Planning Commission – October 14, 2003 Work Session


CPA-03-02 Fifth Street /Avon Street Mixed Use City/County - Proposal to change the Comprehensive Plan, Land Use Plan designation, from Industrial Service to Regional Service, to allow development of a mixed-use complex including community and regional level retail and service, multi-family housing, industrial service, connector road, employment, and open space and park land uses. The property, consisting of approximately 89.4 acres, is described as Tax Map 76M(1), Parcels 2A, 2B, 4A, and 11E, and located in the Scottsville Magisterial District between Rt. 631 (Fifth Street Extended) and Rt. 742 (Avon Street), immediately north of Interstate 64. (Susan Thomas)


Mr. Rieley welcomed the City Commissioners to the meeting. He stated that it was good to have the City involved in this process since he felt that the City’s perspective was essential to review this project.  He stated that the Commission was looking to them for insight in what role this project should have in implementing the City’s Corridor.


Ms. Thomas, Senior Planner, stated that she was working on this project and would provide an overview of the proposed project. She stated that the City’s perspective was really essential to a thorough review of this project.  She stated that this joint session would help them a lot as they move through reviewing this project.  She pointed out that they were looking to the City Commissioners for guidance in what role this site can and should have in implementing the City’s Corridor Plan. She stated that this was a very difficult site to understand from a topographic standpoint.  Although the site has extensive public exposure, it actually has three designated entrance corridors touching it, which includes Avon Street Extended, I-64 and Fifth Street Extended.  The undisturbed state of much of the surface makes it really hard to see. In a July work session the Commission had indicated that they would like to see a more detailed concept plan because the applicant’s plan was very general.  She stated that was discussed in detail with the applicant on several occasions, but at this point staff has not received a detailed plan. She stated that the Commission also asked the applicant to consider preparing a cross-section of the site so that they could see how the applicant’s grading plan would impact the site. She pointed out that the applicants indicated that they plan to level the entire site, and therefore did not see the point in going to the time and expense of preparing the cross-section. In this review and the one they did from 1997 to 1999, the Commission and staff have always been interested in finding a way to work with what is already going on at the site in terms of natural features.  The specimen trees and the rock outcropping are a very beautiful area that they have designated as a preservation tract in the language they previously drafted as an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan.  Staff is still interested in that.  It is rare to have a site in such an urban location that is still so relatively undisturbed.  She pointed out that on the western part of this site, which is on the Fifth Street side, there is an opportunity to use some natural features in a very interesting way, if that is the consensus of the Commission and ultimately the Board of Supervisors. This would be as opposed to a more conventional approach where the applicants would grade everything and build from the ground up.  She stated that the constraints on the site were really opportunities.  This development could be an award-winning site if they could find a way to work around those features. She presented a power point presentation to point out the topography on the site.  She pointed out the hill adjacent to the interstate which she felt was the key to protecting the natural qualities of the I-64 Corridor. She noted how much higher the landfill area was and that a lot of this area was fill material that she suspected came from the I-64 construction. She pointed out the existing road to the Grand Piano and Furniture Warehouse, which was a road that could be improved and remain very much in its present alignment. Staff recommends that road to be incorporated into the design for the site because it was a useable and existing road. The Engineering Department has strongly recommended that they try to use the existing crossing and not do another crossing because, of course, every bridge is damaging.  She noted that this creek has taken a beating over the years from lots of different factors.  But whether or not a second crossing is ever constructed, staff feels that this road should be incorporated because it would be good to have a circulation system on a site that offers options, particularly if you have different uses. Regarding a mixture of uses, she pointed out that she had always seen this area that looks across at Willoughby as the most appropriate area for residential, which would take advantage of the scenic qualities of the creek.  She recommended not putting the residential on the old landfill site. She pointed out that the Avon Street frontage was certainly not something that they needed to preserve in terms of the existing natural features because it has already been disturbed. Therefore, that would be another site, with the proper engineering, that might be very good for large footprint retail.  She stated that the site could accommodate a lot of different uses if they were organized and arranged properly.  She stated that it was not the easiest site because it was not a flat piece of ground and has lots of constraints.  Moving ahead in the interest of time, she stated that Steven Allshouse was present and would provide a short presentation with an update to the retail demand analysis. She pointed out that a model of the site had been prepared by Ann Thai of their staff, which she felt was very useful in their review of the constraints on the site.


