STAFF PERSONS:    William D. Fritz, AICP and Glenn Brooks, P.E.

PLANNING COMMISSION:                                              October 18, 2005

(Site Plan and Special Use Permit)


BOARD OF SUPERVISORS:                                              November 9, 2005

(Special Use Permit only)


SDP 04-45 and SP 04-24Northtown Center


Applicant: First Gold Leaf Land Trust

Owner:  Parcels 110, 111, 111A and 111B – First Gold Leaf Land Trust, Parcel  110A – River Heights Associates Limited Partnership 


Applicant's Proposal


This application requires 3 separate actions by the Planning Commission.  The 3 separate actions are for the following items:
1) SP 04 – 24:  A drive thru for a bank

2) SDP 04 – 45 Northtown Center Preliminary Site Plan (The site plan has been appealed to the Planning Commission by an abutting owner.  Therefore, the Planning Commission must take action on the site plan.) 

3) Modification of Section 4.2.3 to allow activity on critical slopes.


The Board of Supervisors will need to take action only on the special use permit.

SP 04 – 24 A drive thru for a bank



SDP 04 – 45

Request for preliminary site plan approval to allow the construction of a 199,800 gross square foot retail development.  The property is described as Tax Map 45, Parcels 110, 110A, 111, 111A and 111B. The subject parcel contains approximately 15.9 acres, zoned H-C (Highway Commercial) and EC (Entrance Corridor), and AIA (Airport Impact Area Overlay).  This site is located on the east side of Seminole Trail (US Route 29 N.) immediately opposite Lowes and Kegler's.  A Special Use Permit is also under review for this project, SP 2004-24 (Drive thru for bank).  This site is located in the Rio Magisterial District and is designated as Community Service in Neighborhood 2.


SP 04 – 24

Request for special use permit approval, in accordance with Section 24.2.2(13) for a drive thru window for a bank


Character of the Area: The area surrounding the property is residential (Carrsbrook and Woodbrook subdivisions).  The area to the south is commercial and large scale commercial development is located across Route 29 from the site. 


RECOMMENDATION:  Staff has reviewed the proposal for conformity with the Comprehensive Plan and the Zoning Ordinance and makes the following recommendations for the special use permit:


SP 04 – 24 A drive thru for a bank – Approval with conditions.

Staff has reviewed the proposed modification of Section 4.2 to allow activity on critical slopes and recommends approval of the modification request.


Staff has reviewed the site plan for compliance with the provisions of the Zoning Ordinance and recommends approval (with conditions). 


Planning and Zoning History: The history of the parcel is as follows:

1980 – Comprehensive Countywide Rezoning – The zoning designation of the property was changed from B-1, Business to its current designation of HC, Highway Commercial. 


1988 – Application was made for a preliminary site plan to allow the construction of an automobile dealership (SDP 88-54 Medlin Lincoln Mercury).  This application was deferred indefinitely at the applicant's request after the site review meeting. 


1990 – Application was made for a gas station (SDP 90-64 Heischman 29 North Mobile Station).  This application was withdrawn prior to any action to approve or deny the site plan.


1991 – Application was made for a special use permit and site plan to allow an automobile dealership (SP 91-57 First Gold Leaf Land Trust and SDP 91-102 Carrsbrook Auto Preliminary Site Plan).  At its meeting on December 9, 1992 the Board of Supervisors denied the special use permit for outdoor storage and display in the Entrance Corridor.  The site plan was denied as a result of the denial of the special use permit.


1994 – Application was made for an 111,464 square foot retail center (SDP 94-006 Carrsbrook Retail Center Preliminary Site Plan).  This plan was approved by the Planning Commission on July 19, 1994.  This included an approval for activity on critical slopes and other modifications.  The Planning Commission action was appealed to the Board of Supervisors.  The Board reaffirmed the Commission’s action at its meeting on August 3, 1994.  The applicant did not submit the necessary final site plans as required by the Ordinance and the approval of the preliminary plan expired. 


2000 – Application was made for a 151,785 square foot retail center (SDP 00-81 North Town Center).  This application was withdrawn by the applicant prior to any action.


