By Sean Tubbs


Thursday, October 14, 2010

A resident of the Fry’s Spring neighborhood has asked for time to re-craft a controversial proposal to build seven housing units on undeveloped land.

Alex Hancock has requested his property on Eton Road be rezoned from residential to “planned unit development,” which would allow for smaller lots and reduced setbacks. In exchange, he has proffered an easement for the Rivanna Trail to pass through the area along Moores Creek.

“The owner has a 2.5 acre piece of land and he has certain development rights, but he’s also willing to do the right thing here,” said Ashley Cooper, a former city planner hired to work on the project.

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Fifteen of Hancock’s neighbors spoke out against the rezoning at the Planning Commission’s public hearing Tuesday night. A petition against the project has been signed by at least 83 people who argue the project will cause traffic problems and is out of character with the rest of the neighborhood.

Staff recommended the rezoning be denied because the plan is not that different from what Hancock could build by-right under existing residential zoning.

“Given that the two seem so similar, staff could find no need and justification to make the change,” city planner Brian Haluska said.

Ashley Cooper presents the PUD application to the Planning Commission

Cooper argued the rezoning would allow Hancock to keep some of the property undeveloped. Under existing zoning, each lot must have at least 50 feet along the road.

“The big difference with a by-rjght development is that you can’t have the reduced setbacks,” Cooper said. “That forces you to put in a much longer road into the site to get the proper street frontage. …The grading for that is going to be pretty damaging to a majority of the site.”

Betty Mooney, a former planning commissioner who has lived in the neighborhood since 1979, said she doubted that a by-right development would be easy for Hancock to build.

“They can’t just automatically go and build those houses by-right because they’re going to need [steep slope] waivers for those properties,” Mooney said. “If we want to have a livable city, we need to protect the streams and the forests.

Others were concerned that promises made during other planned unit development applications approved by the city were not being kept. Eric Geilker said developer Tom Hickman promised public trails would be built as part of the Huntley PUD, and that tree removals would be limited.

“Six weeks later, lumber trucks rolled in and out of there and denuded the entire property,” Gelker said. “That PUD was handled terribly, and if there is a PUD that happens on this property, you have a chance to make a good one.”

That sentiment was echoed by many on the commission.

“A by-right development on this site with the zoning ordinance that’s in place could be horrible,” Commissioner Michael Osteen said. Other commissioners agreed but said Hancock had not demonstrated that he had done enough to satisfy neighbors’ concerns.

“I’m very disappointed the applicant hasn’t worked with the neighborhood,” Commissioner Genevieve Keller said. “There are people with design skills and environmental backgrounds who love this neighborhood and have been there for generations and I think we can do better.”

After it was clear the commission would not support a PUD, Hancock asked for a deferral, which was granted. He will now have time to submit another conceptual plan. Keller encouraged him to get additional support from the neighborhood.

“The right plan with buy-in from the neighborhood is certainly a possibility,” Santoski said. “If we’re going to see a similar product come back to us without any buy-in from the neighborhood, I don’t think it’s going to change my opinion very much.”

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