North Pointe stalls, again
By Jessica Kitchin
Daily Progress staff writer
Thursday, May 11, 2006

Perhaps the “e” at the end of North Pointe stands for “eternal” - as in “eternally in the planning stages.”

In light of last-minute changes from the developer and a packed auditorium full of opinionated speakers, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors decided Wednesday to delay a decision on the 269-acre North Pointe development slated for northern Albemarle County.

Several dozen speakers stepped up to both praise and criticize the development, which is to be built alongside U.S. 29 north of Proffit Road and would include nearly 900 residences and about 675,000 square feet of commercial and office space.

Albemarle County’s planning staff recommended that the board reject the proposal, which they say fails to adequately deal with traffic on U.S. 29, doesn’t meet affordable housing needs, overloads the area’s retail capacity, includes confusing proffers and doesn’t conform to the preferred pedestrian-friendly Neighborhood Model.

“What the Neighborhood Model is about is a more integrated development,” county planner Elaine Echols said. “Not just the basics of sidewalks and street trees, but how they come together as a whole.” North Pointe, as it stands, does not conform to the county’s big picture, she said.

The projects backers from Great Eastern Management Co. maintained that, in addition to providing a site for a school and library and promising millions in road improvements, North Pointe fully fits the county’s master plan and adheres to the Neighborhood Model. And right off the bat, several speakers from the building and real estate community stepped up to defend the project. “I’m here to support North Pointe because I hope to be a builder in North Pointe and because I think it’s right for the community,” said Sam Craig of Craig Builders, a local business. “It’s now time to make this product available to the marketplace.”

Those who spoke in favor of the development pointed to the area’s need for affordable workforce housing and to the fact that it keeps growth within the county’s growth area. “The North Pointe community … is growth in the growth area that you have designated,” said Timothy Hulbert, president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce. “It is a Neighborhood Model [that will] build and fund affordable housing and improve transportation.”

Residents also pointed out the convenience of a one-stop shopping center - the “big box” stores at the southern end of the development - and the important role that such a development would play in the county’s economy.

But as the public hearing continued, the voices in favor of the development were met with opposition. Representatives from the Sierra Club, Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Piedmont Environmental Council all stepped up with criticism of North Pointe.

“This proposal comes to you at a time when county residents, as never before, are voicing reservations about local growth and development,” said Jack Marshall, president of ASAP. “To you … we’ve given the responsibility to ensure that planned change in the county enhances the longer-term good of the whole community, rather than simply the short-term benefit of a few.”

Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council said the county does not need more retail and that arguments regarding affordable housing are absurd in light of the developer’s unwillingness to meet the county’s affordable housing requirement of 15 percent. It is estimated that 9.5 percent of the North Pointe housing would meet the county’s definition of affordable; the developer has also offered $300,000 for the county’s down-payment assistance program.

Several residents also spoke up to question whether the county could tolerate more strain on its water supply or additional traffic. “Your constituents are worried sick [about growth],” resident Carol Roberts said. “Please stop the bleeding now or this will be your legacy.”

Resident Charlie Trachta said that as he looked around the room, he saw a lot of buttons on people’s lapels that either said they were for or against North Pointe. He suggested ones that said “Not there yet.”

In the end, the board followed that mindset - it has planned a work session on North Pointe for June 7 and will keep the public hearing open until after that.

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