STAFF PERSON:                                                                              SUSAN THOMAS

PLANNING COMMISSION WORK SESSION:                          JUNE 8, 2004

 

5TH STREET/AVON STREET MIXED USE COMPLEX, CPA 2003-02

 

BACKGROUND:

The Albemarle County Planning Commission held its first work session on this project July 8, 2003, consisting of a brief presentation by the applicant and a preliminary discussion of issues related to the Comprehensive Plan Amendment request.  A second work session was held October 4, 2003, jointly with the Charlottesville Planning Commission.  At that meeting, the applicant stated that it had just been determined that Dominion Resources would no longer be a part of the site development, and a more detailed site concept would be developed before the next meeting, in response to consistent requests from the Commission. 

 

purpose of the work session:

The applicant has indicated to staff that no one tenant has committed to the site.  However, now that the issue of Dominion Resources has been resolved, the applicant would like to move the project discussion to a public hearing as expeditiously as possible.  The Commission previously indicated that it would be unable to make a recommendation regarding the CPA request without a concept plan.  

 

NEW INFORMATION

The latest submittal contains several significant changes to the CPA application: 

·        Dominion Resources is no longer a part of the project, reducing the employment use by half;

·        the existing Grand Piano road has been incorporated in the transportation network, as requested by the Commission;

·        access from Fifth Street Extended to the site is via the Bent Creek Road bridge exclusively;

·        retail square footage has increased by approximately 50%;

·        no residential use is included in the concept. 

(see Attachments A and B)

 

A comparison of the original and current project submittals is included below.

 

Planned Land Uses

2003 Estimated Density

2004 Estimated Density

Restaurants

12,000 - 18,000 SF

12,000 - 20,000 SF

Banks

4000 – 8000 SF

4000 – 8000 SF

Employment

10 – 12 acres

5 – 7 acres

Retail Commercial

220,00 – 240,000 SF

360,000 – 380,000 SF

Residential (townhouse, multi)

60 – 100 units

0

Open Space and Parkland

12 – 15 acres

12 – 15 acres

 

In the revised application (April 1, 2004), the applicant suggests that because this site occupies a central location, it should become a town center for Urban Neighborhoods 4 and 5 – and this portion of the City – instead of attempting to reflect a full-range mixed-use project.  This part of the urban area has seen extensive residential multi-family development, particularly student oriented apartments, creating a surplus of units.  This unit type appears to be perhaps the most appropriate residential product for the project site, and the applicant maintains there is no market for it.  At previous work sessions, the Commission has discussed the need and appropriateness of residential use on the site at some length.  There has been agreement that if residential use were retained as a part of the project mix, the original proposed density of 60 – 100 units would be an appropriate range.  Clear direction is needed on whether residential should be included on this site.  An alternative to development of residential use by the applicant might be the provision of a small parcel of land for development of affordable housing by the County.

 

Review Comments

 

Water Resources:

The Water Resources Manager agrees with the applicant’s assessment of stream conditions as “somewhat degraded,” citing incised stream channels, moderate streambank erosion and moderate to excessive sedimentation.  Under the stream assessment data, both Biscuit Run and Moores Creek are assigned to the “Community Use/Trails” category, based on the existing and proposed recreational trail system in the area and the importance of these corridors for natural flood protection and natural resources.  David Hirschman notes that the small tributary east of the Grand Piano warehouse is designated in the assessment as an “Urban Water Feature,” a smaller, less valuable corridor that can be managed for open space, pocket park, and water features.  (A water feature can be a wet detention pond.)  This feature needs to be shown on the concept plan, along with proposed changes that will impact it. 

 

Water Resources suggests that the following factors be considered with this proposal:

 

Stream buffers and floodplains:  The proposed Bent Creek traffic circle is within or immediately adjacent to a stream buffer, 100-yr floodplain or both, and these features should be shown on the concept plan.  David Hirschman cautions that major improvements (widening, etc.) to the Grand Piano access road adjacent to the creek probably would not be permitted under the Water Protection Ordinance (WPO), suggesting however that the existing roadway could be incorporated into the road network with a low-intensity design that protects existing bluffs and riparian forest along the corridor.  This low-impact approach is also more consistent with the stream assessment’s “Community Use/Trails” designation.

 

Small tributary east of existing warehouse:  Although this stream is small, the slopes along its valley are severe.  The stream crossing shown on the plan will be a major crossing/fill operation, and as noted above more information will be needed at the proper time during development review.

