisory committee will be May 2. The first public input opportunity will be June 6.

February 03, 2011

Supervisors adopt Places29, pass on Hollymead expansion

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, February 3, 2011

After nearly six years of planning and more than 70 public meetings, Albemarle County finally has a master plan to guide development in its northern growth areas.

“This is a very long-term guide for the community in the area and I think it’s important we get it in place,” said Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker, shortly before a unanimous vote Wednesday.

Wayne Cilimberg, the county’s director of planning, said the adoption of the Places29 Master Plan changes the county’s Comprehensive Plan to reflect its desire for compact development in urban areas.

“We’ll review proposals and capital improvements program based on this plan,” Cilimberg said.

Land use map for the southern portion of Places29 (Source: Albemarle County)

However, the board’s vote did not include the addition of 140 acres south of Hollymead Town Center into the county’s designated growth area.

Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd held a town meeting last week to explain how he thought the expansion would allow the county to collect money from developers through the rezoning process to build key transportation components called for in the plan.

“If we’re ever going to have Berkmar Drive Extended and the improvements that we want along U.S. 29, it’s going to take private investment,” Boyd said. “But it became clear to me in the past week that there is absolutely no interest in doing anything out there until we have a plan in place to make all the infrastructure available.”

Supervisors Lindsay Dorrier and Duane Snow both voted to include the Hollymead expansion area. Dorrier argued that the county needed to replace growth area acreage lost when the massive Biscuit Run property became a state park.

However, Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said northern Albemarle has enough area designated for future development.

“If we’re going to be thinking about replacing something having to do with Biscuit Run’s effect, I think it really should be in the same part of the county,” Mallek said. “There are a lot of residents there who feel they do not have the services and by putting more and more on U.S. 29 north, we’re exacerbating the problem.”

By approving the plan, the board expanded the county’s growth area by 45 acres, bringing in land adjacent to the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Rivanna Station.

Supervisor Duane Snow

Rooker said he opposed that expansion, and pointed out the land use designation was not necessary because the federal government is exempt from local zoning.

“We will simply run up the price of the land that [the DIA] will ultimately have to pay for expansion by re-categorizing that land and therefore putting a higher price tag that the government has to pay when they buy it,” Rooker said.

Other transportation elements called for in the first five years of the plan include the construction of Hillsdale Drive Extended, improvements to the U.S. 29/250 interchange and the widening of U.S. 29 to six lanes from Polo Ground Road to the Hollymead Town Center.

At the request of the board, consideration of grade-separated interchanges at key intersections along U.S. 29 will be delayed for at least five years, until the plan is required by state law to be reviewed. State officials are warning against the total removal of the interchanges from the plan.

“If the interchanges are removed from the Places29 plan, additional traffic modeling and study would need to be done to ensure that current and future land use and recommended improvements to Route 29 support the goals of Places29 and the needs of the regional transportation network,” VDOT spokesman Lou Hatter said in an interview.

Just before the vote, Boyd asked for the Western Bypass to be included as one of the plan’s transportation components.

“I’ve always felt it should be part of consideration for future planning and it shouldn’t have been excluded,” Boyd said.

However, none of Boyd’s fellow supervisors expressed support.

“Let’s talk about that in five years,” Snow said.

“I don’t see any reason to stop this process for Places29 and do even more re-work on this particular issue when this item can come back up at will,” Mallek said.

The northern section of the Places29 plan (Source: Albemarle County)

The Metropolitan Planning Organization is just beginning the process of revising its long-range plan for transportation projects, and Mallek suggested that would be the appropriate venue to discuss the bypass further.

An advisory council has been formed to oversee implementation of the Places29 plan. Members include ardent opponents of the plan, including several who have called for a permanent removal of grade-separated interchanges.

“We know that there are some challenges that some of the public still has with the plan,” said Lee Catlin, the county’s spokeswoman. “The point of the advisory council is to bring diverse perspectives together and to find common ground.”

Catlin said an initial meeting of the Places29 council will be held within a few months.

