Supes not swayed: Board poised to expand southern growth area boundary

Former supervisor Sally Thomas urges the current board to reject the comp plan amendment. Staff photo Former supervisor Sally Thomas urges the current board to reject the comp plan amendment. Staff photo

Story updated September 16

More than 30 citizens voiced their opposition to a change to the county’s comprehensive plan that would expand its southern growth area at the Interstate 64/U.S. 29 interchange, with a couple quoting the lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel (“People hearing without listening”)  and Grandmaster Flash (“Don’t push me ’cause I’m close to the edge”) to inspire their elected officials to reject the amendment.

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors listened to 44 speakers for two hours at its September 9 meeting—and then signaled they were ready to approve the amendment after a few details are worked out, a seismic shift in how the county, which is widely viewed as not particularly business friendly, handles development.

The change would open the possibility for Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon, to build a facility here—if the company doesn’t choose one of the two other states it’s considering. For those in favor of expanding the growth area by 223 acres, the issue was jobs and the lack of land zoned light industrial in the county.

Those opposed expressed alarm with the unprecedented and speedy effort to amend the county’s comprehensive plan to lure a company the county has refused to identify—Deschutes has confirmed to C-VILLE it’s looking at Albemarle—at the behest of the Board of Supervisors, rather than the landowner or developer.

In August, the planning commission unanimously rejected the amendment, citing traffic at the interchange, lack of water and sewer, critical slopes, habitat protection and the expedited process “not keeping with good planning practice,” planner Elaine Echols told the board.

But the supes had other considerations. They had just learned earlier in the day that the county faces a nearly $9 million shortfall in next year’s budget, and could come up short $30 million in the next five years.

Supervisor Ken Boyd disagreed that the amendment was a rush job. “In 2010 we made economic development a priority,” he said. “We’ve been talking about this for five years.” And he reminded his fellow supes of what one of the 11 pro-amendment speakers said earlier in the evening: A company unable to find land here had located in Roanoke and hired 600 people, according to commercial realtor Carolyn Betts, who said she’d been unable to find suitable sites for four other businesses.

Champion Brewing founder Hunter Smith mentioned his company’s seven-figure revenues and said he supports the change as a member of the brewing community. He said he’s seen a number of breweries come through looking for space and end up locating elsewhere.

Albemarle County School Board member Jason Buyaki voiced his support of the amendment, noting the “revenue cliff we face.”

And Frank Stoner, who lives in the Sherwood Farm neighborhood close to the site and who is attempting to redevelop the Barnes Lumber site in downtown Crozet, urged a yes vote, because otherwise it would send the message, “Albemarle is still closed for business,” and because the property could be developed as residential, which is more expensive for the county in services that must be provided.

Opponent John Martin criticized the county for not inventorying its light industrial land before claiming it needed more, and said approving the amendment would be “a danger to the rural area.”

The League of Women Voters’ Susan Roberts said she was concerned about the precedent and the conflict of interest: “You cannot ask county staff to represent the applicants and evaluate, too.”

Morgan Butler with the Southern Environmental Law Center echoed that. “We’re very uncomfortable that the county rather than the business is spearheading this,” he said. “Please press pause and ask the landowner or its agent to come forward.”

The parcel Deschutes desires is owned by Sweetspot of Albemarle LLC, which county records list with an Atlanta address that Atlanta property records show belongs to Douglas S. Holladay Jr., a UVA and Darden School of Business grad who’s chair of the Jefferson Scholars Foundation.

When the supervisors began discussing the amendment, Liz Palmer, who represents the Samuel Miller District where the Sweetspot property is located, was the first to voice her position and said she was not in favor of going forward.

With Boyd and Chairperson Jane Dittmar clearly in the approval camp and Palmer opposed, it was left to the three other supervisors to determine whether the amendment would be approved.

Supervisor Diantha McKeel said she was concerned about the precedent, but the former school board member was also concerned about the projected five-year $30 million funding gap to schools.

Although White Hall District Supervisor Ann Mallek said people stop her in the grocery and ask, “When are you going to do something about businesses leaving?” she said the county can’t provide jobs, but it can provide opportunities for jobs, and it can do so in a way protective of resources.

When it became apparent that Palmer didn’t have the votes to stop the amendment, she said she wanted to tighten up the text about what’s allowed on the site. It was after 10pm, and the supes voted 5-1 to defer the decision and have one more meeting to hammer out the details, including whether to add a smaller parcel to the growth area.

County Executive Tom Foley parsed the delay as the board “working for conditions for approval so the company will be thinking something positive is going on.” The board will meet again September 23.


Original September 10 story:

Supes delay comp plan boundary decision

After listening to 44 citizens express their opinions for more than two hours on an amendment to the comprehensive plan that would add acreage to the growth area at the Interstate 64/U.S. 29 interchange, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors decided 5-1 to postpone action at last night’s meeting, while signaling they were prepared to approve the expansion.

The controversial amendment is to accommodate a West Coast brewery interested in locating at the 223-acre site south of I-64—although the company is also checking out two other locations. The county has refused to identify the business, but a spokesperson for Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon, has confirmed that it’s looking at Albemarle.

The overwhelming majority of those speaking at the public hearing portion of the meeting opposed the amendment. The dozen who spoke in favor of it cited the job creation potential and lack of light-industrial-zoned land in Albemarle. Economic development was a theme that resonated with the supervisors, and when it became apparent that the majority—except for Samuel Miller District Supervisor Liz Palmer—favored the amendment, Palmer said she wanted to tighten up text about what’s allowed on the site. It was after 10pm and the supes decided to have one more meeting to hammer out the details. County Executive Tom Foley parsed the delay as the board “working for conditions for approval so the company will be thinking something positive is going on.”

Read more in next week’s C-VILLE.


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