Alison Zedan studies one of three land use alternatives at a community meeting for the Rio+29 Small Area Plan. Credit: Credit: Josh Mandell, Collectbritain

Albemarle County hosted a final community meeting Monday to get public input before finishing the first phase of the Rio+29 Small Area Plan.

The plan aims to guide development along U.S. 29 between Charlottesville Fashion Square mall and the Rivanna River. The study area contains just 2 percent of the county’s total land, but is home to much of its business activity.

“There’s a feeling that [the study area] could be something more: a really attractive, beautiful gateway to the urban area,” said Mike Callahan, project manager for Renaissance Planning.

A $65,000 grant from the Virginia Office of Intermodal Planning paid Renaissance Planning to help articulate an overarching vision for land use in the Rio+29 area in the first phase of the planning process. A more detailed final plan is scheduled to be completed by late 2017.

One goal of the plan is to guide the development of mixed-use, compact, walkable centers of development, which are also called for in the Places29 Master Plan.

Alternative A includes one large mixed-use center at the Rio-U.S. 29 intersection. Alternative B features a smaller mixed-use center on the west side of U.S. 29 at Gander Drive, in addition to the one at the Rio intersection. Alternative C adds one more small center near the Rivanna River that would specialize in hotels and conference space.

The specific uses in the centers are yet to be determined. However, Callahan said one of these development centers, or “nodes,” could theoretically accommodate Albemarle County’s government offices and courthouses if those were to relocate from downtown Charlottesville.

About 30 people attended Monday’s community meeting, including county Supervisors Norman Dill and Ann H. Mallek.

Carol Hill said she hoped the small area plan would result in the Rio+29 area being less densely developed than Pantops. “Pantops grew too fast,” she said.

Kim Swanson said the county would be best served by waiting to see how the new Rio-U.S. 29 interchange changes the dynamic of the area before making any major decisions. “I think they need to focus on one [node] first, before figuring out how to make three work,” she said.

Each of the land-use alternatives presumes that the Rio+29 area will one day be serviced by a bus rapid transit system. Several people at the meeting suggested extending bus rapid transit north of the study area into Greene County.

“We like the idea of having nodes that would support a large transit system,” said Morgan Butler, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The key will be getting the scale and timing of the development right.”

Ron Brownfield said the Rio+29 study area would be difficult to redevelop because the land is almost entirely under private ownership.

“This is going to take a long, long time to do,” he said. “But I think it’s a great idea, if the population grows here.”

Josh Mandell graduated from Yale in 2016 and has been recognized by the Virginia Press Association with five awards for education writing, health, science and environmental writing and multimedia reporting.