January 30, 2011

State kicks off Biscuit Run State Park planning effort as deal remains under scrutiny



Related Biscuit Run Stories:

Biscuit Run state park could open in 2014 - 7/27/2010, By Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Kaine speaks at Monticello to announce success on conservation goal, Biscuit Run acquisition - 1/8/2010, By Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Biscuit Run bought by Virginia to create new state park in Albemarle - 12/31/2009
By Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Windfall for Biscuit Run developer? Tax credits could become cash - 12/28/2009
By Bryan McKenzie and Brandon Shulleeta, The Daily Progress

Biscuit Run may become state park - 12/9/2009
By Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow

By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, January 30, 2011

Early ideas are being discussed that could help shape the future Biscuit Run State Park in Albemarle County.

At the same time, state officials are reviewing the series of transactions that took the property from a one-time proposal for a massive housing development to a sale of property to the state and subsequent tax credits for the developers.

“The Biscuit Run matter is being reviewed by appropriate parties,” said Brian Gottstein, director of communication for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. “I cannot say any more than that without potentially compromising an investigation.”

The Biscuit Run property in Albemarle was sold to the state for $9.8 million in December 2009 by Forest Lodge LLC, a company that had paid $46.2 million to acquire the land for development.

In 2007, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors approved a rezoning for developer Hunter Craig that would have allowed the construction of up to 3,100 homes on the property. Craig is also founder and vice chairman of Virginia National Bank and a member of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors.

However, the poor economy prompted the landowners to work with the state on a deal that involved selling the land below market value in exchange for Virginia Land Preservation Tax Credits and federal charitable deductions. However, the $87.7 million land appraisal that was the initial basis for the tax credits continues to be negotiated between Craig and the state.

“The appraisal value of the Biscuit Run property has to be agreed upon,” Craig said in an e-mail to Charlottesville Tomorrow. “We are currently in negotiations.”

Craig was asked to confirm whether the December 2009 appraisal by Patricia O’Grady Filer, which valued the property prior to sale at $87.7 million, any charitable gifts claimed from the transaction, or any land conservation tax credits were being investigated by state or federal officials.

“We are not aware of any state or federal investigation in relationship to any of the above,” Craig said. “Having a state park in the Charlottesville area has been a goal of the Virginia Outdoors Plan since 1966. With the donation by Forest Lodge LLC … the Department of Conservation and Recreation is able to fulfill that long-term goal, one that will be a great public asset.”
Park master planning
Planning for the future park moved forward last week when a new advisory committee tasked with developing a master plan was briefed by a delegation from the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Joe Elton, the state parks director, said the 27-member committee would meet four times in 2011 to develop the plans for Biscuit Run’s almost 1,200 acres. There will also be two public input sessions.

“Generally speaking it takes about a year to get through the planning process,” Elton said. “We are one of the few states that actually require a comprehensive master plan before we develop anything on the site.”

Danette Poole, the DCR’s planning division director, said she would be working with the community to develop the park’s master plan, including an inventory of natural and cultural resources.

“I am really thrilled to see the turnout tonight,” Poole said at last week’s meeting. “So many of you have interests that are varied and really reflect the community. … All of you have vision and ideas about what Biscuit Run should be … and this process is going to pull that together and hopefully create something unified that’s going to be really great for the community.”

In addition to the committee members, the audience included numerous Albemarle County staff, local officials and area residents, the latter representing interests including bicycling, horses and nature preservation. The largest contingent of residents, however, included four advocating for accommodation of music and dancing in the park’s plans.

“I don’t remember the last time dancing was brought up in an advisory committee meeting,” Elton said. “That’s not to say there aren’t things that can happen within a state park that are complementary. I think dancing, for example, [could be accommodated] if we have pavilions in the park.”

When Biscuit Run was slated to become the county’s largest residential development, Albemarle was anticipating receiving numerous proffers related to trails, greenways, and a district park.

Craig also promised a “championship field,” which he valued at $330,000, to support area lacrosse and soccer activities. DCR officials said fields were unlikely to be included in the plan.

“Generally we don’t get into ballfields so much because those types of recreational facilities are provided by the localities,” Poole said in an interview. “Fields are typically not put in state parks.”

Elton noted after the meeting that Biscuit Run presented attractive opportunities for people to come to the park without driving their vehicles.

