When the Board of Supervisors held a work session on the proposed Willow Glen subdivision near the Charlottesville Airport, two basic themes emerged.

First, does the county have enough land designated as Light Industrial Service? And second, does the developer’s proposed proffer to include moderately priced housing fit into the County’s evolving proffer policy?

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George Ray, one of the developers of Willow Glen, addresses the Board of Supervisors while his attorney, Valerie Long, looks on

Some of the land for the proposed Willow Glen development is currently designated in the Comprehensive Plan as Light Industrial Service but is currently zoned for Rural Area use. The owners of the 23 acres want all of the land to be reclassified in the Places29 Master Plan from Light Industrial Service to Urban Density Residential. That along with a rezoning to Planned Residential would allow them to construct 234 units of housing ranging from affordable townhomes to single family detached houses.

On August 14, the Planning Commission voted to support the Willow Glen development through changes in the Places29 Master Plan, and recommend approval of the rezoning. The Commission set several conditions on the rezoning. One was approval from the Board of Supervisor’s on the proffer policy suggested by the applicant.

Wayne Cilimberg, the County’s Director of Planning and Community Development, says the planning staff was concerned about the loss of industrial land, especially land close to the airport. He said the Commission recommended the change because the developer was offering to build affordable and moderate housing at the location. Commission members also were concerned that residents of the neighboring Deerwood subdivision would object to any rezoning for industrial uses.

The county’s Business Development Facilitator, Susan Stimart, wrote a memo to Senior Planner Judy Wiegand which pointed out that “land designated for Industrial Service in the Comprehensive Plan” has decreased from a 1993 level of 1,381 acres to the 2005 level of 932 acres.” Additionally, there are 300 underutilized acres of County land zoned Light Industrial. She suggested that undeveloped land near the airport should remain available for that option, particularly in light of the emerging fields of bio-technology. During the work session, she told the Board that it was important to keep land available, because the UVa Research Park only allows tenants to lease space.

Counsel for the developer, Valerie Long of the firm Williams and Mullen, disagreed with Stimart’s numbers. She said her study found 803 acres of industrially designated land that could be developed for that purpose. Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) wanted to know how much land has been developed as Light Industrial in the last five years, data that was not readily available at the time of the meeting.

Long told the Board that her client had come up with a very integrated approach that offers a creative way to tackle the problem of workforce housing through proffers.

Plans for the proposed Willow Glen subdivision

The applicant has offered to proffer 35 units at an “affordable” rate, consistent with the County’s policy of 15 percent of any new development. Additionally, the applicants have offered to sell an additional 10 percent (24 units) at a “moderate” price, and these units would be targeted towards people who make up to 125 percent of the area’s average median income. Those units would only be sold to people who participate in a Housing Loan Fund to be set up by the developer. Fifty-five percent of each cash proffer would go towards this fund. The remaining 45 percent would be split between the County’s capital budget and money specifically to go towards transit.

“What the applicant is proffering to do is use a portion of the cash proffers to establish this loan fund, and it would assist buyers of moderately priced units,” Cilimberg said. “It would be structured to be self replenishing and once Willow Glen is complete, it could be used for housing in other parts of the County.”

But, the Supervisors wanted to talk about land use first.

Supervisor Sally Thomas (Samuel Miller) told her colleagues that she felt the land was worth reserving for industrial use. “We’re in dire need of moderate sized light industrial,” she said. “It could be a support facility for the kind of industry that is not going to be encouraged by the University at its research park.”

Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) agreed, and mentioned the Board has gradually allowed land along the 29 corridor to be re-designated from industrial use to other uses, perhaps putting the County at economic risk.

“It’s probably reasonably appropriate on those areas on 29 that have a very high retail value, and it would be overly expensive for someone to use for light industrial use,” he said. “While at the same time we have a huge number of residential units that have been approved pursuant to rezonings that have not yet been built. If Biscuit Run eventually gets built, we’ll have 1,000 affordable units in the pipeline.”

Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) said his initial reaction was to keep the land designated as industrial, but he felt the affordable and moderate housing goals put forth in the proposal helped him reconsider.

“It may be accurate to say we have a dwindling supply of Light Industrial (LI) zoning, but I’m not hearing of a flood of users for LI space that are not finding them.”

Thomas responded that she has recently met a business owner who wanted to keep his business in Albemarle County, but he was forced to move to Zion Crossroads in Fluvanna County. “When these are support industries, we are hurting ourselves because it just means more traffic on the roads.”

Valerie Long said her client had looked at the land price and concluded it would be too expensive to develop for commercial purposes. She added any rezoning would also be difficult.

“It’s not zoned Light Industrial. It’s zoned Rural Area. So any light industrial user who came along and wanted to develop a project there would have to go through the lengthy and very expensive rezoning process,” said Long.

Long said neighboring landowners almost unanimously said they preferred to make the land residential, and that no one spoke in opposition at the Planning Commission’s public hearing in August.

“When you look at Willow Glen, surrounded by residential development at Deerwood, residential development at Hollymead Town Center, it really wasn’t so out of character to propose that Willow Glen be redesignated.” She reminded the Supervisors that the Planning Commission agreed.

