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Here it comes!!
 
Starting soon, construction could begin on as
many as 18,725 new homes--plus lots of
commercial development--in this area.
 
BY C-VILLE WEEKLY WRITERS     December 6, 2006
 
 

 

 


Growth. The word alone is enough to start an argument. We need more! We need less! Hardly anyone seems to think things are just right as they are.

   Despite all the concern about growth, no one seems to know exactly how much new development is in store for Charlottesville and Albemarle County. But after poring over many City and County documents, C-VILLE has a pretty good idea of what’s coming. We added up square footage, acreage and proposed housing units to get a picture of what’s planned for area development in the foreseeable future.

   What did we find? In the near future, Albemarle County could see up to 15,879 new residential units and 5,655,701 square feet of commercial development—for a total of 10,916 developed acres in the county. That’s equal to an unimaginable 9,906 football fields. Expressed another way, it’s 17 square miles out of a total 723 square miles in Albemarle County, or 2.4 percent of county land.

   The city is growing, too. Charlottesville could see 2,846 new residential units in the near future, and planners estimate that 579,750 new square feet of commercial space could be coming to the city as well. 

Shock to the systems?

In Charlottesville, the news is a crop of high-density residential complexes marketed toward upscale hipsters, young families, and retirees fed up with long commutes and gated neighborhoods—people known as “suburban refugees,” in planning parlance. These new developments come on the heels of recent zoning changes that allow developers to put up taller buildings with higher densities and fewer parking spaces, especially Downtown, along W. Main Street and around UVA.

   Recently Charlottesville has seen 477 new residential units go up, with places like Coran Capshaw’s Walker Square Apartments on W. Main Street, or Frank Stoner’s Belmont Lofts setting the tone for the thousands of new units that are on the way. Much of the city’s new commercial space will be combined with residential space, a trend known as “mixed-use” development. Part of the City’s plan is for suburban refugees and Wahoos to be able to walk instead of driving their cars.

   In Albemarle, C-VILLE’s development forecasts point to the designated growth areas: Pantops, Crozet and Route 29N will continue exploding with new apartment buildings, subdivisions and big-box shopping centers.

   County planners have orchestrated public “master planning” sessions to help create a sense of buy-in from residents on the always-controversial topic of new growth in their neighborhoods. The first of these planning sessions took place in Crozet back in January 2002; now that the master plans are coming to fruition, some participants say the County has not lived up to its end of the bargain.

   Tom Loach is a systems analyst at UVA. In recent years he has sat on various Albemarle development committees and participated in Crozet’s master plan. He says that the County does a fine job of planning for development, but “the implementation sucks.”

   In Crozet, Loach says, the County has not invested enough money to renovate the roads, sidewalks, schools and other public infrastructure that new growth demands. This despite community and consultant recommendations that called for infrastructure funding.

   “What good is having a master plan if they weren’t going to listen to the recommendations?” says Loach.

   The County admits that it’s been behind on funding for development. “We’re learning how to grapple with the logistics of funding,” says County spokeswoman Lee Catlin. “We’ve always been a mostly rural county, so we don’t have the experience in government doing major public works.”

   All that’s changing, though. Whether the government is ready for it or not,
C-VILLE’s research shows that big commercial and residential developments will be coming to 29N, Crozet and the urban ring around Charlottesville. That means more traffic, more kids in the schools and more tax money for increased social services. “Growth area residents should wake up and smell the coffee,” says Loach.

   The brew is percolating, so to speak, with recent news of one of the area’s biggest land deals ever. Last month the Breeden family sold its 1,353-acre farm, known as Forest Lodge, for more than $46 million. Developer Hunter Craig, rumored to be backed by the giant Toll Brothers homebuilding company, purchased the parcel and could put nearly 5,000 homes just south of Charlottesville. Craig had not returned calls by press time.

   Hard as it might be to believe with numbers that big, Forest Lodge is but one brick in the area’s McMansion wall.  

How we got the numbers

Given the amount of money the City and County hand over to planning consultants and pump into their community development offices (Charlottesville’s planning department budget is just more than $2 million and Albemarle County’s is nearly $5 million), you would think that somebody could punch a few buttons on a computer and tell you, for example, how many residential units are in the planning pipeline. You would think that, but you’d be wrong.