“When you think about this place, and its proximity to the urban center and to people that live and work in Charlottesville who could walk or bicycle to this park, it gives it a dimension that we don’t have in our rural parks,” Elton said. “In terms of the numbers of people that could access the park without the use of an automobile, well in this day and age with the high cost of gasoline, I think that’s highly attractive.”
Breeden’s ‘donut hole’
One Albemarle County resident currently has no trouble accessing the park.

Elizabeth Breeden, whose family sold the land to Hunter Craig’s investment group in 2005, now finds her home’s 36-acre parcel surrounded on all sides by state land.

“I received a parcel when the dust settled [on the sale] … but it still has zoning by right for 100 units [of housing],” Breeden said. “I am stuck between trying to get the state park or the county to make a plan that will tell me what I might be facing when I seek to subdivide the property.”

Breeden said she is open to swapping her “donut hole” for other property on the park’s perimeter. However, Elton said negotiations can’t happen until the General Assembly passes legislation to allow the transfer. Del. Watkins Abbitt, I-Appomattox, is sponsoring legislation (HB2167) to facilitate the discussions.

“Most people at face value would recognize that eliminating the ‘donut hole’ makes the planning process easier,” Elton said.

Breeden emphasized that she wants a solution that is in the best interests of all Albemarle residents.

“I want the ability to sit down and discuss the best land use practice, and the only way to do that is to have the opportunity to swap the land, that’s what is allowed by the legislation,” Breeden said.
Schedule and funding
The state is committed to finalizing the Biscuit Run master plan by the end of 2011. Left undetermined is when that plan would have necessary state funding to be implemented. Elton said it would take an infusion of funding like the bond referendums of 1992 and 2002.

“The natural cycle would be to look at this in 2012,” Elton said, noting it has been almost 10 years since the last bond referendum for state park acquisition and development. “After we acquire land and the community becomes aware of the potential, of what’s out there for them, and what we’ve found is that people are far less patient today, and there is usually pressure to get things moving sooner rather than later.”

The next meeting of the master plan advisory committee will be March 7. The first public input opportunity will be June 6.

January 13, 2011

New Kohl’s store still on schedule after Hollymead proffer amendment


 By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has paved the way for Kohl’s to open at Hollymead Town Center by agreeing to give developer Wendell Wood more time to build a connector road.

The area circled in red depicts the stretch of Meeting Street that needed to have been completed until supervisors accepted the amendment

“Currently Kohl’s cannot get a certificate of occupancy until [Meeting Street] is built,” said Wayne Cilimberg, chief planner, just prior to the board’s vote Wednesday. A sign near the newly constructed store states that the store will open in March.

However, the board did not accept a second request that would have reduced the amount Wood must pay over 10 years to pay for transit operations in the area as soon as a bus route is established.

Meeting Street is a north-south connector road slated to connect, eventually, to Berkmar Drive Extended. The timetable for that road’s construction depends on whether Wood is successful in having land south of Hollymead Town Center brought into the county’s designated growth area, which will be decided when the board takes up the Places29 Master Plan later this year.

Listen using player above or download the podcast:  Download 20110112-BOS-APC-Hollymead

Under the amended proffer, Wood simply needs to reserve and dedicate the land for Meeting Street at this time but can construct it later.

“We believe that what you’re merely doing is enabling a timing mechanism that was simply not thought about when the original proffers were done,” said Ron Higgins, zoning administrator. “We don’t want to eliminate the obligation. We want to phase it.”

Senior planner Judith Wiegand said county staff does not feel that Meeting Street is necessary at this time.

“The county is concerned that if the whole segment is constructed … you basically would be constructing a road to nowhere,” Wiegand said.

At least a portion of Meeting Street has to be complete for an adjacent movie theater to receive a certificate of occupancy. That project is also being developed by Wood.

Wood had made a second request to reduce the amount of funding he must contribute to public transit to serve the development. The original proffer required him to spend an annual $50,000 for 10 years, but only after bus lines were extended to the property.


“I would like to have some type of relief,” Wood said. He added that many of his surrounding neighbors do not have such an obligation, which puts him at a competitive disadvantage.

The Planning Commission recommended Tuesday that Woods’ obligation for transit be cut in half, and added a sunset date of 2018.

“I would be more inclined under the current circumstances to end up with a proffer that actually gets paid,” Commissioner Linda Porterfield said.

However, Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said she could not support the reduction.

“This was a contract made with the citizens,” Mallek said.

A majority of supervisors refused to reduce the transit funding.

Because of the urgency associated with keeping the Kohl’s opening on schedule, Wood agreed to drop his request to have the transit proffer amended, but said he would bring it back before the board later.
Wood said he expects the store to open on March 6.


  • 02:00 - Staff report from senior planner Judith Wiegand
  • 11:00 - Wiegand describes similar proffers related to transit in other county locations
  • 23:00 - Presentation by developer Wendell Wood
  • 36:10 - Public hearing comment from Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum
  • 37:48 - Public hearing comment from Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center
  • 40:30 - Public hearing comment from Kirk Bowers
  • 42:00 - Comment from VDOT engineer Joel DeNunzio
  • 42:30 - Discussion of the road's dedication
  • 47:00 - Ron Higgins answers question about road dedication t
  • 53:30 - Discussion of the proffer on transit obligations
  • 01:04:00 - Wood describes how much he has currently invested in infrastructure for Hollymead Town Center
  • 01:18:20 - Commissioner Cal Morris makes a motion followed by vote
  • 01:20:00 - Staff report for Board of Supervisors from Director of Planning Wayne Cilimberg
  • 01:27:15 - Director of Community Development Mark Graham explains the proffer for roads
  • 01:37:00 - Discussion of the transit proffer
  • 01:48:00 - Board recesses while staff adjusts proffers with Wendell Wood
  • 01:49:00 - Board reconvenes after several minutes of discussion
  • 01:50:30 - Wood expresses displeasure during public hearing
  • 02:02:00 - Public hearing comment from Jeffry Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council
  • 02:05:00 - Public hearing comment from Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center

January 05, 2011

Forest Lakes residents continue to lobby against Hollymead expansion


By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors is expected to decide today whether to include two expansions of the county’s designated growth area in the Places29 Master Plan, which comes up for a final vote next month.

“We’re hoping to get that direction so we can proceed and get this [plan] finalized for them to act on it in February,” said Wayne Cilimberg, the county’s director of planning.

The proposed expansion, which community members thought had been tabled, would add around 140 acres to the county's growth area. Ken Boyd has stated the expansion may be smaller, but no further details have been officially revealed

Members of the Forest Lakes Community Association had thought one of the requests from developer Wendell Wood, to bring 140 acres south of Hollymead Town Center into the growth area, was dead. Neighbors expressed their opposition at a public hearing in November.

At the time, Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd told residents he would follow their lead and not support the inclusion, even though he personally favored the idea.

However, at a subsequent work session in December, Boyd said his mind was changed by “additional information,” but he did not further elaborate at the meeting on the specifics. However, he did make an appearance in late December on WINA’s “Charlottesville Right Now” program to explain his views.

“I had an outpouring of people [from] Forest Lakes who said they didn’t want this,” Boyd said. “They thought we were approving development there. All [a growth area expansion] does is invite private investment. … It only says that this is an area that is available for rezoning. It doesn’t rezone the property, and I think that’s what the people are confused about.”

Boyd went on to say that a rezoning would allow the county to receive financial support, in the form of proffers from developer Wendell Wood, to pay for needed infrastructure.

“The reason I changed my mind is that we should give the public an opportunity to hear what they can get out of it,” Boyd said. He specifically singled out the intersection of Ashwood Boulevard and U.S. 29 as one potential beneficiary of funding from a rezoning.

However, a member of the Forest Lakes Community Association’s Board of Directors said he fully understands the county’s land use policies and remains opposed to the reclassification of the land.

“We’re being told this is only a preliminary step in the process, but that does not make any difference,” Scott Elliff said in an interview. “We have said loud and clear that infrastructure needs to come first and that there should be no development on these parcels until traffic problems have been fixed, which is the key purpose of the Places29 program.”

Elliff said he and other Forest Lakes residents will appear before the board to make their views known during the public comment period in the morning. Board Chairwoman Ann H. Mallek said in an interview that she did not plan to take further public comment during the work session.

When reached for comment Tuesday, Boyd said he would make no further public remarks until he can explain to his constituents why he is in favor of the expansion.

