County flails for light industrial space

As the county grows, building out its open land with retail, residential and mixed-use projects like Hollymead Town Center and Albemarle Place, small local businesses are feeling the downside of development and getting pushed out of the county. According to the county’s Light Industrial Demand Analysis, there are just 111 vacant acres that are zoned for light industrial use, space that is essential for the service industry, whether it be HVAC contractors or plumbing supply companies.

“What I think is happening, as people are finding it difficult to find that kind of space, reasonably priced, they are going out into the outlying areas where such space is less expensive and more easy to find,” says county Supervisor Dennis Rooker. “Small businesses in the county are finding it difficult to find light industrial zoned property that is reasonably priced.”

Since 2004, nine businesses have been turned away from locating in Albemarle County because of this lack, according to the demand analysis, among them Carter Machinery and two local biotech companies. Rooker says that two factors have compounded the county’s lack of light industrial space: The county has rezoned some parcels out of the designation and built out others.

The zoning designation itself is a contributing factor. Office buildings fall under light industrial zoning and generate more money per square foot than the warehouse space the county needs.

“There is a big demand here for office,” Rooker says. “And so there’s an alternate use for which there is a demand, that is generally a high-price use.”

At the February 13 Board meeting, county staff recommended increasing the available land for local business expansion, with an emphasis on light industrial zoning. That leaves the Board with the problem of finding land for small business use in a time when county land is at a premium in both amount and price.

Rooker brought up the idea of downzoning existing light industrial property to take out the office space use of the designation. Such a plan might bring down the price of light industrial land, making it more affordable to small businesses, but it was met with skepticism at the Board meeting.

“Of course,” says Rooker with a little laugh, “the people that own that kind of property aren’t going to be happy about that.”

At the February 21 Planning and Coordination Council meeting between city, county and UVA officials, Supervisor Ken Boyd floated the idea that the county might use some of UVA’s Blue Ridge property for buildings that would serve small businesses. UVA Executive Vice President Leonard Sandridge seemed less than enthused, telling Boyd that he would look into it.

Light industrial land uses

In case you don’t have it memorized

Compounding drugs and biological products

Manufacturing

Major publishing

Research and development

Technical or scientific education facilities

Assembly

Contractor’s office and storage yard

Business and professional office buildings

Warehousing

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