   In fact, when you ask City or County planners how much growth is coming to the region, the answer you get is: There’s no way to know. Planners can tell you which rezonings and site plans they’re considering; however, there’s no way to predict whether development will actually come to those sites. Sometimes developers will get site-plan approval for a piece of property, then sell it at an inflated price because an approved site plan adds value. (In a recent high-profile example, when Region Ten bought the apartment complex at 1111-1113 Little High St. from developer Richard Spurzem, it paid $2 million not only for the land and two apartment buildings, but also for a City-approved site plan for new construction.) Or, a developer may simply run out of money or give up on a project for other reasons (paging Lee Danielson).

   C-VILLE’S estimates of county growth represent all the site plans and rezoning that are currently under review by the County planning department, or that have been approved in 2004 and 2005.

   Estimating city development was a little easier, because of our lucky timing. Charlottesville is preparing to make revisions to its master plan, and so the City’s office of Neighborhood Development Services has produced a map called “Charlottesville’s Recent, Current and Future Development Projects.” We calculated the city’s future residential development using that map, and we asked City planners to estimate the amount of commercial development in their neighborhoods.

   Therefore, C-VILLE’s estimate of city and county development shows what could happen in the next few years. Readers should keep in mind that our estimates include not only single-family detached housing, but all types of development—office buildings, condominiums, apartment complexes…the whole shebang. It’s an inexact science, but this provides a hypothesis that only time can test for actual results.  

Money changes everything
A look at some local developers building up their bank accounts

Frank Stoner, Stonehaus

Stonehaus has developed more than $100 million worth of real estate in Central Virginia. After years of back-and-forth with County planners over his Belvedere subdivision, Stoner this fall finally won approval to build about 750 homes—phase approved is 750—off Rio Road. If the Meadowcreek Parkway is fin-ally built, it will provide Bel-vedere residents a straight shot into the city, no doubt boosting Stoner’s home prices. As for the possibility of oversupply, Stoner’s not concerned about that. “I don’t think anyone’s worried about an oversupply of single family houses,” he says. “A lot of plans are in the process, but you don’t know how many are going to make it through the process…or if they’re going to get built, and if there’s a downturn in the real estate market, then fewer of those [possible houses] will come to market.”  

Wendell Wood, United Land Corporation

Wood owns much of the Route 29N growth area. His Holly-mead Town Center is already enormous, but more homes and shopping centers are in the works. Wood never met a big box he didn’t like, making him a villain to environmentalists but a hero to shoppers in the northern suburbs. As Wood pursues more retail on 29N—including a big box on 29N near the Carrsbrook neighborhood and another near Holly-mead—Bill Edgerton, chair of the County’s planning commission, has warned that developers could oversaturate the local retail market, and we could soon see abandoned big boxes. “I hope my fears are never realized,” Edgerton said at a recent meeting. “But these are big issues we have to think through.”  

Gaylon Beights, Beights Development Corporation

Also having developed the Redfields community, Beights’ latest endeavor is the Old Trail project that includes about 2,000 homes, 250,000 square feet of commercial space and a golf course on 250 acres in Crozet. The project’s size has made Old Trail a target for Crozetians who say the County is not doing enough to keep its infrastructure in line with rapid growth.  

Hunter Craig

Craig’s the man behind the Mill Creek South, the Highlands at Mechums River, Western Ridge in Crozet and the Norcross Station apartments. But he’s making news now with a recent acquisition that could be the crown jewel in his holdings empire: 1,353 prime acres just five minutes south of town. The property, known as Forest Lodge, previously belonged to the Breeden family and Craig paid them a hefty $46.2 million for the parcel. He has already submitted plans with the County to rezone the land to accommodate 4,790 units.  

Coran Capshaw

He already owns a string of restaurants—Blue Light, Mas, Mono Loco, Starr Hill, Northern Exposure and Three Notch’d Grill —and high-profile properties such as the old SNL building on the Downtown Mall, the former ConAgra building in Crozet, and the Ivy Industries property south of the Mall, apartment buildings on W. Main Street and the Technicolor plant in Ruckersville, but there’s more to come. According to the City, there are up to 300 new residential units in the works for the coal tower site at the east end of Water Street, another of Capshaw’s many properties.  

Charles Hurt, Virginia Land Company

Hurt owns huge swaths of land in both Charlottesville and Al-bemarle. He is currently in on the Hollymead Town Center project with fellow developer Wendell Wood. In addition, the company is working on a 55-lot subdivision in Earlysville called Fray’s Grant.  

