Development Areas Initiative Steering Committee II

November 30, 2004-- ROOM 246

Albemarle County Office Building

12:00 – 1:30 p.m.



MEMBERS PRESENT:   Bill Edgerton, Katie Hobbs, Steve Von Storch, Steve Runkle, Will Rieley, and Jeff Werner.


VISITORS:  Neil Williamson


STAFF:  Elaine Echols, and Mark Graham


1.                  Call to Order – Steve Runkle called to order at 12:10 p.m.


2.                  Approval of Minutes from October 26, 2004 Meeting – On a motion by Will Rieley, seconded by Bill Edgerton, the minutes were unanimously approved as written.


3.         Review of Board of Supervisor’s Urbanization Goals Relative to Private Streets and Street Trees – Mark Graham explained to the group that the Board of Supervisors would be receiving an Executive Summary for its December 8, 2004 meeting.  This summary would have recommendations from staff relative to County urbanization goals that were different than DISC II’s recommendations.  He said he wanted to let DISC II know why this was occurring.


Jeff Werner said he had heard a lot about an “urbanization committee” and wondered who this committee was and their role.  Mr. Graham answered that this committee was a staff committee set up by the County Executive’s office to make recommendations to the Board on how to implement the County’s goals for urbanization. He said the committee received direction from the Board of Supervisors at the Board’s fall retreat.  Mr. Graham said that the urbanization committee would be making recommendations on interconnections, streetscape, private streets, and overlot grading. 


Regarding interconnections, Mr. Graham said that the committee generally supported the DISC II recommendations.  He said that the urbanization committee recommended that if waivers were granted for street connection, an escrow account should be set up for a developer contribution for future street construction.  Mr. Graham said that more work would need to be done to make sure that amounts required to be escrowed were equitable, especially where a street might be necessary to serve a larger need than generated by the development.  He clarified that use of an escrow account is recommended in those cases where the r.o.w. would be dedicated but the street would not be built.  Bill Edgerton noted that this would just result in a contribution towards the building of a future street.  DISC II members did not raise any significant issues with this recommendation.


Regarding private streets, Mr. Graham said that, based on Board direction at the retreat, the committee’s position was that private streets should be used in very limited circumstances and that private streets should meet VDOT standards.


Mr. Rieley said that this is a real problem.  He asked how this recommendation related to the rural area 3- 5 lot private street standard that does not meet VDOT requirements.  He said that this recommendation is in direct conflict with DISC I’s recommendations, DISC II’s recommendations, and the Planning Commission’s recommendations.  The developers support private streets and the “planners” support private streets, he said.  The Planning Commission has consistently recommended private streets where they can be used to implement the Neighborhood Model.  The recommended Crozet Master Plan includes a table on recommended street characteristics, some of which are private, to help implement the Neighborhood Model.  Mr. Rieley said that the ability to use private streets to create better neighborhoods is supported by groups who do not always see eye to eye.  He said he did not understand why the different recommendation was being made.


Mr. Graham said that the Board of Supervisors currently is dealing with two situations in which private streets have not been maintained.  The Board is being asked to take over these streets.  He said that some staff and the Board are concerned about long-term liability for private streets, especially where homeowners associations are not collecting fees for maintenance or doing maintenance.


Ms. Hobbs asked about the status of changes to the VDOT standards.  Mr. Graham answered that most of the County’s requests for changes were not granted, but there are some new opportunities for the resident engineer to grant waivers.  He said that the down side is that these waivers but it would be entirely dependent on the resident engineer and whether or not he or she agreed with the County’s goals and proposals.  Mr. Graham said that some of the County’s requested changes to VDOT standards resulted in no relief opportunities, such as the horizontal and vertical curvature requirements.


Mr. Runkle said that allowing only VDOT standards for private streets would be very detrimental to many of the projects already approved or approved by Comprehensive Plan Amendment.  He noted that portions of Hollymead Town Center might not be possible, Albemarle Place would not be possible, and Rivanna Village at Glenmore would not be possible. 


Mr. Runkle also said that developers are being put in a no-win situation.  He said the Zoning department requires that on-street parking spaces be delineated if they are to be counted as “required parking”.  He said that VDOT requires that streets with delineated parking must be wider.  Wider streets don’t meet the Neighborhood Model.  Mr. Graham acknowledged that this situation is a problem and suggested that the zoning ordinance be changed.


Mr. Runkle also noted that VDOT streets cannot be used in typical townhouse projects where a parking lot acts as a private street.  He said that commercial developments use private streets with the same parking lot design.  Since VDOT will not allow perpendicular parking from the travelway, will this mean that townhouses and commercial developments will need to have totally different designs in order to be subdivided?