2000 – Application was made for a 130,184 square foot retail store (SDP 00-119 Home Depot at North Town Center Preliminary Site Plan).  This application was denied by the Planning Commission at its meeting on November 28, 2000.  This included a denial of a modification for activity on critical slopes and other modifications (reduction in number of loading spaces, buffer disturbance).  The Commission’s action was appealed to the Board of Supervisors.  The Board reaffirmed the Commission's action at its meeting on February 7, 2001. 


2004/2005 – Applications were made for a 158,910 square foot development [this was the initial size of the Northtown Center plan which is currently under review].  The plan was reviewed by Planning Commission on January 18, 2005 and deferred to February 22, 2005.  At its meeting on February 22, 2005 the applicant requested deferral.  Subsequently the applicant submitted the current plan for review. 




Comprehensive Plan and The Neighborhood Model: Requests for special use permits in the Development Areas are assessed for conformity with the Neighborhood Model and the Land Use Plan.  The following analysis pertains only to the special use permit for the drive thru. 


The Land Use Plan shows this area as Community Service which calls for a scale and type of development similar to that proposed by the applicant. 


The analysis of the proposed project in relation to the twelve principles for development in accordance with the Neighborhood Model are provided below: 


Pedestrian Orientation – This plan provides for pedestrian connections to the existing sidewalk along Route 29.  Pedestrian connection to the residential development adjacent to this site is not practical due to terrain and the location of houses.  The location of the houses and lack of any open space inside of the existing adjacent subdivisions does not allow for access from this site to any existing public areas.


Neighborhood Friendly Streets and Paths – This development does not propose new streets or paths. 


Interconnected Streets and Transportation Networks – The plan allows for the potential connection to an adjacent undeveloped property to the north.  Staff and the applicant considered and pursued the possibility of connection to the existing commercial development to the south.  This connection was abandoned due to the layout and design of the existing travelways on the properties south of this development.  The layout and design of the existing travelways would not have provided for reasonably direct or desirable access.  The provision of a connection to the south was dropped due to opposition by the residents of the Woodbrook Subdivision. 


Parks and Open Space – No parks or public open space are proposed.  Undisturbed and landscaped areas as required by the ordinance are shown.


Neighborhood Centers – This development is only for commercial activity.  The development will provide additional shopping but does not provide for a neighborhood center as defined by the Neighborhood Model.


Buildings and Spaces of Human Scale – The Architectural Review Board reviewed the plans for this project in October 2005.  The comments of that meeting are included as Attachment D.  Based on the comments of the ARB, staff finds that this development meets this standard of the Neighborhood Model.


Relegated Parking – This provision is difficult to achieve on this property.  The site is surrounded by residential development and has significant areas of critical slopes.  Staff has stressed the need to preserve critical slopes on this site to the extent practical.  Placing the buildings along Route 29 is limited to a degree by the location of a stormwater basin installed by VDOT.  An easement to the benefit of VDOT located adjacent to Route 29. 


Mixture of Uses – This site is zoned commercially and all proposed uses are commercial.  The applicant could apply for a special use permit for residential development which could provide a mixture of uses.  Staff notes that no review has occurred to determine the appropriateness of using this site for residential development.


Mixture of Housing Types and Affordability – No residential development is proposed.  Therefore, this provision is not applicable. 


Redevelopment – No development currently exists on this site.


Site Planning that Respects Terrain – This development proposes substantial grading and makes extensive use of retaining walls. The property is divided north and south by a stream valley.  Development of the two sides of the stream valley requires extensive grading for access purposes.  More detailed comments on the impact on the stream valley are found later in this report in the discussion of the critical slopes modification. 


Clear Boundaries with the Rural Areas – This provision is not applicable as this property is located entirely within the Development Area. 


Engineering Analysis: The County’s Engineering staff has reviewed this request for engineering issues related to health, safety, and welfare requirements. The Engineering staff is able to support the location and design of the drive thru windows, with a condition for the bank. 


Section of the Zoning Ordinance below requires that special use permits be assessed as follows:


Will the use be of substantial detriment to adjacent property?