Don Wagner /Charles Rotgin, Jr., Great Eastern Management Company

Also responsible for Pantops and Seminole Square Shopping Centers, Great Eastern’s latest brainchild is the proposed North Pointe community, 265 acres on the east side of 29N between Proffit Road and the North Fork of the Rivanna River. Plans for North Pointe show 893 units and 841,000 square feet of commercial space in the pipeline, which will join Albemarle Place and the Hollymead Town Cen-ter and complete a 29N mega-development trifecta. While some warn the County is building too much retail, Rotgin says there’s not enough. “The market for large, competitive, convenient shopping is being severely un-derserved in Albemarle Coun-ty,” Rotgin says. “We have been exporting retail sales to Rich-mond, Fredericksburg, Wash-ington and Harrisonburg for years.”—N.B. and J.B.

Southern exposure
The Breeden family sells their prime piece of property south of town for $46.2 million

Since the late ’70s David and Elizabeth Breeden have lived the artsy-liberal dream: making sculptures, having communal potluck suppers and making Art In Place at their 1,500-acre farm, Biscuit Run and Forest Lodge, just off Old Lynchburg Road, five minutes south of town. As a result, that area of Albemarle has remained largely underdeveloped when compared to other positions on the Albemarle County compass.

   However, as C-VILLE first reported three months ago and other media confirmed late last month, the pastoral landscape of Old Lynchburg Road is due for a facelift courtesy of local developer Hunter Craig. Craig recently purchased 1,353 acres of the Breeden property for the eye-popping price tag of $46.2 million. (The Breedens are keeping some acreage for themselves.) Dubbed Fox Ridge, the site currently has 900 by-right lots, but Craig hopes to rezone the property to allow for 4,790 units—roughly one-third the number of dwellings within the city of Char-lottesville. At 2.5 people per household, that’s room for roughly 12,000 people who could be living in the south county.

   Developing south of town is in line with the County’s comprehensive plan. For the most part, the Breeden property falls within the County’s designated growth area, and while the County may not usher through Craig’s plans immediately, according to Jeff Werner, a land-use field officer with the Piedmont Environmental Council, it’s likely to happen eventually.

   Moreover, says Werner, as development grows denser south of town, the retail spaces to serve that population will start popping up.

   It’s been the Breedens’ plan from the beginning to eventually sell off the property. David’s father, I.J. Breeden, bought the land in the mid-’70s, confident that its value would skyrocket. It was the elder Breeden’s master plan to develop the land and split the profits among his heirs.

   As for Craig, he’s hardly a newcomer to the local development scene. Craig has been involved with, among other projects, Mill Creek South, the Highlands at Mechums River, Western Ridge in Crozet, and Norcross Station Downtown.—N.B. 

Food for thought
Housing market? What about a supermarket?

As a former resident of the Down-town Mall, I can tell you that the most common complaint—along with parking and the setlists of certain street musicians—is the absence of a real grocery store.

   It doesn’t make sense. The reason that Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall has prospered where others have failed is the City’s success in courting residents. Many of the people who eat in the restaurants and drink in the bars, and who give Downtown its energy and flavor, actually live within walking distance of the Mall. If a Downtowner’s shopping list includes a paperback copy of Moby Dick, a ridiculously overpriced notepad and a microbrew…he’s set. But he’s out of luck if he needs pancake syrup, bananas and cottage cheese.

   I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not only loft-living yuppies singing the no-grocery blues, either.

   “We really need a grocery store not only in terms of new residential housing, but also for the established low-income neighborhoods,” says Mayor David Brown. There’s not much the City can do to bring in a grocer, however.

   “As people come in with ideas for projects, Aubrey Watts [the City’s chief operating officer/chief financial officer] emphasizes that a grocery store would be appreciated,” says Brown. “As people come in with ideas for projects, Watts tries to let people know what the needs are in the city.”

   Now a group of local Downtowners are making their case directly to grocery chains. Joey Conover and Lexie Boris, who work for the development team that’s renovating the 250,000-square-foot Frank Ix building on Elliott Avenue, are circulating a petition encouraging the hippie grocery chain Trader Joe’s to set up shop in Ix.

   “We wanted a grocery store that is affordable and appealing to people in Charlottesville,” says Conover. “It’s amazing how many people say they want a Trader Joe’s.”

  Hurry, please. We’re hungry down here!—J.B. 

What’s all the fuss about, anyway?
Complaints about “development” highlight many different issues

Slow-growth advocates often point north and conjure scenarios in which “Development” is the monster banging down our gates and transforming Albemarle into the next Loudoun County.

   Loudoun County (everything from Dulles Airport to the horse farms of Middleburg) is the fastest-growing county in the United States. Before 1962, Loudoun had a population of about 25,000 and was primarily rural. By 1990, its population was 86,000. In the last 15 years, the population has tripled, swelling to an estimated 247,000, according to County reports.

