Supervisors approve apartment complex

Mixed-use development slated for Route 53 

By Christina Dimeo

A motion to approve died on the floor. So did a motion to deny.  

After a lengthy discussion in which the fate of the proposed Colonial Circle development hung in the balance, the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors ultimately allowed the project on a 4-1 vote (Supervisor Trish Eager dissenting).  

Supervisors gathered Wednesday evening (June 19) to determine whether Fluvanna would be helped or hurt by a development containing 81,000 square feet of commercial space and 325 residential units. Because Colonial Circle’s existence depended on a zoning change and the approval of a special use permit, the board’s permission was mandatory for the project to proceed.  

Colonial Circle will sit just outside of Lake Monticello on the northeast corner of Routes 53 and 618 (Lake Monticello Road) across the street from Effort Baptist Church. The majority of construction will not begin, however, until the roundabout slated for that intersection is complete.  

Representatives from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) told supervisors Wednesday that the roundabout is proceeding ahead of schedule. VDOT plans to advertise the roundabout to contractors this November.  

Colonial Circle will be built on a currently vacant 62-acre parcel of land owned by Steven and Codie Peters on the edge of the Rivanna Community Planning Area. In addition to the commercial space, the development will contain apartment buildings, townhouses, duplexes and single-family homes.  

The development will grow gradually less dense as it recedes from the road. Business and apartment buildings are planned for the front near the street, while single-family homes are slated for the rear in an attempt to match the back end of the development with the rural feel of the adjoining land.  

Before Wednesday, the property was zoned partially for agriculture and partially for business. Now the land has an R-3 zoning, which allows for a mix of residential and business development. Aqua Virginia will provide water and sewer service.  

The proposed density of the development, at 5.4 dwelling units per acre, received a significant amount of attention. When the Planning Commission heard the case, it recommended approving the rezoning request but denying the special use permit increasing the development’s density. By right the developers would then have been allowed 179 housing units, rather than the 325 units supervisors ultimately approved. The lower density, however, may have precluded the development’s construction by rendering it financially unfeasible.  

Fluvanna needs “rentals for someone who might not have the financial flexibility or freedom to purchase a home,” said Kelsey Schlein of Shimp Engineering, the firm representing the owners.  

“I like the apartments because I think we lack that type of product in Fluvanna County,” said Supervisor Tony O’Brien. “I could see this becoming a place that attracts a large number of seniors that are aging out of the Lake. The other thing is that millennials are less likely to become single-family homeowners. They don’t want the hassle of that.”  

Booker wasn’t so sure. “We do need apartments; I’m not talking against it,” she said, but expressed skepticism that the apartments would truly be affordable for lower-income residents. “What’s your definition of affordable housing?” she asked Schlein.  

Schlein referred to the definition used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and stated that the apartments’ estimated $1,050 to $1,200 monthly rent qualifies under that standard.  

Booker did not seem convinced that rents of that amount would be affordable to residents of her Fork Union District. O’Brien said that Charlottesville rents of $1,600 per month put those numbers into perspective.  

But even more than affordability, traffic concerns played the biggest role in the board’s discussion. The development is expected to generate a significant number of daily trips on surrounding roads. Supervisor Trish Eager said that one of the main reasons the Planning Commission opposed increasing the density of the development was because of the resultant traffic issues.  

Shimp Engineering proposes six entrances to Colonial Circle. Three will require 200-foot left-turn lanes. Two will be right-turn only and one will connect directly to the roundabout.  

Although neighborhood meetings regarding the development were well attended, only one person spoke during Wednesday’s public hearings. While she said she supports growth, she took issue with how Colonial Circle will affect traffic in her neighborhood.  

“It’s a bad road. At times it’s very dangerous,” said Crystal Shifflett, an adjoining property owner. She focused supervisors’ attention on the other Route 618, Martin Kings Road, saying just as many accidents occur at that intersection with Route 53 as with 53’s intersection with Lake Monticello Road.  

“I can sit on my porch and hear the squeal at Martin Kings Road. I don’t think that’s going to stop,” she said. “I don’t think people are going to learn patience and give any more grace with more traffic than they are right now. My concern is: Will somebody have to die at Martin Kings Road before we take that into consideration?”  

When Chair Mike Sheridan asked Alan Saunders of VDOT to address the intersection of Route 53 and Martin Kings Road, Saunders said that the county has applied for money to improve the intersection and that VDOT supports a roundabout at that location. The fact that a second roundabout would lie in close proximity to the one already planned for Route 53 and Lake Monticello Road did not matter, he said.  

O’Brien moved to approve both the rezoning and the special use permit, clearing the way for Colonial Circle to proceed, but the motion died on the floor as no one seconded. Eager then moved to deny both requests, barring the development from construction, but again there was no second.  

With supervisors clearly undecided, Justin Shimp of Shimp Engineering spoke up.  

“If you add [residential] units [in the county] you’re going to add traffic anywhere,” he said. The coming of the roundabout means the development will be located at “the safest intersection in the county now,” he said, adding that people heading into the development will be traveling main thoroughfares, not small winding roads. 