“There is obviously a great deal of misinformation out in the public and individuals trying to spin their opinions as my position,” Boyd wrote in an e-mail. “I have arranged a community conversation at Hollymead Elementary on January 27th and don’t plan on any more comments until that discussion.”
Elliff said he would welcome such a meeting, but said it was long overdue.

“We think it would have been much more preferable to get the opinions of those who live here early on and to listen to their overwhelming opposition to this bad idea,” Elliff said.

Supervisors will also decide whether another potential expansion area should be allowed near the Rivanna Station military base, some of which also includes land owned by Wood. In December, supervisors said they wanted more information about the Defense Intelligence Agency’s future expansion plans for the base. Cilimberg said that to his knowledge the DIA has not presented the information, but added it was possible supervisors could have had personal conversations with DIA staff.

The work session on Places29 will begin at 3:30 this afternoon. Opportunities for the public to speak will come in the morning during the regularly scheduled comment period.

September 10, 2010

Board approves expansion for Fontaine Research Park


By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, September 10, 2010

The University of Virginia Foundation has been given the greenlight to expand its research park on Fontaine Avenue.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a rezoning for the park at its meeting Wednesday night.

Click to enlarge

The rezoning allows the foundation to expand to a maximum of 875,000 square feet of building space, up from the currently allowed 565,000 square feet. The foundation was also granted several special-use permits, including one allowing for the construction of a 60-bed hospital and another allowing for parking garages.

“As far as I know, the [existing] buildings are full,” said Fred Missel, director of development for the UVa Foundation. Current tenants include various UVa departments and medical facilities, as well as the CFA Institute.

Albemarle Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker praised the rezoning application.

“The university continues to grow and this plan would allow some vertical growth, especially with the parking decks,” he said.

The most recent rezoning does not answer conclusively the future of the proposed Sunset-Fontaine Connector but does offer clues to how parts of it might be funded.

In 2004, the city, county, and UVa jointly authored a planning study that depicted several potential locations for the connector road. The county’s Comprehensive Plan was amended to encourage an alignment that would see the road built along the eastern edge of the park.

However, the cost for that alignment would be high because of the need to cross streams as well as a railroad in the southern portion of the road.

Albemarle Planning Director Wayne Cilimberg said county staff and the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission are conducting a new analysis of the area around the park to determine what transportation improvements would be most effective.

“[The connector] may not be the ultimate solution,” Cilimberg said. “That’s why we need to restudy the area.”

A subcommittee of city, county and UVa officials is expected to hear details of the TJPDC analysis at a meeting in October.

However, a proffer made as part of the rezoning outlines many scenarios in which the UVa Foundation would be responsible for paying for some portions of the road if it seeks a further expansion of the park.

“The university and the foundation have stated publicly for many years that they would accommodate the connector road in that location when-ever the road is ready to be built,” said Valerie Long, an attorney for the foundation. As such, the conceptual plan submitted with the rezoning application dedicates a portion of the property for the road.

However, the proffer states that if the city and county choose an alignment for the connector which does not cross the park, the UVa Foundation will pay only an amount equivalent to the investment that would have been made if the road were in the park.

Download Download staff report with link to proffer statement

If the foundation seeks to expand beyond 875,000 square feet, it will be required to build a second entrance to the park. In that case, Long said, officials would consider building it on land currently reserved for the connector.

The Virginia Department of Forestry’s headquarters is accessed from the Fontaine Research Park. One forestry official was concerned the plan did not clearly show that road connections would remain.

“The Department of Forestry is concerned that any continued development of the Fontaine Research Park must take into consideration our access to both facilities,” said Brad Williams, the assistant state forester.

Long assured Williams that his concerns were unfounded.

“The university certainly will not be cutting off access to Natural Resources Drive,” Long said. “They have a legal right of access easement there, and the foundation and the University of Virginia want to make certain [forestry] trucks and vehicles are accommodated safely.”

The UVa Foundation will have to come back before the Albemarle supervisors for site-plan approval before new construction at the park can begin.

March 11, 2010

County approves expansion of University of Virginia Research Park; Playing field dedication to be reviewed

DailyProgress By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, March 11, 2010

The University of Virginia Research Park adjacent to the Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport will be expanding with a rezoning unanimously approved by the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Wednesday evening.