The location of the drive thru window will not cause a substantial detriment to adjacent property.  The location and design of the windows and travelways are such that they will have limited visibility from adjacent property.  The drive thru windows distance to residential units and slope differences between this site and adjacent residential uses (the commercial drive thru sites are lower than the adjacent residential property) effectively eliminate headlight issues that can arise with drive thru windows. 


Will the character of the zoning district change with this use?

Drive thru windows are common in this zoning district and along Route 29.  Approval of this special use permit will not change the character of the district. 


Will the use will be in harmony with the purpose and intent of the zoning ordinance?

Staff has reviewed the purpose and intent of the ordinance as contained in Sections 1.4, 1.5 and 1.6, the intent of the HC district as contained in Section 24.1, and the intent of the EC district as contained in Section 30.6.1.Generally, these requests are consistent with the ordinance.  However, staff offers the following comments to address the intent of the EC district.  The intent of the EC district is as follows

The entrance corridor overlay district is intended to implement the comprehensive plan goal of protecting the county's natural, scenic and historic, architectural and cultural resources including preservation of natural and scenic resources as the same may serve this purpose; to ensure a quality of development compatible with these resources through architectural control of development; to stabilize and improve property values; to protect and enhance the county's attractiveness to tourists and other visitors; to sustain and enhance the economic benefits accruing

to the county from tourism; to support and stimulate complimentary development appropriate to the prominence afforded properties deemed to be of historic, architectural or cultural significance, all of the foregoing being deemed to advance and promote the public health, safety and welfare of

the citizens of the county and visitors thereto.


The ARB cited no objection to the bank use.  (The ARB does not state support for projects by its own policy.  Instead the ARB will state either that they have no objection or that they cannot support the application.)  Based on the comments of the ARB, staff opinion is that this drive thru is consistent with the purpose and intent of the zoning ordinance and therefore, staff is able to recommend approval of SP 04-24.


Will the use be in harmony with the uses permitted by right in the district?


By-right uses in the HC, Highway Commercial District include a wide variety of the most intensive commercial activities.  Drive thru windows are common with many of the uses in the district. 


Will the use comply with the additional regulations provided in Section 5.0 of this ordinance?

Section 5 contains no additional regulations.


Will the public health, safety and general welfare of the community be protected if the use is approved?


The public health, safety, and general welfare of the community is protected through the special use permit process which assures that uses approved by special use permit are appropriate in the location requested.   The two issues which typically arise in the review of drive thru windows are:

  1. Traffic impacts on and off site;
  2. Visibility of the site from an entrance corridor.


The property has direct access to a signalized intersection which in the opinion of staff will be adequate to accommodate the expected traffic volumes.  The on-site circulation is adequate for the proposed drive thru windows.  VDOT has provided the following comments:
§ Intersection analysis needs to be conducted to determine both internal and external turn lane


§ Signal time plan will be required;

§ Full frontage (additional lane) improvements are required;

§ Entrance and improvements needed to be designed in accordance with the current design manual

and the Minimum Entrance to State Highway Standards;

§ Plans and drainage comps are required.

Staff has included conditions to address these comments and believes that they will be adequately addressed at the time of final plan without resulting in any changes to the on-site improvements beyond that which occurs for all site plans and subdivisions.  [All, or nearly all, preliminary site plans and subdivision plats do not have all of the entrance details required for final approval.  As part of the final review process this information is developed and shown on the site plan, subdivision plat or road plans.]




Staff has identified the following factors which are favorable to this request:


1.         The design of the drive thru window meets design criteria, with a condition for the bank.

2.         The entrance with improvements will be adequate to accommodate the traffic generated by the drive thru windows


Staff has identified the following factors, which are unfavorable to this request:


1.         The specific design of entrance improvements is not available at this time.




Staff recommends approval of SP 04 – 24 (a drive thru for a bank) with the following conditions of approval: 

  1. A by-pass land, 16’ minimum width shall be provided.  Striping and lane widths must be shown on the final plan.




The site plan has been reviewed by the Site Review Committee and was found to meet the requirements of the ordinance with the approval of a modification to allow activity on critical slopes.  The Site Review Committee cannot approve the site plan administratively due to an appeal of the site plan to the Planning Commission by an abutting owner.  Attachment B includes all letters received from the public on this application. Staff has included all comments from the public including those submitted with the original application.