   But when slow-growthers threaten Loudounification for Albemarle’s future, what ex-actly are they talking about? What exactly should be controlled or prevented? What are we talking about when we argue about “development”?

   First, population. In the case of Loudoun, the population boom provided some shocking numbers, and advo-cates like Jack Marshall, president of Advocates for a Sus-tainable Albemarle Popula-tion (ASAP), say development is synonymous with population growth. He likens what he sees as the threat of overpopulation in Albemarle to cancer.

   “For a healthy mature person, any growth beyond [his healthy body] is either fat
or cancer,” says Marshall. “Up to a point a person grows and anything beyond that is dysfunctional.”

   Second, there’s sprawl. Whether the population comes first and the housing and commercial development follow or vice versa, sprawl is a significant component of the development question. Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environment Council defines sprawl as growth “scattered across the landscape.”

   On the other hand, Neil Williamson, executive director of the Free Enterprise Forum, lays the blame for sprawl with the County. He says that the current policies make it so hard to build in the growth areas that developers have no choice but to develop the rural areas.

   “If [the County] makes it easier to develop in the development area, then development will occur” more densely, says Williamson.

   Third, there are natural resources, infrastructure and transportation issues. Inevitably, population growth and construction create a pressure cooker for the resources already in place. For example, according to Werner, there are kids in Loudoun who have gone to a different school every year and “people around here are terrified of that.” Issues like school redistricting and whether there are roads to drive on are aspects of the development issue that are easy to grasp, says Werner.

   Lastly, there’s aesthetics. Without naming names or pointing fingers, we got ugly. The track-housing trend of house after house after house that look, if not identical, then awfully similar, offend the aesthetes. However, aside from academic treatises about the importance of building buildings that will elevate the quality of our architectural landscape, this complaint is the most superficial development threat. Ultimately, it’s a free country and (unfortunately) taste is not something the law dictates.—N.B. 

Pop! goes the bubble?
Local and national housing markets show signs of slowing

For six years the local housing market has been booming, with prices rising each year in the double digits, and demand surpassing supply. However, in the past six months both the national market and the local market have showed signs of slowing.

   On the national front, at the beginning of November, the nation’s largest luxury home builder, Toll Brothers, announced plans to scale back its original building forecasts for 2006. Their announcement cited the effects of Hurricane Katrina and rising oil prices as reasons buyers are growing more cautious. The company has developments in Louisa and Culpeper counties and, as C-VILLE reported in November, has been rumored to be backing Hunter Craig’s purchase of the Breeden property. [See “Southern exposure,” page 29.] Craig has not confirmed the rumor.

   Locally, statistics from the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors (CAAR) tell much the same story.

   “We’ve been at a record-setting market pace for the last five or six years,” says CAAR president Dave Phillips. “It’s unsustainable. We are starting to see signs that the marketplace is becoming more normal, getting more healthy.”

   According to Phillips, the luxury housing market is an early gauge of things to come. As previously reported in C-VILLE, in the third quarter of 2004, 50 homes in the area sold for more than $1 million. In the third quarter of 2005, 34 percent fewer, or 33 million-dollar houses, changed hands.

   “It’ll be interesting to see the fourth quarter results,” says Phillips. “We’re starting to see the pendulum starting to swing back the other way.”

   Moreover, supply is catching up with demand. Here is a graph that charts the number of houses on the local market for the past two years. According to Phillips, the trend appears to be returning to a market more similar to that of the mid-’90s than of the past five years. Ten years ago there was an average of 2,000 houses on the market at any given time, says Phillips, and buyers and sellers were on equal footing.—N.B.

Grow with God
As the local population expands, so do area churches

It was pretty clear on a recent Sunday that there’s a baby boom going on at Chestnut Grove Baptist Church. After dedicating three infants during the 11am service, Reverend Andrea Jones reminded the Earlysville congregation, which totals almost 300, that several more bundles of joy are scheduled to arrive before year’s end. That kind of rapid growth—both within and outside church walls—prompted the formation of a new-building committee in the late 1990s to explore the possibility of an addition to the existing structure. And Chesnut Grove isn’t alone. At least 10 county churches have expansion projects in the works, according to County documents.

   Attendance at worship services and Sunday school is up substantially over the past several years, but the larger numbers came as no surprise to the congregation. A demographic study it commissioned several years ago showed that the population in and around Earlysville was growing more rapidly than Albemarle County as a whole. This statistic prompted then-pastor David Washburn to take a look at the County School Board’s long-range plan because it showed the placement of future schools, which, he says, indicated where the board anticipated growth to occur.