Thirty acres will be added to the existing research park providing a new main entrance off of Airport Road, once Lewis & Clark Drive is extended from the other side of the park.

Concept drawing showing sample building locations on 30-acre addition to UVA Research Park
“This has been in development over the last four years,” said Fred Missel, Director of Design & Development for the UVA Foundation in an interview.  “It started in 2006 after the rezoning for the [Hollymead] fire station.  Our goal was to have a continuous piece of property zoned as [Planned Development – Industrial Park] (PDIP) and available for its highest and best use.”

The expanded facility will allow an additional 700,000 sq.ft. of development in the research park, roughly a 23% increase in existing capacity.  Today the UVA Foundation has only built about 500,000 sq.ft., or 17%, of the 3 million sq. ft. allowed prior to the expansion.

Local developer Wendell Wood was the only member of the public to speak during the public hearing.  He encouraged the board to approve the rezoning as one way to increase local employment options.

“We sold the land to the University of Virginia in 1985 and have been patiently waiting to see some results,” said Wood.  “I think we should do everything we can to support the further development when we have a world renown university.”

Valerie Long & Fred Missel presenting to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors
Valerie Long, an attorney with Williams Mullen representing the UVA Foundation, told the board that the research park is currently home to 1,100 employees.

A number of defense sub-contractors have established offices at the park to be near the Rivanna Station military base located on the other side of U.S. Route 29.  UVA Foundation officials said that is a trend they expect will continue.

In 1996, the project was called the North Fork Research Park and it covered 525 acres.  In addition to research park activities, the county has also approved special use permits to support laboratories, supporting commercial uses (e.g. restaurants and retail), and hotels.

Missel said this new rezoning has generated a lot of questions about the University’s plans for a hotel and conference center.

“A lot of people are excited about a conference center, but that has been allowed in the zoning since 1998,” said Missel.  He said the University has no immediate plans for a hotel or conference center anywhere in the park.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker said he was reminded in his review of the proffers, the contributions from the UVA Foundation to mitigate the impact of the development, that a recreational playing field had been promised in an earlier rezoning.  Rooker inquired about the status of the field to be donated to the county.

“I’ve never noticed playing fields and picnic areas,” said Rooker.  “We have a better system in place today for monitoring proffers… and I just want to make sure we are following the proffers reasonably carefully.”

Long said that there has not yet been a request from the County for dedication of the playing field.

County Executive Bob Tucker said he would bring the matter to the attention of his Parks & Recreation Department to see if the time was appropriate to receive the donation of the field.

January 05, 2010

Top-10 Growth & Development Stories of 2009

In my weekly appearance today on WINA AM 1070 on the Charlottesville Right Now program, host Coy Barefoot and I will count down Charlottesville Tomorrow's top-10 growth and development stories of 2009.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download Brian Wheeler's appearance on the Coy Barefoot show

This is the fourth year we have counted down the top-10 growth and development stories in Charlottesville-Albemarle.  This wouldn’t be possible without the support of WINA for the Charlottesville Right Now program, host Coy Barefoot for having me on the show each week, Charlottesville Tomorrow’s donors, and the excellent reporting by my colleague Sean Tubbs and our interns.