 

Stormwater/stream corridor concept plan:  Ultimately, stormwater facilities should be kept out of stream valleys.  A stormwater concept plan that shows a combination of “at-the-source” and “end-of-pipe” practices should be developed sometime during the review process.  Required at the rezoning stage, this issue should be kept in mind at the CPA.  In addition to meeting the minimum requirements of the WPO, the concept plan should also promote creative and innovative solutions such as stream restoration, stream buffer enhancement, and /or creative stormwater solutions.  The applicant’s plan does concur with some of these ideas.  Recommended CPA language should address these stormwater and environmental issues.

(see Attachment C for complete text of comments)

 

Engineering:

Engineering staff expresses concern about the limitations of using the stream valley east of the existing warehouse for a stormwater management basin, and notes the inadvisability of using a dam for a public road crossing.  Staff states that all major roads should be public, and requests that the applicant’s commitment to build the connector road be clarified to avoid confusion.  Staff offers recommendations on the nature and sensitivity of transportation improvements to the existing road and bridge, as well as to the Fifth Street Extended and Avon Street Extended intersections.

(see Attachment D for complete text of comments)

 

Transportation Planner:

Staff and VDOT met with the applicant in February 2004 to discuss revisions to the Transportation Impact Analysis (TIA).  The applicant summarized the proposed revisions in a March 1, 2004 memorandum (see Attachment E), to which staff and VDOT agreed.  The revised TIA information has not been submitted.  Of particular concern to staff is the ability of the proposed transportation infrastructure to accommodate the additional retail square footage.  The applicant has indicated the revised TIA will evaluate the Avon Street Extended/new connector road intersection as well as the capacity of the existing Bent Creek Bridge.  Additional comments will be provided upon receipt and evaluation of the revised TIA.

(see Attachment F)

 

Fiscal Impact Planner:

Staff anticipates receiving an updated analysis, incorporating new land use totals, and will distribute it to the Commission at that time.

 

DISCUSSION

 

Throughout both the current review and the earlier Brass project review, both staff and the Commission have developed and affirmed certain conceptual guidelines for this site.  The draft CPA language from the original Brass review represents the closest thing to official policy recommendations with respect to this site (see Attachment G).  In summary, these guidelines suggest that the site requires and deserves a development concept that respects significant (and identified) natural features, acknowledges the limited size and configuration of the developable area, contributes to the existing scale, character and content of the neighborhood, and preserves the opportunity for significant employment opportunities within an urban area where residents can easily access these jobs.  There has been consistent support for the introduction of retail in an area where it is needed, including big box retail, provided it takes a form appropriately sized and configured for the site and area.  As noted, the need for residential has been discussed and debated, with clear direction on this element still needed.  With or without residential, the Commission has supported a mix of uses that produces an attractive, efficient and locally oriented infill development that includes smaller commercial and office as well as flexible space that can accommodate changing needs.  Establishing a priority of uses within this mix may be helpful to achieving a concept that benefits both the applicant and the public good.

 

The applicant suggests that because there has been so much recent residential development in Neighborhoods 4 and 5, the site should not be held to a strict interpretation of the mixed-use Neighborhood Model (NM) principle but instead should be allowed to function as the Town center for the larger area.  A Regional Service designation is requested, and improvements including a connector road, greenway dedication, and stream restoration are offered in development of the site.  Although the degree of adherence to Neighborhood Model principles is a matter for the Commission to decide, staff offers the following comments:

 

1.      If the site is to function as a town center for the larger neighborhood, it should be designed as an attractive destination that provides a recognizable sense of place reflecting the neighborhood character, as well as a balanced mix of goods, services and employment.  The submitted plan is a conventional shopping center that has no discernible center, spread throughout the site with parking the prominent feature from the proposed through road.  Although the eastern portion of the site is identified as “Future Employment,” the project justification does not commit to development of flex space or other jobs-intensive activity.  In staff’s view, the current concept does not meet Neighborhood Model mixed-use expectations nor is it an effective town center. 

 

2.      Although this site lies adjacent to Interstate 64, it does not have a ‘main street’ location like Route 29 North, which functions as the retail corridor for the region.  If developed commercially, this tract could be a valuable source of goods and services, providing commercial balance and transportation efficiency for the southern urban area.  However, patterning site development on large northern retail centers as the current application requests would create unacceptable land use, traffic, environmental, and visual impacts in this location.  The proposed retail/commercial square footage (360,000 – 380,000 SF) is overly large for the site and makes it difficult to “mix in” other uses since if developed it would completely dominate the site.   Staff emphasizes, however, that there are big box retail models of various sizes and configurations in use nationally and regionally that could exist compatibly with other kinds of uses on this site.  Although the applicant has requested a Regional Service designation, in staff’s view the site is appropriate for that level of commercial development only with careful evaluation of impacts and appropriate mitigation measures.  A flexible, “customized” and slightly expanded Community Service/Mixed Use designation may be the most appropriate designation, similar to the original Brass approach.

