Ready or not: Here it comes
On a recent Saturday, Hook staffer Lynn Jameson drove to the Target in Short Pump. She ran into a familiar face from Crozet, and then another friend from near Pantops. "Does everyone from Albemarle County shop at Target on the weekend?" she wondered.
Apparently. And Mary Gallo can't wait to shop at a Target closer to home. She lives a couple of miles south of the Greene County line, and the opening of the Hollymead Town Center will mean she won't have to fight the traffic on 29 to get to Kmart and Giant. In fact, she thinks the new shopping center will reduce traffic because people who live north of Charlottesville won't have to come into town to shop.
Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council believes quite the opposite will occur if Hollymead Town Center and North Pointe, another north-of-town development, are built. He foresees gridlock on 29, and Charlottesville becoming "the Potomac Mills of the Piedmont" if those two developments, along with a third– Albemarle Place– at the intersection of Hydraulic Road and U.S. 29, are built.
"How much retail do we need?" he asks.
That sentiment is echoed by unemployed Greene County resident Emmett Boaz. "Charlottesville already has more stores than I have money," he says. "I know they're trying to build 29 north solid to Ruckersville. It's all one strip in my mind."
Plans for three new shopping centers– outmoded concepts in the brave new world of "neighborhood models" and "mixed-use" development– are working their ways toward votes by the Albemarle Board of Supervisors. Hollymead Town Center will be the first it comes before the board July 16.
No new development has been this controversial since the attempt to put a "big box" on Fifth Street Extended back in the late 1990s.
The July 16 public hearing promises to be a match of developers versus no-growthers; consumers versus greens; the automobile versus the pedestrian friendly. And then there are the thinly veiled class implications of those who love big boxes and those who wouldn't be caught dead in one.
In 2001, the County embraced the "neighborhood model" of development, a part of the planning trend called New Urbanism, which emphasizes high-density clusters of work-shopping-residential, and walkability and open spaces instead of suburban sprawl.
The three new local developments have become the canaries in the coalmine– testing the County's foray into New Urbanism. All three are located in Albemarle's designated Growth Area and incorporate the neighborhood model to varying degrees– although critics contend that "mixed-use" is not synonymous with "neighborhood model."
"The neighborhood model is walkable, and it's the size and scale of a neighborhood," says Albemarle Neighborhood Association president Tom Loach. "It's not a big box." For instance, a resident wouldn't say he lives in the "Target neighborhood," explains Loach.
Whether residents embrace the big boxlessness of the neighborhood model is another matter. "I'm not looking for little shops," says Gallo. "I want big stores."
And whether people will want to live in high-density neighborhoods is a concern for the developers building them. "Will someone move to Albemarle and want to live in a condo over a bakery?" asks a source familiar with the development process. "I wouldn't."
Albemarle County's comprehensive plan has been amended for each of the three developments. Now, developers need the Board of Supervisors to approve rezonings so groundbreaking can commence. At issue: whether traffic concerns will trump the much ballyhooed neighborhood model.
Hollymead Town Center
Location: U.S. 29 north between N. Hollymead Drive and Airport Road
Developer: United Land, Virginia Land, Kessler Group, Regency Centers, Dierman Realty Group
Developer known for: Wal-Mart, Sam's Club (UnitedLand), Giant at Pantops (Virginia Land), Glenmore, and Forest Lakes (Kessler Group)
Designer: Land Design of Charlotte, North Carolina
Land: 165 acres
Under roof: 950,000 sq. ft.
Retail: 650,000 sq. ft.
Residential units: between 700 and 1,200
Other: 300,000 sq. ft. for offices
Anchors: Target, Giant
Hot attractions: Tar-zhay
Cost: $350-450 million
Status with county brass: BOS rezoning public hearing July 16
Groundbreaking: August-September– depending on above
Projected completion: Fall 2004 for Section B
Years in development so far: 3.5 for United Land; 6 for Virginia Land
Major obstacle: BOS approval
Buzz: America's favorite retail store
Buzz-kill: Critics allege it'll bring U.S. 29 to a standstill.
Downtown Mall-ness rating: 5
Hollymead Town Center
When seventh-generation Charlottesville native Wendell Wood first started building in 1961, the process was a simple matter of going to the County to get a permit.
Forty-two years later, in the spacious offices of United Land Company on U.S. 29 north, Wood displays a six-inch-high stack of traffic studies he's done for the Hollymead Town Center. It cost $250,000, and he can tell you the number of cars that will turn into his "town center" below Airport Road at peak traffic in 2008.
He's interrupted by a phone call, and he returns to announce that the Board of Supervisors has just voted to postpone his June 11 public hearing until July 16– even though no Hollymead representatives were there, and they weren't on the agenda.
