Venture to face key test
By Jessica Kitchin
Daily Progress staff writer
Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The proposed North Pointe development has been caught in a web of bureaucracy for six years, and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors tonight will decide whether to let it escape.

The 269-acre development’s chances are dubious.

County staffers are recommending that the board reject North Pointe, citing several concerns that echo those coming from the environmental community and residential groups. “The proposed rezoning does not reflect trends in growth and the economic needs of the community,” the county recommendation says.

The development would be built along U.S. 29 in northern Albemarle, and is slated to include up to 893 residential units and nearly 900,000 square feet of retail, office and other non-residential space. Developer Chuck Rotgin, who has been working toward a rezoning for the parcel since 2000, has long defended the project. “In the current political climate, consensus on land-use issues is difficult to achieve,” states a letter his firm, Great Eastern Management Co., wrote to the board this week. “North Pointe represents a new paradigm for development where competing interests of those concerned about the environment and of the very real and pressing needs of the marketplace are mediated.”

But county staffers are unconvinced it’s ready to go forward, and have outlined nine problems with North Pointe. Specifically, county staffers say, they are concerned about traffic effects, inadequate residential units relative to the amount of commercial space, insufficient affordable housing and the lack of a schedule for U.S. 29 improvements, among other things. “We have talked to the applicant about some of the issues we had that they thought they had addressed,” county planner Elaine Echols said. “But I don’t believe there has been resolution of most of the outstanding issues. In many ways, the staff and the applicant agree to disagree.”

Which leaves the decision up to the supervisors, several of whom said they would wait until tonight’s public hearing to settle on a vote. “The board has to make a decision based on the community’s best interest,” board Chairman Dennis S. Rooker said. “I want to make sure I hear public comment and get some answers to questions.”

Project concessions

North Pointe backers agree that some issues are unlikely to be resolved between the developer and county staff, but they take issue with the county’s critical report. “There seems to have been significant miscommunication,” said lawyer Valerie Long, who represents the developer. “A number of important proffers and concessions on the part of Great Eastern were omitted in the staff report, [which] does not accurately reflect what transpired or what is included in the current proffers. We are confident that staff will correct those errors so that the Board of Supervisors can make a well-informed decision.”

Great East-ern also has offered concessions including a school building, a public library, open space and walking trails, road improvements and commitments to affordable housing and bus service.

Environmental concerns

Still, many of the county’s concerns are shared by local environmental groups, which plan to come out in full force at tonight’s meeting. “There are many severe failings with the project,” said Cale Jaffe, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “If all they’re going to propose is acres of sprawling mess, we can do a lot better.”

Jaffe said chief concerns include inadequate buffers to protect the North Fork Rivanna River and a lack of analysis on sediment pollution during construction. SELC representatives also point to a report issued by the center last week that concludes the area is oversaturated with retail. They say that the addition of “big box” stores at North Pointe will add more than the county can absorb - a concern Rotgin rejects, saying the region is at risk of leaking shoppers to surrounding areas.

Though North Pointe representatives tout the development as following the county’s pedestrian-friendly Neighborhood Model, Jaffe said the project doesn’t conform. “Essentially what you’ve got here is a small area in the middle of the development that tips its hat to the Neighborhood Model,” he said. “But then you’ve got this huge sprawling shopping center disconnected from the residential areas.”

Additional dissension

The Rivanna Conservation Society, the Piedmont Environmental Council and Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population have also announced dissatisfaction with the project. “The current North Pointe proposal fails to adequately consider and address impacts to the Rivanna River that will occur both during and after construction of the project,” Matt Rosefsky, executive director of the Rivanna Conservation Society, said in an open letter to the board.

But Long said those involved with North Pointe live in the community. “We want our children to grow up in a healthy environment; we share with our opponents a concern for our community’s quality of life,” she said. “Smaller lots, restricting development on sensitive lands and significant mitigation of sedimentation issues that predate North Pointe are key elements of our environmental protection plan.”

Many critics, however, aren’t convinced, though most tend to support growth on the North Pointe property. “The issue is not whether we develop this site, the issue is how we develop this site,” Jaffe said. “We need to revamp this whole project.”

Tonight, the board will vote on whether Rotgin will need to overhaul the project, make minor changes or if six years of shuffling has created a development that meets the community’s needs. The public hearing will take place at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of Burley Middle School on Rose Hill Drive.

Contact Jessica Kitchin at (434) 978-7263 or jkitchin@dailyprogress.com.