Mr. Rieley said that we must take a leap of faith with private streets.  He said that we will never get the development we want without the opportunity for non-VDOT private streets. 


Several members said that the solution to this problem is to bolster up the homeowners association requirements.  Elaine Echols reminded DISC II that they had recommended this path to the Board of Supervisors.  She said that, in talking with the County Attorney’s office, they were doubtful an ironclad method could be devised to ensure that private streets were always maintained and remained private.  Ms. Echols said that was the reason she did not bring back any revised language for DISC II to review.


Mr. Rieley summarized the comments of DISC II.  He said that the Board of Supervisors needs to know that DISC II is unanimous in its support for use of private streets to implement the Neighborhood Model.  He said they need to know that DISC II is in sync with the development community on this item.  They should know that the recommendation was not made in a vacuum.  DISC II talked about the pros and cons of public vs. private streets as well as long-term impacts.  Mr. Rieley said that the Board has been asked very few times over the last 20 years to take over private streets and that this is a pretty good track record.  He said that we need to take the lead for VDOT.  He said that the most important change for private streets would be to beef up the maintenance requirements rather than prohibit more neighborhood friendly streets if developers want to build them.


Regarding overlot grading, Mr. Graham said that the urbanization committee agreed with DISC II and offered no additional recommendations.


Regarding street trees, Mr. Graham said the committee was seeking direction from the Board on whether street trees should be in the front yards or in a planting strip between the sidewalk and curb.  He noted that the urbanization committee had earlier discussed with the Board the plan to put the trees in the planting strip and that could result in a significant future maintenance burden.  At that time, one of the Board members suggested the trees be placed in the front yards to avoid this maintenance expense.  There was no direction provided as to whether the Board felt the street trees should be in the planting strip or in the front yards.


Mr. Werner asked how trees are maintained in other localities.  Ms. Echols said that some localities have dedicated staff for maintenance of trees and landscaping in the public r.o.w., sometimes homeowners associations are required to maintain the trees, and volunteers such as tree stewards also participate.  She noted that in Lynchburg and Richmond, tree steward programs were very active.


Mr. Rieley said that to remove the street trees from the profile totally changes the streetscape recommended by DISC and the Commission.  He said that the cross-section of curb, street tree, and sidewalks is used throughout the country to make friendlier, attractive neighborhoods.  He said that without the tools to make the County what we want it to be, we are paralyzed.  He wondered why the group had been working so hard these past years if no changes were going to be made in the areas where change is needed. Mr. Runkle asked if there had been any discussion about how a requirement for all streets to be public affects ways to provide for interconnections or affects stream crossings. 


Mr. Runkle also said he wanted to reiterate his concern that developers might be pressured into requesting private streets when they wanted to do public streets.  Several members noted previous discussions by DISC II that the subdivision ordinance should allow developers the option of requesting private streets.  They assured Mr. Runkle they were not recommending that developers be required to provide private streets in new developments.


Mr. Werner said that using VDOT road standards would essentially leave us where we are now, with cul-de-sacs and always adding more lanes to Rt. 29.  He asked if there were any in-between steps that could be taken to move us away from cul-de-sacs without offering private streets as an option.  Mr. Graham said the County would need to keep pushing VDOT for change.


DISC II said that they wished to reaffirm for the Board their previous comments regarding private streets and street trees.  They suggested that the urbanization committee look more carefully at the issues and the costs for the improvements relative to the important community benefits.


3.                  Discussion of Possible Front Setback/Yard Changes in Zoning Ordinance – Ms. Echols distributed a proposed set of changes to the front setback requirements in the zoning ordinance.  These changes would be for R-2 through R-15 zoning districts, and commercial and industrial districts.  She said that the recommended reduced setbacks would help mitigate the negative impacts of wider r.o.w. requirements of VDOT and also help create the desired streetscape.  Mr. Runkle noted that front setback changes would not do anything to increase density. 


Ms. Echols agreed and said that the side and rear yard setbacks would be recommended with the larger overall zoning text amendment.  She said that including side and rear yard changes now would require more involved discussion.  More involved discussion might not allow for a zoning text amendment to catch up with the subdivision text amendment.  She said the goal with the front setback changes was to help remove impediments to getting the desired streetscape.  She said that DISC II wanted to provide the tools for streetscape in both the zoning and subdivision ordinance as concurrent as possible, since there is such a strong relationship between front setbacks and an urban street section.  She said this had been desired by many members of the development community.


DISC II noted that the time was 1:30 p.m. and asked to postpone the setback discussion to another meeting.  Members asked for photographs and measurements, in addition to illustrations, be brought to the next meeting.


4.         Set Next Meeting Date – The next meeting date was set for December 14, 2004 at noon.


5.         Adjournment – The meeting adjourned at 1:30 p.m.     

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