Steven Allshouse, Fiscal Impact Planner, stated that several years ago, when several large retail projects were proposed for the County, the question came to him about the amount of retail space that the County could absorb.  He pointed out that he came up with two separate estimates. One estimate was what he called the baseline figure.  The second estimate was what he called the capture estimate.  The baseline figure was estimated through a statistical technique called linear regression analysis.  He stated that what he found was that there was a very large correlation between aggregate regional income and the amount of square footage of retail space that gets built in the County.  He pointed out that there was a lag of about two years between changes in income and the amount of retail square footage in the County. From that he took the time span of 2002 to 2011 and found that about a million square feet of retail space was what the market could support. He stated that this year he was asked to update the report that he did two years ago. He stated that he revisited just the baseline numbers and found that he still got the million square feet plus of retail footage that the market could support in the County within the next ten years.  This figure does not include any capture square footage.


Mr. Rieley asked if his estimate included the City and the County.


Mr. Allshouse stated that his estimate was for the County only, but he did take into account that people do shop in the City as well.  He pointed out that he was asked what would be the impact on the County.


Ms. Thomas asked the applicant to do a quick update on the status of the project because there was some new information. She suggested that after the update that they would go to the questions that Frank Cox posed by email.


Mike Fenner stated that he was with the Cox Company, which was a planning and engineering firm located in Charlottesville.  He pointed out that Steve Blaine was also present.  He stated that they both represented the New Era Property who submitted a Comprehensive Plan Amendment back in the summer. He pointed out that there was an important development that he wanted to bring to their attention. He stated that initial phase of the process was always going under the assumption that there would be a development for the replacement of the existing Grand Piano Warehouse Facility, which was centrally located on the site, with the Dominion Power Regional Operations Center.  He pointed out that a preliminary site plan with a special use permit for a communications tower was submitted back in the summer. During the past couple of weeks they have determined that this would not be the site that they would chose for the Dominion Power Facility.  He pointed out that this would change their land use plan drastically that was submitted with the CPA.  He stated that they would not be able to show the Commission anything today with more detail.  Hopefully this will enable them to do something a little more creative in terms of the mixed uses. He stated that in regards to Mr. Cox’s email and the jurisdictional issues that there were a couple of things that they would like to hear the Commissioners’ thoughts on today that would help them move forward.  Most critically is the relationship of transportation to the site from both the City and the County. He pointed out that on their plans they have shown a connection for a southern parkway to provide access and connect Avon Street Extended with Fifth Street Extended.  He stated that they have worked closely with County Staff and VDOT.  He pointed out that they had received feedback from VDOT and that idea has some merit. He stated that they would like to hear some feedback today from the City and County on what was the appropriate alignment for that road, and more precisely where is the appropriate spot to connect to Fifth Street.  Initially back in the summer the alignment that they chose to explore provided a connection through the existing Bent Creek Road Bridge alignment.  He stated that their initial road alignment was based on the fact they could support that within the property that the applicant could control. He stated that they would be glad to look at a different access point.  VDOT has expressed some concern with respect to distance between signals. He pointed out that they have begun an analysis to have the structural engineers look at the capacity of the existing bridge at Bent Creek Road to see if it could support the regional traffic flow that would be projected with the connector road.  He noted the concerns that they had initially in terms of the alignment through Bent Creek Road. He pointed out that they felt that the location of the rock outcroppings and the tree resources identified by staff were limiting them in terms of being able to open up access to the interior of the site to provide for what they thought was the highest and best use of the site.  In addition to transportation, they would like to hear the Commission’s thoughts on various land uses and what they think would be appropriate. He stated that they recognize that Moore’s Creek would play an important role in terms of the City/County relationships.  He asked what the expectations might be for stream enhancement and for open space.  He asked what the expectations might be for allowing City residents to have a connection to the stream.  He stated that he had tried to cover some of the points Mr. Cox made in the email and would be happy to answer any questions.