Supervisor Rooker said he knew the reason why all of the County’s Light Industrial has been carved up over time. “There’s a value expectation that’s been built into industrial designated property that people can come and get it changed to a use that may have more value,” he said.

David Slutzky said that he felt that this project should be considered on its individual merits, and not as part of a larger discussion of the county’s inventory of light industrial land. Dennis Rooker said he felt that the area around the airport was the most appropriate place for industrial land. In fact, Wayne Cilimberg explained that all of the land surrounding was until recently designated as Light Industrial.

“And now we’ve created a situation where the neighbors don’t want industrial, because they’re now residential around it, which raises all sorts of red flags for me,” Thomas said. She added that the County has serious planning to make sure there’s a space for new businesses to grow.

Long said the project was designed deliberately to address the lack of moderate housing, and thus the developer deserves credit. “It proffers what no other project has proffered in this community, which is in addition to the basic fifteen percent of affordable housing, it also proffers 24 units of moderately priced housing, and what we think is an innovative housing loan fund to help get the moderately priced families into those units, which we think otherwise will be quite a challenge.”

George Ray, one of a trio of developers behind the project, is a former economic development director for the City of Charlottesville. He said he wanted to create a project that would give back to the community in the form of allowing people with moderate incomes find a home in the County.

“We were aware of this land, which had been on the market for four years before we bought it. We looked at it from the perspective of it was very close to Target and Harris Teeter. We felt like we could make a connection to the new road that goes from Chevy Chase Bank to Dickerson Road so that people wouldn’t have to get back on the highway system for central services. We designed this project around what we perceive to be the housing needs in Albemarle County.”

Ray said he can buy industrially zoned land in Fluvanna County for $100,000. “The person who has the problem Sally mentioned earlier before is not going to be able to afford it [in the County],” he said.
“It is just not sufficient demand in my opinion to warrant taking a 23-acre piece of property and turning it into an industrial park.”

Ray also made a pitch for his proffers, and said the County’s new cash proffer policy requiring $17,500 for each house made it very difficult for him to build any affordable units.

Rooker said that he did not want to shut the door to the project, but that he did need more information. It will still need to go before a public hearing before the Board can vote.

On the subject of proffers, the board rejected the developers proffer strategy, and said they would prefer a more straight-forward cash proffer. “The fundamental issue is whether we want to take proffer money that is supposed to go to capital improvements,” said Dennis Rooker. “Whether we want to on a case by case basis to start allowing for proffer money to be diverted at the request of the applicant for things that are not within the parameters of the purpose of proffers to start with. Personally, I don’t think we should go down that road.”

Sally Thomas said she did not want to discourage creative solutions, but that the County had to make sure there would be money for roads, schools and other infrastructure.

Long said she was disappointed that the Board rejected the proposed proffers, and that she did not see how any developer would ever be able to afford to sell units at a moderate price if the County’s proffer policy can’t somehow accommodate that strategy.

“There’s a real disincentive to any developer working hard at providing so-called moderate housing,” she said. Ray said he was committed to doing it, even without the proffers, but that the prices will definitely have to go up. County staff will work with the developer on the proposal before a public hearing scheduled to occur later this fall.

Another point that did not receive the same level of scrutiny is the amount of sewer capacity for any new homes in that location. Wayne Cilimberg said an agreement about who will pay for additional sewer capacity has not yet been reached between the developers of various projects in the area and the Albemarle County Service Authority.

“We’re not sure that the agreement is really that necessary because there the service authority can exercise powers we can’t as a local government,” he said. He said the ACSA can refuse to make connections to new customers if the capacity is not there, as well as charge increased fees for those connections.

Selected highlights:

1:27 – Wayne Cilimberg outlines the questions planning staff had for the Board of Supervisors regarding industrial land in the County
9:02 – Supervisor Sally Thomas discusses the value of the land retaining its industrial designation
9:40 – Supervisor Dennis Rooker expresses concern over what he describes as an imbalance of land designated industrial to land designated residential
11:20 – Supervisor David Slutzky says Willow Glen’s affordable housing provisions outweigh concerns about losing industrial land at the airport
12:30 – Supervisor Thomas describes one of her constituent’s attempts to find land for industrial use in the County
14:20 – Supervisor David Wyant says light industrial sites are hard to come by in the County
16:08 – Valerie Long describes how the site is more suited for residential uses, given the high cost of land as well as a lack of demand
23:30 – Supervisor Dennis Rooker discusses how some landowners have purchased industrial land for the purpose of redesignating
24:36 – Valerie Long describes the existing inventory of light industrial land in the County, leading to a conversation about what the exact number really is
28:01 – Albemarle County Business Facilitator Susan Stimart describes how the County’s numbers are calculated
30:07 – Supervisor Ken Boyd says he’d like to know how much industrial land has been developed in the county in the last five years and gets a response from Wayne Cilimberg
39:12 – Wayne Cilimberg describes the history of land use designations for surrounding parcels of land
42:15 – Developer George Ray describes why he and his partners decided to purchase the land, which they felt would be a suitable place for an affordable housing project
49:08 – Supervisor Ken Boyd takes a straw poll of fellow Supervisors on the comprehensive plan change

Sean Tubbs