The proposed development includes activity on critical slopes.  Staff has reviewed this request as required by Sections, 4.2 and 4.2.5 of the ordinance (Attachment E).  This review is divided into two parts, a review for impact on aesthetic resources and a review of the engineering impacts. 


Before this proposal may be approved, a modification to allow critical slopes disturbance is necessary.  The request for a modification has been reviewed for both Engineering and Planning aspects.   


Review of the request by Current Development Planning Staff.


This review is focused on the criteria in Section 4.2 and the potential loss of aesthetic resources.  County staff has conducted a stream assessment for the urban area and this stream is one of those identified as having value.  (This stream water assessment has been conducted by staff and discussed by the Board of Supervisors but has not yet been adopted as part of the Comprehensive Plan.) Attached is information from Stephen Bowler regarding the stream assessment.  The stream is designated as a Designed Urban Water Feature. Staff recognizes that this stream is located in an urban area and is designated as a Designed Urban Water Feature. Therefore, some impact on the stream and stream valley may be appropriate (this will be more fully explained in the proceeding).  The Neighborhood Model Design Approaches includes “Site Planning that Respects Terrain” (page 106).  For slopes of 25% or greater, the Neighborhood Model states “Development on steep slopes should be considered with regard to its impacts on significant systems of slopes as identified on the County’s Open Space Plan and the Master Plan for the Development Area”.  The Open Space Plan identifies some of the critical slopes on this property but the Open Space Plan does not designate the slopes as “Major and Locally Important Stream Valleys and Adjacent Critical Slopes”.  The Master Plan for this neighborhood is not yet developed.  The Neighborhood Model also states “Significant features identified for preservation in the Open Space Plan, as well as other environmentally sensitive areas, should be mapped during the Master Planning process”.  The stream assessment referenced above is the first step in the Master Planning process. While the Master Plan is not yet adopted, the zoning ordinance does not limit the sources used to identify aesthetic resources.  Historically, staff has used the Open Space plan as the primary tool to identify resources.  However, the Open Space plan is not the only tool.  Field observation, the Open Space Plan and the comments of the Architectural Review Board have been used in determining the aesthetic resources of the site and the potential loss of aesthetic resources. 


The vision of a Designed Urban Water Feature as stated by staff in the stream assessment document is:


Designed Urban Water Feature: Located in areas designated for high density residential/commercial/mixed use.  As an alternative to complete piping, these corridors can be managed to provide open space, pocket parks, and water features.  It is assumed that these channels will require engineering intervention of one type or another (piping, channel lining, ponding).  This designation can overlap with creation of ponds for stormwater management.  The shoreline can feature walkways, bike paths, community facilities, and park-like settings, and buffers are managed accordingly.  Tools include: coordination with stormwater plans, proffers, coordination with open space requirements, landscape design.


The applicant has substantially revised the plan from the original application in an attempt to address the issues identified by staff, the Planning Commission and the Architectural Review Board.  The plan proposes to use portions of the stream valley for stormwater management facilities.  The site has limited opportunities for the creation of active or passive recreation areas. No trail system has been proposed by the County along this stream valley.  The area adjacent to Route 29 is preserved as a stormwater facility.  This facility adjacent to Route 29 affords landscaping areas.  The stream area at the rear of the site is also used as a Stormwater facility.  This pond area also provides for screening/landscape opportunities. 


A prior proposal to disturb critical slopes on this property was denied by the Planning Commission, with SDP 00-119 Home Depot Preliminary Site Plan.  Both the current proposal and all prior proposals showed disturbance of virtually all of the critical slopes on the site.  The current proposal disturbs most of the critical slopes on the property while a portion of the critical slopes at the rear of the site, adjacent to the stormwater basin are proposed to remain undisturbed. 