 

3.      This site has valuable and interesting natural elements that should be incorporated into site development instead of sacrificed to it.  Specifically, the forested ridge at the western edge of the property was identified as a valuable preservation tract in the first review, and staff has continued to recommend that it be featured in the concept plan and not obliterated by the large footprint uses.  (The Commission received information addressing the specimen trees in this area in the October 14 staff report, and the May 6 Water Resources Manager comments address the benefits preservation would have for Moores Creek.)  Preserving this 5+/- acre tract will significantly influence the manner in which the northern half of the town center area can be developed, and staff considers this to be a positive effect.  Specifically, it appears likely that preserving this tract would require that development in this northern area be downsized in footprint and “stepped down” the grade toward the lower, flatter southern big box portion.  In the need to accommodate these constraints, the town center might acquire not only a wider range of uses (many smaller) but a unique character that distinguishes it from other places, in physical and land use terms.  Additionally, the preservation tract will positively impact Fifth Street Extended by providing a green, naturally landscaped view from the entrance corridor. 

 

4.      Staff commends the applicant on its willingness to incorporate the existing Grand Piano road into the site concept, and notes that this allows a rare opportunity: with the greenway below it along Moores Creek and the wooded ridge on the upper side, for a short but significant stretch this road becomes a true parkway.  If the Commission agrees that a new sidewalk system can be routed along the town center road, through the commercial portion of the site, the parkway can be developed with minimal damage to the natural systems on either side of it by using a tight urban road section with curb only (no sidewalk).  This can essentially be accomplished within the existing disturbed area, and the greenway is available just below for those who need or want to walk. 

 

5.      The town center road, currently routed between large parking lots, needs to become a real Main Street, with structures pulled up to and along it, thus creating a streetscape that is pedestrian friendly and of human scale.  As demonstrated by approved concepts on other sites, even large footprint retail can contribute to a streetscape through design elements that break up the façade, use massing to vary elevations, include small liner retail spaces, along with other techniques.  Parking, now dominant, should be relegated to the greatest extent possible.  Staff suggests, for the Commission’s and applicant’s consideration, that it would be desirable and functional to incorporate a third service-type road paralleling Main Street to the south, adjacent to the interstate.  This road could be intended to accommodate delivery vehicles and it would provide a second route for those crossing the site who did not intend to stop and shop.

 

6.      The employment center, identified on the Dittmar tract on Avon Street Extended, has a significant role in the future development of the site.  Although its past as a landfill creates a variety of environmental and engineering challenges, it is the one part of the site that could be developed under by-right zoning, a shorter process.  In staff’s view, a phasing plan should be considered that ties development of the large scale commercial to other, complementary uses on the site.  Staff envisions some kind of flexible space – possibly a series of smaller footprint structures – on the Avon Street Extended frontage, reflecting the scale and character of the existing corridor.  There are many options for this land use on the site, but employment potential should be addressed as they materialize.  (see Attachment H for summary of Light Industrial/Retail totals)

 

  

RECOMMENDATION

As noted above, an updated traffic analysis is needed to evaluate impacts from the current proposal since traffic management is a major issue for this site that could affect the quantity of developed area on the site.  That information is anticipated in the near future.  Ideally, staff would prefer the opportunity to review a concept plan more consistent with Neighborhood Model expectations.  However, the applicant has indicated its eagerness to proceed to public hearing.  Therefore,  although it would appear premature to draft specific language for the CPA, staff offers a series of general recommendations - with questions for consideration – as a reference for the Commission’s in providing guidance to staff and the applicant.  These recommendations include elements from the original Brass review, and also rely on recent Comprehensive Plan Amendments adopted for Albemarle Place and Rivanna Village. 

 

Environmental Protection

A.     A preservation tract of approximately 5 acres of elevated land shall be established at the western edge of Parcel 2B, immediately east of the Bent Creek Bridge.  This area shall be left undisturbed as a visual buffer from Fifth Street Extended and count toward open space on the site.  Existing vegetation, especially exemplary specimen or old growth trees 24” or larger DBH (Diameter Breast Height) shall be preserved on this tract, as well as the existing land contours and rock formations.  This is considered to be a natural feature with significance to the site.