Mr. Rieley stated that there seems to be two key elements to this as Ms. Thomas pointed out.  The first key element is our Engineering Department’s strong preference for utilizing the existing bridge. The existing bridge leads to a light on Fifth Street and its use would eliminate the need for a new major facility. The second key element is utilization of some extent of the existing alignment that goes back to Grand Piano. The use of a good portion of this road’s distance seems to make a lot of sense particularly in light of the strategy of having several low key, low speed roadways to knit areas together and minimize the impact rather than several large roads.  He stated that alignment had a great deal of appeal as a way to get Fifth Street to Avon Street without going through a parking lot that the shopping center controls.  That is not to say that a major connection might not go through a parking lot of a shopping center, but it certainly should not be the only alternative.  Another issue related to that, which is mentioned in Mr. Cox’s list of issues, is the protection of Moore’s Creek and the strategies for dealing with that.


Mr. Thomas agreed that the protection of Moore’s Creek needs to be a joint effort in order to protect both sides of the creek. 


Karen Firehawk, City Commissioner, stated that she was familiar with the property.  She stated that any project that would put a connection between Avon Street and Fifth Street Extended would in general make her happy. She stated that connection has been needed for a long time and it would take care of a lot of traffic that goes up and down Avon Street.  In terms of connectivity, she felt that it made a lot of sense. She questioned how much the traffic would increase in terms of what was put on the site since Dominion Power was no longer going there.  She pointed out that it could be something that was a significant traffic generator.  She asked that the applicant give them some sort of sense of traffic volume.


Mr. Fenner stated that from their traffic study they believe that this road would capture in terms of 24 hours between 8,000 and 9,000 vehicle trips per day.  He pointed out that translate into 700 to 800 vehicles during peak hours. He pointed out that study was done in the summer and that included a large volume of regional retailers, Dominion Power, 25 townhouses and a major food store.  At that time the traffic generated by that was 12,000 to 13,000 vehicle trips per day.  He pointed out that the traffic generated would depend on what the actual uses were, but this information would give them a ballpark figure. 


Ms. Firehawk asked what the applicant was proposing to do with the stream particularly because it has suffered a lot of erosion from storm water.  The Planning District is getting ready to restart and to take a look at the TMDL of the creek, which was the total maximum daily load that exceeds the State’s standards. She pointed out that a mitigation plan would have to be developed to restore it. She asked if the applicant has been talking with the Planning District about that. She asked if they have any thoughts on a buffer or if they would do actual restoration on the creek.


Mr. Fenner stated that they plan to provide a significant buffer on the stream, but they have not begun any specifics on the stream mitigation plans.


Ms. Firehawk stated that they were curious about what was in the old landfill on the site.  She stated that David Hirschman’s memo did not indicate that he observed any seepage, but pointed out that you would not always see that. She asked what would happen if something were dug up.   She asked what the applicants have done in terms of environmental assessment.  She noted that they might run into some strange things.  She asked if there would be any liability issues to the City as the past owner. 


Mr. Fenner stated that he was not an expert on this subject, but he did know that the existing owner has some very good extensive records about the past studies on the site.  He stated that part of the past negotiations with the owner was that the applicant has done some soil engineering studies on that.  He stated that was not his area of expertise, but that there is a great deal of information available on that.


Ms. Firehawk asked if there have been any ground water wells dug, and Mr. Fenner stated that there have not.


Ms. Firehawk stated that in order to develop the site that they would probably have to do a lot more extensive studies on that part of the site. 


Mr. Fenner stated that they see this as an urban project. He pointed out that there certainly needs to be a balance in terms of respecting the existing environmental factors and also recognizing the fact that it was only a few appropriate infill sites left in the urban ring that could house the type of development being proposed by the applicant.  He stated that was going to be a challenge.


Ms. Thomas stated that she looked forward to working closely with the applicant in the future. She pointed out that they have gotten some good ideas from today’s session.


In summary, the Albemarle County Planning Commission held a joint work session with the City of Charlottesville Planning Commission on CPA-03-02, Fifth Street/Avon Street Mixed Use City/County. The work session was held to obtain the City’s perspective and insight into what role this site can and should plan in implementing the City's Commercial Corridor Plan. Staff provided an overview of the proposal and presented a power point presentation and model to assist the Commissioners in understanding the topography and interior features of the site.  Steven Allshouse, Fiscal Impact Planner, summarized the findings in his original retail demand analysis and the recent update. The applicant provided an update of the proposal and answered questions. In addition, the applicant provided several questions in order to hear the City’s perspective on several specific issues.  The Planning Commissions discussed the proposal, answered the questions and provided comments and suggestions, but took no formal action.


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