Charlottesville Tomorrow's Top-10 Growth & Development Stories of 2009
  1. Biscuit Run goes from Albemarle’s largest proposed development ever to a future state park after all 1,200 acres are acquired by the Commonwealth of Virginia in December.
  2. Meadowcreek Parkway construction begins in Albemarle.  Local lawsuit fails to stop construction and City Council’s 3-2 vote to convey City property is upheld in court.  In December, VDOT puts City’s portion (called McIntire Road Extended) out to bid and City Council approves preliminary interchange design.
  3. City & County both hold local elections.  Democrats keep all five seats on Charlottesville City Council.  Three independent candidates in the City are unsuccessful in their bids for Council with Bob Fenwick’s campaign largely a referendum on the future of McIntire Park and dredging for water supply needs.  In Albemarle, Republican Rodney Thomas upset incumbent Chairman Democrat David Slutzky (D-Rio).  In the open seat race to fill the Samuel Miller District seat, Republican Duane Snow defeats two opponents.  Thomas and Snow join Republican Ken Boyd to form a group of three Republicans.  Both newcomers are local businessmen born and raised in Charlottesville-Albemarle. The election results will bring a new mix of experience, politics and philosophy to the board in 2010 that could mean big changes in the board's approach to budgeting, tax rates, economic development and other key issues.
  4. Fifty-year Community Water Supply Plan continues to be evaluated by local officials and public for opportunities to improve plan and lower costs.  Engineering firm Gannett Fleming is dropped and replaced with local firm Schnabel Engineering.  Three studies get underway related to dredging of South Fork, the design of the new Ragged Mountain Dam, and a “conceptual review” of the proposed pipeline connecting the two reservoirs.
  5. Places29 Master Plan is recommended for approval by Albemarle County Planning Commission on 4-2 vote.  Many business leaders continue to oppose grade-separated interchanges and other transportation proposals that cannot currently be funded by state.  Wendell Wood lobbies for growth area expansion on to undeveloped land he owns in Northern Albemarle.
  6. Peter van der Linde opens recycling facility at Zion Crossroads.  Rivanna Solid Waste Authority (run jointly by Charlottesville-Albemarle) files lawsuit against van der Linde accusing him of fraud and non-payment of as much as $1 million in tipping fees to the RSWA facility.  RSWA decides to seek bids to privatize the Ivy Material Utilization Center and McIntire recycling facilities.
  7. Charlottesville Downtown Mall renovations completed under budget and mostly on schedule (fountains needed more work after deadline).
  8. Major new housing and retail developments continue to be held up by market forces, economic downturn, and lack of adequate public infrastructure (e.g. sewer capacity).
  9. Virginia General Assembly blocks local sales tax voter referendum, requested by both Charlottesville & Albemarle as part of search for new transportation funding resources, specifically to support formation of a Regional Transit Authority.
  10. First annual CvillePieFest is held in Crozet.  Organized on Twitter, it was simply amazing.
    (Full disclosure: Coy Barefoot & Brian Wheeler really want to continue as permanent judges for this event, something that should become the Virginia Pie Festival! Keep track of all things local pie here.)
Brian’s predictions for the top stories of 2010
  1. Key decisions will be made about next steps for the fifty-year Community Water Supply Plan related to Ragged Mountain dam design and dredging.
  2. Crozet Master Plan review is completed.  What is new target for Crozet’s build out population and will the growth area be expanded at Yancey Mills for a new business park?
  3. New growth area land in U.S. Route 29 corridor will be considered to replace the 3.5% of growth area lost to state’s acquisition in late 2009 of Biscuit Run for a new state park.
  4. Village of Rivanna and Places29 Master Plans will be reviewed by Board of Supervisors.  Will Places29 be approved and, if so, with what transportation vision for the future of U.S. 29 North?
  5. Local government continues to struggle with the continuing impact of state and local budget shortfalls in very difficult economy.  Officials will consider new proposals to diversify Albemarle’s tax base (increased commercial/industrial) and proposals to reduce recently adjusted cash proffer expectations in an effort to encourage new home construction.
  6. City-County-UVA cooperation will get more attention by the public and local officials (revenue sharing, water, solid waste, schools, public safety).  Will it get better or worse?
  7. Master Planning of McIntire Park will get underway and future uses, like a botanical garden, will be assessed. 
  8. The military facilities at Rivanna Station around the National Ground Intelligence Center will continue their expansion and bring new residents to the community working for the Defense Intelligence Agency and military sub-contractors.
  9. Charlottesville and Albemarle both face challenges from their residents concerned about urban infill development, the type of growth encouraged by each locality’s comprehensive plans, but often opposed in the face of neighborhood concerns about increased traffic, public safety, and noise.  How will this impact redevelopment of West Main and old Martha Jefferson Hospital?
  10. Landmark Hotel construction on Downtown Mall resumes, or not…

December 09, 2009

Biscuit Run may become state park



Download 12-1-09 DEQ Environmental Impact Report


Download 11-30-09 Albemarle County comments
20091209-BiscuitRun Map used with permission of The Daily Progress

By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Biscuit Run, the largest development ever approved in Albemarle County, may instead become a state park. Forest Lodge LLC, fronted by local developer, builder and banker Hunter E. Craig, is in discussions with the state to donate the 1,200 acres it owns between Route 20 and Old Lynchburg Road.