B.     The existing bluffs and riparian forest along the Grand Piano access road/Moores Creek corridor should be protected to minimize adverse impacts to the creek from major grading activity.  Incorporating the existing elevated land in that area into the larger site with a low-intensity design can accomplish this protection.

C.     Crossing and/or filling of the small tributary to the east of the existing warehouse may require innovative water protection management measures.

D.     A greenway dedication along Biscuit Run and Moores Creek from the applicant to the County shall be made at the time of rezoning.  This section of trails shall be constructed by the applicant with development of the site (?).

E.      The existing vegetated buffer, especially trees of 6” DBH or greater, shall be preserved on the site adjacent to the I-64 corridor.

F.      The County should work cooperatively with the applicant to develop the floodplain area northeast of the confluence of Biscuit Run and Moores Creek as public open space; a recreational use, such as public park or a multi-purpose field, may be appropriate for this area.

G.     Development of the site should incorporate principles of Low Impact Development including but not limited to green roofs, minimization of impervious area through site design emphasizing complementary uses and shared parking, and protection of critical resources existing on the site.  Green roof technology may be an appropriate measure for managing stormwater on this site.

 

Transportation

H.     The applicant has agreed to construct a connection from Avon Street Extended to Fifth Street Extended via the Bent Creek Road bridge, consisting of one or more new roads, as a part of site development. 

I.        One of the new roads shall be designed as a “Main Street” traversing the town center in the more intensively developed western portion of the site.  This road will incorporate pedestrian facilities, street trees, and other New Urbanist elements.  A second new road intended for through or service traffic should be considered at the southern portion of the site.

J.       The applicant shall be responsible for improvements at the intersections of the connector road with Avon Street Extended and Fifth Street Extended.

K.    The intersection with the existing and new roads and the Bent Creek bridge shall be designed to avoid or minimize disturbance to the 100-year floodplain, stream buffer, and preservation tract located above and to the east of it.

L.      Construction of a pedestrian bridge shall be considered between the south side of Moores Creek and the Willoughby residential property, at the discretion of the applicant and the Willoughby residents.

M.   The existing access road to the Grand Piano warehouse will be incorporated into the road network on the site, but shall not become the primary connector.  Improvements to this road shall primarily consist of bringing it to a “tight” urban standard with curbing, within the existing travelway and disturbed area.  To avoid additional disturbance to this stream buffer, sidewalks will not be required on this road, with the parallel greenway along Moores Creek considered as a pedestrian alternative.

 

Land Use

N.    The continuation of employment opportunities is significant and valuable in this location, particularly in the eastern portion of the site but also throughout the town center area.  The existing Light Industrial zoning should be used to support and encourage development of flex space and/or other employment-oriented uses along Avon Street Extended.

O.    Timing of development on the site shall be coordinated to balance retail with employment-based and other land uses.

P.      Residential, live/work and/or small professional office uses area recommended along the bluff at the northern edge of the town center area, sited to minimize disturbance to the natural features described under Environmental Protection (above).

Q.    A town center concept shall be used in the site design of the eastern commercial area.  This area is intended as a compact, high density area which mixes retail businesses, services, public facilities and civic spaces.  Large footprint retail can be appropriate in the town center, provided it is consistent with Neighborhood Model principles, with emphasis on the following characteristics: oriented to major roads; designed, sized and massed with consideration for adjacent and nearby smaller uses in the Center and on the larger site; relegated parking to the greatest extent possible.

R.     In acknowledgment of the size of the developable area, as well as environmental and aesthetic considerations, a mid-sized big box model is recommended as a maximum for this site.  Development of “super-sized” big boxes is not appropriate due to the site’s relatively small developable area, high exposure to three Entrance Corridors, immersed location within older neighborhoods with established character and scale, and the need to mix uses and create a bona fide town center.  Size and scale of regional retail complexes in the northern urban area is not appropriate in this location.

 

Public Space and Public Facilities/Amenities

S.      Provision shall be made on the site for transit service and a park and ride facility.

T.      Affordable housing shall be included in site development.

U.     Site development proposals should develop at least 10% of the gross site acreage in amenities and 15% as green space.  Public amenities can be paved areas, such as plazas, courtyards or patios, or landscaped areas such as parks or water features.  The Preservation Tract shall count toward both amenity and green space percentages.

 

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Attachments:

 

A – Applicant’s justification

B – Applicant’s concept plan

C – Water Resources Manager memorandum

D – Engineering memorandum

E – Applicant’s transportation study letter

F – Transportation Planner memorandum

G – CPA 97-05 recommended language

H – Comdial memorandum (summary of Light Industrial/Retail Use totals)

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