Somerset Farm concept plan, June 2011 Credit: CREDIT: Collins Engineering

The Albemarle Planning Commission began the review of the county comprehensive plan Tuesday with a work session on whether to expand the growth area to accommodate new development.

The county adopted a comprehensive plan in 1980 that designated 5 percent of its land to be used for dense residential and commercial use. Development is discouraged in the rest of the county in order to preserve environmental resources.

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Landowners can ask that their property be added to the growth area. Requests made over the past few years have been deferred until the comprehensive plan began.

“The reason for the postponing of the analysis and decision has to do with an overall look at the ability of the current land use plan designations to help the county accomplish its goals and specifically its growth management goals,” said Elaine Echols, a senior planner with the county.

The county is estimating that it will have an additional 34,000 residents by 2030. Staff estimated there would need to be between 1,770 and 7,438 new units to accommodate that population growth. However, they also concluded there are just over 8,000 units that have been approved by the county but not yet built.

“There is sufficient residential capacity to accommodate population growth through 2030 within current development area boundaries,” said Andy Sorrell, a planner in the county’s community development department.

Since the last comprehensive plan review, 792 acres that had been designated as growth area were sold to the state of Virginia for creation of the new Biscuit Run State Park .

Staff has suggested the county make up for the loss in part by adding the Whittington and Mosby Mountain developments to the growth area for a net gain of 348 acres.

Download staff presentation on growth area expansion requests

On the other hand, staff has recommended against approving the 12 requests received including one that would allow for the expansion of Redfields, which is further north of the planned Whittington development on Old Lynchburg Road.

Attorney Stephen Blaine objected that expansion at Whittington might be granted over a project he represents.

“[Redfields] is an area that’s being skipped over for other areas that are less suitable for development,” Blaine said.

But Christina Parker, a Redfields resident, reminded the commission that they denied a rezoning request to expand the development in late September . She said the commission had agreed with the neighborhood that the infrastructure is not in place to handle the additional growth.

Landowner James Morris is seeking to add his land off Barracks Road into the growth area.

“The property is located in the urban ring and surrounded by much more intense usage than the rural area [designation] will allow,” Morris wrote in his request. “It has lost its appeal as a single family home, but would work great for me to have an office there.”

Next door is a 14.7-acre property near the Montvue neighborhood which developer Charles Hurt wants to include in the development area. Hurt is also applying to add a 156.8-acre parcel further up Barracks Road that, if approved, could see an additional 312 to 628 housing units.

Both properties are in the watershed of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir .

“I cannot support any development in the watershed,” said commissioner Tom Loach . “We should take this time when we have extra capacity to look at our patterns of development.”

But Jo Higgins , who is representing Hurt, said the rezoning process could easily allow the developer to mitigate any impact on the watershed.

“The government can be smart about it and use [the comprehensive plan] as a strategic tool,” Higgins said.

The Vermillion family has asked for 27 acres on Stony Point Road to be included in the development area. The Board of Supervisors denied a similar request when the Pantops Master Plan was approved in March 2008 .

“Years ago when the growth area began we were included in the initial drawing and we felt it was to our best advantage at that time not to be in the growth area,” said Vermillion said. “We now regret that. It’s become apparent it’s to our advantage because we are 25-acre island surrounded by development.

Another expansion request is for Somerset Farm, a 710 acre tract owned by developer Wendell Wood that is to the east of Route 20. Wood plans to build up to 1,902 homes in the area with 350,000 square feet of commercial or office use.

“Somerset Farm is within walking distance to Monticello High School and Cale Elementary School ,” Wood said. “It has public water and sewer. It’s within a mile of an interstate highway and a mile and a half away from downtown Charlottesville.”

Wood said he would develop it by-right if the growth area expansion was not granted.

“I don’t think that would be good planning for this county,” Wood said.

Echols said the goal is for the Board of Supervisors to adopt the comprehensive plan update by January 2013.

Update: After press time, the commission voted 4-2 to recommend against approving any of the growth area expansion requests. Details of the vote will be covered in an upcoming Collectbritain article.