“Growth areas are established for the best place for [them], and that’s here,” he said.  

Supervisors asked for hard numbers. Projected morning trips added by the development total 524, and 830 daily trips are predicted for each evening, said Schlein. Currently the intersection sees 10,000 trips per day, and the roundabout can service 21,000 trips per day, she said.  

Schlein’s figures appeared to generate a consensus among her listeners that Colonial Circle’s added traffic would still fall below the roundabout’s capacity. The numbers, however, add up to more 21,000. After the meeting, the Fluvanna Review asked county staff if the development’s traffic would render the roundabout obsolete as soon as it was built. Staff referred the question to Saunders of VDOT.  

Route 53’s intersections with Route 618 – both Lake Monticello Road and Martin Kings Road – total 7,000 trips per day maximum, not 10,000, Saunders said. Also, the roundabout will be able to handle up to 25,000 trips per day. Colonial Circle’s added traffic, therefore, should still fall well within the roundabout’s capacity.  

Saunders stressed that traffic study numbers are speculative. The 1,354 daily trips added by Colonial Circle “represent a worst-case scenario,” he said. “If they got that number approved, then anything else [below that] would be okay.” Closer estimates will be generated based on the development’s final site plan.    

“We’re really not close to the maximum [traffic capacity] that we have, and I do feel that we need something in Fluvanna County – whether this is it or not – and I think maybe this is a compromise for Fluvanna,” said Supervisor Don Weaver at the meeting. 

Booker tied his comment into her earlier concerns about Colonial Circle not necessarily providing senior residents with the support they need. “Everything I’ve ever heard from elderly people is they want assisted living,” she said.  

“They can’t direct assisted living,” O’Brien said of the developers. But, he said, a business could take notice of the new residential units and decide to provide assisted living services.  

“Promise me,” Booker joked.  

County Administrator Steve Nichols said that there are currently two locations in Fluvanna involved in discussions about potential assisted living facilities. He predicted, however, that when the inevitable economic downturn arrives the projects will be shelved. He then made the point that an assisted living facility at Nahor, for example, would still generate traffic by requiring workers to travel the roads.  

Having a higher residential density at Colonial Circle “will increase the probability that the commercial space gets built,” said O’Brien. “I would encourage the board to look at that extra 140 [residential units] as helping to bring in the commercial density there.” 

At that point Booker seconded Eager’s existing motion to deny both the rezoning application and the request for additional density. But when the time came to vote, Eager was the only supervisor to voice a denial. 

“I think we should go ahead and approve it,” said Weaver.  

O’Brien again moved to approve both the rezoning and the special use permit, and this time Eager approved his motion. She voted nay, but the other four supervisors, including Booker, voted in favor. The special use permit vote also passed 4-1. 

Palmyra Area Revitalization Committee (PARC) 

Kris Krechoweckyj told supervisors all about her committee’s efforts to attract visitors to the Village of Palmyra. 

The group has acquired five benches through sponsorships for installation in four areas around the village, she said. They also revised and expanded an existing walking tour to add five additional sites and divided the route into three separate tours to accommodate potential preferences. Eventually the group hopes to add the tours to county and state websites.  

PARC plans to build a $2,000 kiosk near Maggie’s House in Palmyra to make brochures and maps available in the hopes of boosting tourism. “This is a nice and lovely little village. We just need to perk it up a bit,” Krechoweckyj said.  

The group proposes introducing two historic site signs for Palmyra, replacing the Historic Courthouse marker, and adding additional markers for the Old Stone Jail and Pleasant Grove House.  

They also want to cut two sections out of the low wall that surrounds Civil War Park to assist with accessibility. Krechoweckyj said she witnessed a man with a walker stymied in his attempt to visit the park. 

 Supervisors expressed appreciation for the efforts of PARC members.  

“Everything they’ve done, they’ve done with the purpose of bringing people to Fluvanna,” said Sheridan. 

Eager suggested giving the group $2,500 from the Board of Supervisors contingency fund, which has $50,000 remaining for use by June 30.  

Weaver did not agree.  

“We have money left over, so let’s give it here and let’s give it there,” he said ironically. “It’s not in the budget. You’re not even putting it into a motion. People really don’t appreciate that… I think it’s a good cause. But the process you use… I think it’s lousy.”  

O’Brien suggested raising the subject during the new business section of the meeting, in which supervisors have the flexibility to address new issues. Weaver countered that because giving money to PARC did not appear on the agenda, residents wishing to protest the decision would not have known to attend Wednesday’s meeting.  

“Mr. Weaver makes a good point about that, but some things happen on the fly,” said Nichols.  

“Public comment on this particular matter would probably be nonexistent,” said O’Brien.  

“The only people who would show up are the people would say, ‘Yes, let’s do it,’” said Sheridan.  

Weaver was not dissuaded. “It wasn’t in the budget. We didn’t even know we were going to give away $5,000 tonight. I think it should be more formal,” he said. “Oh well, we have extra money left over at the end of the year. Let’s go ahead and give it to them. I vote no.”  

The measure passed 4-1.  


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