Will new Albemarle Supes bring a pro-growth stance to land-use?

It was the gubernatorial election that attracted the New York Times’ cameras to Charlottesville on November 3, but city and county races held just as much interest for many local watchers. And results in Albemarle County signaled a decisive shift that could have far-reaching consequences for land use and development.

Voters in the Rio District ousted incumbent Democrat David Slutzky from the Board of Supervisors, choosing Republican Rodney Thomas instead. And Sally Thomas, the longtime Samuel Miller supervisor who’d been identified with limited growth and a Democratic tilt (though she was elected as an independent), will be replaced with Republican Duane Snow, the owner of Snow’s Garden Center. Snow bested Democrat Madison Cummings and Independent John Lowry. Independent Dennis Rooker was unchallenged for his seat in the Jack Jouett District.  

All this means that Republicans have gained much more control on the Board of Supervisors. With the victories of Snow and Rodney Thomas, it’s likely that developers will get a markedly friendlier reception from the new board on matters of planning and zoning.

“It’s not that the previous board didn’t listen to [the business and development communities], but [now] what the business community wants they’ll get,” says Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council. He points to a number of land-use issues where this tendency might play out.

“What I’m very concerned about is Places29 is going to be either scrapped or just completely watered down,” he says. (The county Planning Commission voted to endorse Places29, a master plan for land use and transportation, on October 27, and the Board will take it up early next year.)

Both Snow and Thomas say they support parts of Places29. For his part, Snow says that the Hillsdale connector, an additional ramp onto the 250 Bypass, the extension of Berkmar Drive and the widening of 29N between the Rivanna River and Hollymead are all ideas he favors. However, for business and aesthetic reasons, grade-separated interchanges would not have his support. “Once you start putting interchanges over, things have a tendency to get kind of seedy around [them],” he says.

Werner also expects that more land will be added to the county’s growth areas. For now, the two new supervisors- elect are not signaling eagerness for extensive rezoning.

Thomas says, as he wrote in C-VILLE before the election, that the only parcel he’d want to see added to the growth area is one that will make possible the Berkmar Drive extension near Hollymead. He also says that light industrial zoning, such as Will Yancey hopes to win for his 148 acres near I-64 in Crozet, is important for bringing jobs to the county but that, “We don’t need to jump four feet off the ground every time somebody comes in here [requesting rezoning].”

Snow, too, says he’d like to keep Yancey Mills rural. But the parcel near NGIC, owned by Wendell Wood, may have to be rezoned, he says. Wood has argued that because he sold the NGIC land to the federal government for less than its appraised value, the county should rezone his nearby land to allow related housing and retail to be built. At their October 27 meeting, planning commissioners voted not to rezone that land.

Snow says that if a deal has already been struck between Wood and Albemarle, it should be honored. “If we promised it and said we were going to do it, we ought to follow through,” he says. “If it has not been promised as such, then I’d be very reluctant to give up any of our rural land.”

One more concern of Werner’s: Developers whose projects have already been approved may approach the new board to renegotiate proffers. “I’m worried that you’re going to see a lot of things developers have agreed to do be taken off the table in those renegotiations,” he says. Thomas says he wouldn’t look well on such requests. Snow says he would consider renegotiating only proffers that task developers with improvements off-site from their own projects.

In the city, where newcomer Democrat Kristin Szakos cruised to victory along with incumbent Democratic Mayor Dave Norris, the biggest land-use issues will play out in McIntire Park and along the route of the Meadowcreek Parkway.

Whereas independent candidate Bob Fenwick would have been likely to shake things up considerably with his staunch opposition to the parkway, the proposed YMCA site in the park, and the community water-supply plan, Szakos hews much closer to Norris’ positions. She has said she will not oppose the Meadowcreek Parkway unless a court ruling changed the legal status of the project, and she told C-VILLE in September that she supports putting the YMCA in the park.

C-VILLE welcomes news tips from readers. Send them to news@c-ville.com.

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