Prior proposals on this site received review by the Architectural Review Board that noted deficiencies in the plan.  The current plan received the following comment from the Architectural Review Board at its meeting on October 3, 2005:


“Based on the ARB’s preliminary review of the plan submitted at the meeting and dated 10-3-05 and acknowledging staff’s lack of the ability to review because of the submittal timing, the ARB has no objection to the modification for activity on critical slopes because the loss of aesthetic resources, specifically the forest and ravine, are regained in the new dry stream bed bridge, limited use of retaining walls, bridges, expected abundant planting and reduction of exposed foundations with additional grading.”  


The plan reviewed by the Architectural Review Board has a modified design for the new stream valley in the center of the development.  The revised page has been added to the site plan attached plans.  Staff has included a condition to clarify the design of the stream valley which must be used in the final site plan.


It is staff’s opinion, based on the comments of the Architectural Review Board, review of the Open Space Plan and the Stream Assessment study, that the design of the project adequately protects or restores the critical slopes aesthetic value.


Review of the request by Current Development Engineering Staff.


Description of critical slope area and proposed disturbance:

The revised request for a waiver to develop on areas of critical is similar to the original request and to the application made in June of 2000 for the Home Depot site.  The critical slope areas are located through the middle of the site in a wooded stream valley.   Reference is made to the concurrent preliminary site plan, SDP 200400045.  The plan shows most of the critical slopes being buried under extensive fill for the buildings and parking areas.  This fill is approximately 20' deep, and consists of over 100,000 cubic yards. (For reference, one dump truck is 8-10 cubic yards, and the maximum borrow area allowed in a rural area district without a special use permit is 50,000 cubic yards.)   Below, each of the concerns of Zoning Ordinance section 18-4.2 is addressed:




Total site


Critical slopes


15% of site

Critical slopes disturbed


85% of critical slopes


Exemptions to critical slopes waivers for driveways, roads and utilities without reasonable alternative locations:

There do not appear to be any exempted areas of critical slopes.


Compliance with Zoning Ordinance 18-4.2:

“movement of soil and rock”

Proper slope and wall construction, control of drainage, and vegetative stabilization will prevent any movement of soil.

“excessive stormwater runoff”

Runoff will be controlled by the drainage plan proposed.  Impervious areas and 2:1 slopes will increase drainage.


Inspection and bonding by the County will ensure siltation control during construction. Proper stabilization and maintenance will ensure long term stability.

“loss of aesthetic resource”

Some of this area is visible from Rt. 29, and some from the surrounding neighborhoods.  It is all wooded.

“septic effluent”

            This is not a concern as the site is serviced by public sewer.


Based on the review above, there are no engineering concerns which prohibit the disturbance of the critical slopes as shown.


Summary of review of Modification of Section 4.2


Section 4.2.5, Attachment E establishes the review process and criteria for granting a modification of Section 4.2.3.  The preceding comments by staff address the provisions of Section 4.2.5a.  Staff has included the provisions of Section 4.2.5b here, along with staff comment on the various provisions (Staff comments are in italics.)


The commission may modify or waive any requirement of section 4.2 in a particular case upon finding that:


            1. Strict application of the requirements of section 4.2 would not forward the purposes of this chapter or otherwise serve the public health, safety or welfare, or that alternatives proposed by the developer would satisfy the purposes of section 4.2 to at least an equivalent degree; or


Strict application of the provisions of Section 4.2 would result in a substantially lower level of development on this property which is in the Development Area.  Based on the comments of the Architectural Review Board, the alternatives (design of the site including landscaping) satisfy the purposes of section 4.2 to at least an equivalent degree.


            2. Due to its unusual size, topography, shape of the property, location of the property or other unusual conditions, excluding the proprietary interest of the developer, the requirements of section 4.2 would effectively prohibit or unreasonably restrict the use of the property or would result in significant degradation of the site or adjacent properties.  Such modification or waiver shall not be detrimental to the public health, safety or welfare, to the orderly development of the area, or to adjacent properties, or be contrary to sound engineering practices; or


If the request to disturb areas of critical slopes is denied, the available area of development is greatly reduced.  The location of the majority of critical slopes is primarily in the middle of the site.  Large scale development of the property is not possible without disturbing critical slopes.  However, development of the site could occur without disturbing critical slopes or with a modification to allow disturbance of critical slopes to a lesser extent than currently proposed.   Staff has not found that approval would be detrimental to the public health, safety or welfare, to the orderly development of the area, or to adjacent properties, or be contrary to sound engineering practices. 


