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Pantops plans raise concerns
Pantops traffic, April 30, 2018
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Credit: Andrew Shurtleff, Daily Progress
Traffic on U.S. 250 is cited as an obstacle to Pantops becoming the community called for county plans
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Sean Tubbs | Monday, April 30, 2018 at 9:24 p.m.

As Albemarle County updates the Pantops Master Plan, the group charged with overseeing that work was briefed Monday on new homes that have been proposed for the growth area.

“We have two new developments moving in that are in the process of going through approvals through the county,” said Cal Morris, chairman of the Pantops Community Advisory Committee.

In the first, Management Services Corp. has submitted an initial site plan for a 144-unit apartment complex on South Pantops Drive between Beverly Way and State Farm Boulevard. The property has a dense residential zoning classification known as R-15.

“R-15 is a zoning district that allows for almost any residential development as long as the amount doesn’t exceed 15 units per acre,” said Cameron Langille, a senior planner for the county.

The Vistas complex would consist of three four-story buildings on about four acres of the 13-acre property.

Because the proposed project has a residential density of 10.82 units per acre, no further review is required by either the Planning Commission or the Board of Supervisors.

Some nearby residents have expressed concern about the project because the county’s Comprehensive Plan calls for green space on the property. The property is currently wooded and borders the Rivanna River.

Langille said because no rezoning is being proposed, staff does not take the Comprehensive Plan designation into account. The initial plan has been approved but that means staff has submitted conditions.

Diane Caton with MSC appeared before the group to try to explain the development.

“We intend to be good neighbors and stewards on Pantops,” said Caton, who is also a resident of the growth area and a former member of the Pantops committee. She said the project will bring a public pathway to the Old Mills Trail and the Rivanna River. MSC also would be required by the county to build a sidewalk on South Pantops Drive.

“It’s a mixture of one- and two-bedroom apartments,” said Trey Steigman, a vice president at MSC. “These are not condominiums but for-lease apartments.”

Steigman said he did not know what the rates would be, but they would at least be market rate. The one-bedroom units would have an average of 700 square feet and the two-bedroom units would average about 1,000 square feet.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has determined market rate in 2018 for a one-bedroom unit in the Charlottesville market is $1,027 a month. A two-bedroom unit is $1,179 a month.

“Those units are tiny,” said one resident of the Overlook Condominiums. “Who can live in 700 square feet?”

Caton said they would be ideal for young professionals or young couples who are not ready to purchase a home.

“There’s a lot of for-sale units coming onto the market on Pantops, but not a lot of rental units,” Caton said.

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A traffic study calculated the project will generate 1,440 vehicle trips per day.

Rita Krenz, a Pantops committee member who said she was speaking as a resident of the Overlook Condominiums, said there are big issues with the plan.

“I think I speak for my neighbors when I say traffic is a problem that is not going to go away,” she said. “It’s unwise to put more residential units on this side of [Free Bridge].”

Krenz said the property was zoned in 1980 and much has changed since that time. She said if Pantops develops simply according to the plan as it exists now, it will hurt efforts to use the Rivanna River as a pastoral setting.

Another Pantops committee member echoed concerns about traffic.

“We are doing nothing to resolve it,” said Sara Robinson. “The most that I see we do is a lot of talking. We don’t even have proper police vigilance.”

Supervisor Norman Dill said most of the traffic problem on Pantops is created by people driving between Charlottesville and Interstate 64. He said additional housing opportunities on Pantops would give more living choices for those who work at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital, the State Farm Operations Center and other businesses in the area.

Steigman said the project will continue to be fine-tuned as it heads toward final site plan approval.

Another 250 residential units have been proposed for land off the Peter Jefferson Parkway next to both the hospital and State Farm. Riverbend Development is behind this project.

These apartments would be spread out among six structures on a 16.65 acres of a 27-acre site. That’s within the provisions of the zoning code, which allows for 15 units per acre in the “planned development mixed commercial” district. The rest of the land will be kept in open space.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in August 2003 to rezone the land to allow this use.

The project is currently known as Martha Jefferson Apartments but Langille said the hospital is no longer involved. It will feature a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units. Buildings can be no taller than 60 feet. There will be 425 parking spaces, a clubhouse, pool and trails through the open space areas. The project is expected to generate 1,680 vehicle trips a day.

“What these applications are doing is what we as the county have asked them to do, and that is to develop within the designed growth areas,” said L.J. Lopez, a member of the committee. He is with the development firm Milestone Partners.

A site plan review conference for this project will be held on May 10 at the Albemarle County Office Building on McIntire Road.

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In January, the county kicked off a revision of the Pantops Master Plan, which was adopted by the Board of Supervisors in 2008 and amended in 2011 and 2015.

“The Board of Supervisors has tasked this and every other community advisory committee to be responsible for updating and keep updating the master plan,” Morris said. “Our master plan is woefully out of date.”

Morris said that much in the plan has been accomplished, but the ongoing update is a chance for existing residents and businesses to envision the future.

The next master planning meeting will be held May 21 and will focus on economic development efforts on Pantops. It will begin at 6:15 p.m. in the Kessler Conference Room at the Martha Jefferson Outpatient Center at 595 Peter Jefferson Place.

In the meantime, Albemarle officials are taking comments on the greenways and parks section of the plan through an online survey, available here.

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