The proposed Brookhill development sits on 277.5 acres at the corner of U.S. Route 29 and Polo Grounds Road. Riverbend Development wants to rezone the property from R1 residential zoning to a neighborhood model zoning district. Credit: Riverbend Development

Forest Lakes residents recently got an update about the Brookhill development proposed for the corner of Polo Grounds Road and U.S. 29.

Riverbend Development is proposing a rezoning of 277.5 acres from R1 residential to neighborhood model district that would allow for three to 34 units per acre and a maximum of 1,550 residential units.

“Albemarle County is 726 square miles, but only 5 percent of that land, about 35 square miles, is within the development area, so it’s a very small percentage of the county where they want to focus density and development,” land-use planner Ashley Davies of Williams Mullen, which is working with Riverbend, said at last week’s community meeting. “Brookhill is one of the last really large pieces of that undeveloped growth area.”

The plan has been in the works since public meetings were held last summer. Nearly a year later, the developer was back to share updates to the proposed rezoning plan.

“A lot of the aspects of the project are exactly the same as what we talked about last year,” Davies said to the crowd of about 60 Forest Lakes community members.

“Most of the site is within these lower density residential neighborhoods — as you get adjacent to both Montgomery Ridge and Forest Lakes, you’ve got the lower density, all single-family residential areas,” Davies said. “And then the town center and kind of neighborhood village is all up closer to 29.”

The developer is proposing 600 to 800 homes and a higher density residential area on the western end of the property that would include a mixed-use area with apartments, condos and restaurants.

The development falls within the Places 29 growth area, which recommends neighborhood and urban density zoning, as well as urban mixed-use zoning, for the property.

“I know when we’ve met in the past, I think the top concern was the Coralberry [Place] connection, and we determined in those meetings that we will not create a road that connects to Coralberry,” Davies said.

Previous plans had identified a possible connection between the Brookhill neighborhood and Coralberry Place to the north, which many Forest Lakes residents expressed opposition to.

“We don’t have any way to actually create a road there because your [homeowners association] owns the land on your side,” Davies said.

Two other additions to the plan are a 7-acre property in the Brookhill development that would be offered to the county as a site for an elementary school and a 61-acre parcel across U.S. 29 that also would be offered to the county to use for a northern high school or a county office building, among other possibilities.

Several Forest Lakes residents expressed concerns about traffic impacts from the development, particularly the effects of a connection between Polo Grounds Road and Ashwood Boulevard.

Forest Lakes resident Scott Elliff said the connection could double traffic on Ashwood and serve as a “cut through” for people traveling on 29.

“We’re all puzzled as to why you have this road on here at all,” Elliff said. “I don’t see any need for a cut through like this.”

Alan Taylor, Riverbend’s president, said the county identified the road on its master plan and said it is a necessary part of the rezoning.

“Interconnectivity between neighborhoods is a goal of the county,” Taylor said. “The county wants that connection, and so if we don’t want to make it, they are going to say, ‘well, then you’re not going to get through staff.’”

Taylor said the road — which would run parallel to 29 — has been anticipated for a long time.

“When Forest Lakes was zoned … this road was on the planning books and the county wanted that road to be implemented,” Taylor said. “From our standpoint, we’re just kind of doing what we’re told. It’s a very expensive road to build and I think the majority of the traffic will be coming down from Forest Lakes to our town center.”

“Do you have an estimate of what kind of a commercial space you are talking about [for the town center area],” Forest Lakes resident Laurie Duxbury asked. “What’s the breakdown?”

“We’re thinking four or five restaurants — a typical restaurant is [2,000] to 3,000 square feet in this area,” Taylor said. “If you look at the [Downtown Mall] between Hamilton’s on one end and Christian’s on the other, that’s about what it’s going to look like.”

When residents asked about how visible the development would be from existing residential areas, Davies said there will be a 30-foot planted buffer around the property.

Other aspects of the plan include more than 100 acres of open space, stream corridors with trails, preservation of the historic Brookhill House and a tunnel under Polo Grounds Road for the spotted salamander, which migrates across the road twice a year.

The developer said the proposed rezoning is expected to go before the county Planning Commission in August.