Loss of Biscuit Run raises questions of housing demand

With Biscuit Run destined to become a state park, the loss of Albemarle County’s massive planned residential development has many developers hoping for the chance to add to their suburban stock. Such is the case for the developers of Redfields, a residential community southwest of Charlottesville, who asked the Albemarle County Planning Commission to grant an amendment to the location’s comprehensive plan. They want to add 138 units on what is currently open space. 

“Biscuit Run is now a state park and the demand for housing south of Charlottesville needs to be fulfilled,” reads the application. Originally approved for more than 3,000 dwelling units, Biscuit Run would have been the biggest development in the county. 

Some, however, think the demand is illusory.  

“Had there been a market for Biscuit Run, it would not now be a state park,” said Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) at a recent Planning Commission work session for the Redfields’ application. “So, the argument that we must now restore the growth areas is dubious at best.” 

Former Albemarle County Planning Commissioner Marcia Joseph, representing Redfields developers Percy Montague and Gaylon Beights, argued that the county could benefit from adding land to the growth area that is already zoned for development —“that is close to town, [and] close to a 1,100-acre state park.”

The Planning Commission opted to add the Redfields application to an imminent comprehensive plan review that staff will undertake for the next two years. However, commissioners questioned whether more residential development is necessary in Albemarle at a time of financial difficulty. 

“We have a lot of land that has been rezoned for residential throughout the county and nothing has been built,” says Commissioner Linda Porterfield. “I just think that somewhere along the lines there has to be a real study as to whether we’ve got enough for the foreseeable future, and what is that foreseeable future.” 

As Werner pointed out, Albemarle Place, the Village of Rivanna and North Pointe were approved for a total of more than 3,000 units. However, work has yet to begin at any of the locations.

“With so many unbuilt homes, it is difficult to see an argument that a growth area expansion is in the best interest of the community,” he told commissioners. 

The present economy has impacted the health of Redfields home sales. According to Nest Realty, there are 12 homes currently for sale in the community. Five of them have been on the market for more than 120 days, and the rest between 30 and 80 days. 

Commissioners also heard from residents about the assurance given to them by the Redfields sales office that open space would remain such. Barry Condron moved to Redfields more than 14 years ago. When he first visited the development, Condron tells C-VILLE, a real estate agent walked the nature trails with him. 

At the meeting, he recounted his experience. “We bought our property, our land, thinking that this was something we had. We feel duped,” he said. “Protect the residents. You can’t allow this kind of thing to happen. It’s just wrong.” Rex Linville, another resident and PEC land conservation officer, told the commission that “the developer marketed the land as open space,” and, as such, homeowners made long-term investments in their property around that space.

Redfields was originally approved for 656 units in 1990. To date, developers have built 444 units. Redfields developers Montague and Beights told commissioners that it has always been the intention to develop the land. “This is leftover property from the overall project,” said Beights.

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