   “I shared the information with church leadership and said, ‘We need to be ready,’” he recalls, adding that it was pretty obvious that “Earlysville is only going to continue to grow and become a Charlottesville bedroom community.”

   In September, ground was broken, and construction began on a two-storey, 12,000-square-foot church addition, which will include eight classrooms and a large fellowship hall. As of the end of September, more than $800,000 had been contributed by members of the congregation to “Heritage and Hope,” Chestnut Grove’s building fund.

   “We’re not thinking, ‘If we build it, they will come,’” says Reverend Jones. “They’re already here, and our church is building out of necessity. We have to have more space to meet our current needs.” Jones is quick to add, though, that everyone is also keenly aware of the continuing development in northwestern Albemarle County, which means an influx of new residents who might be looking for a place to worship.

   Several miles away, on Garth Road, the 400 members of Olivet Presbyterian Church are settling into their own nearly 10,000-square-foot addition, which was completed in September.

   The third and final phase of a construction project that dates back to the 1980s, this latest addition includes education and office space. “We’ve never had a music or choir room, or a dedicated nursery, and this is first time I’ve had an office that’s not also a classroom and a meeting room,” says Pastor Albert Connette.

   And although “we’re not in one of the most dense-growth areas, we’ve seen a steady increase in church membership during the past 10 years,” he adds. He points to new home-construction projects and the church’s proximity to The Colonnades, a retirement community that provides transportation to the church and whose residents often arrive from areas outside Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

   As the congregation, currently numbering about 400, has grown, Connette says the church has also been able to offer more of what people are looking for program-wise. “In the past, they may have felt they needed to go to a larger church in town to get a certain size Sunday school or youth program, but that’s not the case anymore,” he explains. “Over time, people’s expectations have changed, and now that we have more space, we’re better able to address their needs.”—Susan Sorensen 

Democracy at work
Got some thoughts on local development? Here’s who to call

The way things work ‘round here, it’s not unusual to hear people complaining about development only after projects have been approved. Well, coulda, shoulda, woulda.

   The time to raise your concerns is before the roar of growling bulldozers drowns them out. Here’s the schedule for the two planning commissions, City Council and County Super-visors. The representatives from the City serve at-large; the County representatives serve districts and are so noted. Be there.—N.B.

City of Charlottesville

Planning Commission

Meets: Second Tuesday of each month, 6:30pm, City Council Chambers, second floor, City Hall, east end of the Downtown Mall. Next meeting takes place December 13.

Contact: 970-3182, higginsro@charlottesville. org, www.charlottesville.org

Members: Karen Firehock (Chairman), Jon Fink (Vice Chairman), Craig Barton, Michael Farruggio, Cheri Lewis, Bill Lucy, Kevin O’Halloran 

City Council

Meets: First and third Mondays of each month, 7pm, City Council Chambers, second floor, City Hall, east end of the Downtown Mall. Next meeting takes place December 19.

Contact: 970-3113, coxj@charlottesville.org, www.charlottesville.org

Members: David Brown (Mayor), Kevin Lynch (Vice Mayor), Blake Caravati, Kendra Hamilton, Rob Schilling

Albemarle County

Planning Commission

Meets: Most Tuesdays, 7pm, in Meeting Room 241, second floor, County Office Building, McIntire Road. Next meetings take place December 6 and 13.

Contact: 296-5832, egrace@albemarle.org, www.albemarle.org

Members: Bill Edgerton (Chairman*, Jack Jouett), Rodney Thomas (Rio), Marcia Joseph (at-large), William Rieley (Samuel Miller), Calvin Morris (Rivanna), William Craddock (Scottsville), Jo Higgins (White Hall) 

Board of Supervisors

Meets: First two Wednesdays of each month (first Wednesday at 9am, second Wednesday at 6pm), Meeting Room 241, second floor, County Office Building, McIntire Road. Next meetings take place December 7 at 9am and December 14 at 6pm.

Contact: 296-5843, bos@albemarle.org, www.albemarle.org

Members: Lindsay Dorrier, Jr. (Chairman*, Scottsville), Sally Thomas (Chairman*, Samuel Miller), Dennis Rooker (Vice Chairman*, Jack Jouett), David Slutzky (Rio), David Wyant (White Hall), Kenneth Boyd (Rivanna) 

*Holds current position until December 31