The land includes about 800 acres rezoned in 2007 on which Craig had planned to build up to 3,100 homes. Craig had proffered an additional 400 acres in the county’s rural area for use as a local park.

Craig and his investors bought Biscuit Run for a reported $46.2 million from the Breeden family in 2005. The property has an assessed value of almost $44 million.

Craig referred questions to a local public relations firm. Representatives there declined to comment on the record. An attorney representing the project said in January that development of Biscuit Run had stalled, though he said work continued behind the scenes.

“The business climate is such that it’s not in the investors’ best interest to proceed with development at this stage,” attorney Steve Blaine said at the time.

Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker said in an interview that he would be disappointed to see the Biscuit Run development plan abandoned.

“This plan was approved after a lot of time and effort by all the parties involved,” Rooker said. “Everyone recognizes that the current economic conditions make it difficult to execute a large development plan.”

“On the other hand, it is always nice to see additional land go into permanent protection,” Rooker said. “Assuming the transaction is completed, we would be very interested in working with the state to maximize the value of the property to our community.”

The Board of Supervisors approved the development unanimously in September 2007 after two years of work and controversy. Many residents had opposed the project adamantly, fearing its effects on roads, schools and the area’s quality of life.

In considering the impacts of the potential donation of Biscuit Run to the state, officials with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality last month asked Albemarle to provide feedback for an environmental review.

Mark Graham, the county’s director of community development, responded with a four-page letter. Graham raised concerns about both the financial impact of the move and its inconsistency with local planning efforts.

Graham said that “locating a state park within the development area portion of this property is not consistent with the growth management goal of the county’s Comprehensive Plan.”

“The 825 acres of this property located within the development area, particularly now that it has been rezoned consistent with the land use plan, constitutes a very important area in achieving the growth management goal and its loss could place pressure on other parts of the county to absorb future development (either through development area expansion elsewhere or by-right development in the rural areas),” Graham wrote.

With respect to financial issues, Graham noted that the property generates more than $325,000 per year in property taxes for Albemarle.

“While the removal of this property reduces anticipated demands for infrastructure, it also eliminates critical improvements and funding sources,” Graham wrote. “The proffers associated with the Biscuit Run rezoning were evaluated by staff and found to provide a value in excess of $38 million.”

One of those proffers related to construction of a road connecting Route 20 to Old Lynchburg Road. The “Southwood Connector” was envisioned to pass through not only the Biscuit Run development but also a redeveloped Southwood Mobile Home Park.

Habitat for Humanity purchased Southwood in 2007 and has 350 residential sites there, according to the group’s executive director, Dan Rosensweig. Habitat has a separate agreement with Forest Lodge related to the redevelopment project, and Rosensweig said he continues discussions with the developer about Habitat’s plans.

“Our deal involves them granting us some easements and them agreeing to purchase a road easement from us for $1 million,” Rosensweig said in an interview. “We have always considered this a key financial component to jumpstarting the Southwood redevelopment project.”

Pat Mullaney, Albemarle’s parks director, also provided feedback for the DEQ’s environmental impact report. Mullaney described Albemarle’s existing park resources and encouraged any new park plan to include consideration of the city and county needs for new athletics fields.

“While I believe local residents will certainly enjoy the availability of a state park, the need for a traditional state park in this region is not an urgent one due to the availability and character of our local park system,” Mullaney wrote.

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation notes in the report that the donation would allow for “recreational facilities in a region of Virginia not presently served by a state park.”

“In addition,” the agency continues, “the acquisition of this property will result in the protection of approximately 1,200 acres contributing toward the governor’s goal to preserve 400,000 acres of new historic and open land by the end of the decade.”

According to Nikki Rovner, deputy secretary of natural resources, 365,170 acres had been protected in Virginia as of Nov. 16. Rovner said in an interview that any property donated for a park would count toward Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s land preservation goal, though she declined to comment specifically on the Biscuit Run property.

Virginia has 35 state parks open to the public and at least four others in development. If the donation of Biscuit Run goes through, the project would see a second phase of environmental reviews and a master plan would be developed for the public use of the property.