3. Granting such modification or waiver would serve a public purpose of greater import than would be served by strict application of section 4.2.


Staff is unable to identify any clear public purpose to be served by granting this modification.  Staff is only able to offer the following observations in response to this provision:

1.      Granting the modification treats similarly zoned land in a similar manner.  Other parcels on the Route 29 corridor have been granted modifications to allow activity on critical slopes.


This analysis results in mixed findings. 


Factors favorable to approval of a modification to allow activity on critical slopes:

  1. The proposed critical slope disturbance will not result in the adverse impacts identified in Section 4.2 of the ordinance. 
  2. No identified resources identified in the Open Space Plan or the Stream Assessment would be adversely impacted by the approval of the modification. 
  3. The Architectural Review Board has commented that the applicant’s design adequately protects/restores the aesthetic resources of the site.


Factors unfavorable to approval of a modification to allow activity on critical slopes:

  1. Alternative (lesser) development of the property may be possible with no or lesser disturbance of critical slopes.


Generally staff finds that this request is consistent with the criteria of Section 4.2.5a for granting a modification. Therefore, staff recommends approval by the Commission of a modification of Section 4.2.3.  If the Commission makes the necessary positive findings required by Section 4.2.5b staff also recommends approval of SDP 04-045 Northtown Center Preliminary Site Plan subject to the following conditions:


The County shall not accept submittal of the final site plan for signature until tentative final approvals for the following conditions have been obtained. The final site plan shall not be signed until the following conditions have been met:


  1. Architectural Review Board issuance of a Certificate of Appropriateness.
  2. Virginia Department of Transportation approval of entrance design, signal improvements, frontage and turn lane improvements as well as any associated road plans and drainage plans. 
  3. Albemarle County Service Authority approval including approval of the design of the relocated sanitary sewer meeting ACSA standards with no portion located within storm water management facilities.
  4. Current Development Division approval of:

a.       Minimum sight distances within parking areas/travelways.

b.      Design/location of curbed islands in the parking lot.

c.       Stormwater BMP plans and calculations.

d.      Stream Valley design which is acceptable to the Architectural Review Board.  Based on the plan reviewed by the Architectural Review Board at its meeting on October 3, 2005 and included as Attachment A marked WDF, 10/09/2005. 

e.       Approval of revised parking calculations to account for any parking lost by condition d, to include if necessary, a reduction in building space. 

f.        Retaining wall designs for any walls of 4 feet or greater.

g.       Landscape plan, to include a conservation plan for all trees proposed to remain.

h.       Lighting plan.

i.         Subdivision plat combining the parcels into a single parcel or realignment of existing parcel boundaries to result in lots meeting minimum requirements for building construction. 

j.         Necessary access, utility easements.

k.      The 18' retaining wall on the northern side of the site cannot disturb the undisturbed buffer for a footing or reinforcing grid.  The plan must be revised as necessary, or provide computations, details and construction methods to avoid disturbance of the buffer.

l.         Grading to the edge of the undisturbed wooded buffer on the sides of the site will likely cut tree root systems, damaging and eventually killing trees.  On final plans, the grading should be moved back, or specific trees surveyed and marked on plans to ensure survivability of trees within the undisturbed buffer.

  1. Fire Marshall approval.
  2. Building Official approval.        






A – Site Plan

B – Letters from the public.

C – Memo from Steve Bowler

D – Draft ARB action memo from 10/3/05

E - Sections 4.2 and 4.2.5

F - Open Space Plan Maps

G - Applicant’s request for a modification to allow activity on critical slopes.  

H - Vicinity Map

I – Current Development Engineer Comments dated 22, September 2005

Return to PC actions letter