"Another delay," is all he'll say in front of a reporter.
Wood has been working on Hollymead Town Center for 42 months. "I think that's a little excessive," he allows.
Hollymead is the most complicated of the three projects, tying together three separate developers– Wood, the Kessler Group, and Dr. Charles Hurt's Virginia Land Company– who each own land south of Airport Road across from Hollymead, the subdivision. The County strongly suggested the three work together so that Hollymead, the town center, would look like one center.
"Can you imagine three developers working together?" asks Wood.
Even the County acknowledges the difficulty of three developers cooperating on a project, especially when "it's not always to their advantage to do so," says county senior planner Michael Barnes.
Still, overall, Wood thinks the project with its residential, shopping, and office spaces– embodies the essence of the neighborhood model. "What it doesn't have is residents on top of Giant," he says. "It stops short of that."
Wood owns 102 acres of the 163-acre parcel– called "Section B" in county parlance. It's the portion that will house Target and Giant. He's developing it with Dierman Reality and Regency Centers. The latter is a $3-billion company specializing in grocery-anchored neighborhood retail centers.
Virginia Land Company's 37 acres– Section C– will contain smaller retail and offices, and could have up to 120 residential areas, according to Barnes.
And Section D, the 24 acres owned by the Kessler Group, will be almost entirely residential, with 150 to 300 townhouse or apartment units.
Wood displays a virtual tour of the proposed center as shoppers would approach it from the north. The county suggested that the 146,000-sq.-ft. Target on the right be angled to present a less monolithic brick façade long the highway.
"Target spent about $700,000 more than usual for décor," says Wood. In front of the store, normally 10-foot-wide sidewalks will be 25 feet wide and covered with pergolas.
He points to parking lots arranged at various levels to avoid creating the sea of cars that engulfs most shopping centers. Parking behind the building, called "relegated parking"– a neighborhood model signature element– is included here, even if developers, businesses, and customers aren't sure anybody wants to park in back of where they're shopping.
And the town center incorporates another trend of urban planning, a roundabout.
Wood says of the 2.5 miles of sidewalks, "It's about as pedestrian-friendly as you can get."
Even though Hollymead Town Center is in the Growth Area and attempts to conform to the tenets of New Urbanism, critics are clamoring for the Board of Supervisors to deny the rezoning because of traffic concerns and VDOT's estimate that improvements to the north 29 infrastructure will cost $100 million.
Wood counters that the developers have made $4 million in proffers– offers developers make to sweeten deals– that include building Ridge Road, a parallel road that will extend to Airport Road, two left turn lanes on 29, signals, a third southbound lane along the highway, and a southbound turn lane.
The county and VDOT want Hollymead developers to build an extra northbound lane, as well as re-grade 800 feet on southbound 29 to get rid of the hills.
"We are contributing improvements that mitigate our impact, and we're willing to be the first to be committed to join the CDA," says Wood, speaking of the Community Development Authority, a voluntary tax paid by developers that adds $.25 per $100 to Albemarle's regular $.76 per $100 property tax. It's a means of raising money to pay for road improvements that cash-strapped VDOT can't fund. "And they say we don't pay our share," complains Wood.
"The improvements need to be done to 29," he continues. "We're not supposed to have to build roads. This is for the public good. The public should be doing it."
PEC's Werner says that Hollymead Town Center, which offers "some wonderful things," is a luxury the area simply can't afford. "I'm challenging people in this community: Why should you be taxed so people of Louisa can drive to Target?"
He also scoffs at the idea that if the supervisors don't approve the Hollymead rezoning, Charlottesville won't get a Target. "Target will come with or without Hollymead," he says. "Target officials would be foolish if they're not hedging their bet by looking at other sites."
He adds: "Why do we want gridlock on 29 to get a Target? We already have Wal-Mart."
Currently, county studies have documented 43,000 car trips a day on U.S. 29 between Hollymead and Forest Lakes. The town center's $250K study calculates that the development will generate an additional 39,000 car trips a day. Wood calls that claim "a fallacy" resulting from study statistics equating one house with seven car trips a day.
"Where are these 39,000 cars coming from?" he asks. "If Barracks Road were built today, it would generate 50,000 cars according to this formula."
He also disputes county estimates that Hollymead Town Center will bring $1.3 million in tax revenues to county coffers. "Ours shows $3 million," he says. And that's strictly from Section B.
Now it's up to the Board of Supervisors to decide the project's fate in a community engorged with newcomers who want to slow growth. [See sidebar.]
"We have played by the rules," says Wood, adding an observation reiterated by other developers: "I don't build anything you don't want. I respond to the market."
Location: U.S. 29 north between Proffit Road and the Rivanna River
Developer: Great Eastern Management Company
Developer known for: Seminole Square and Pantops shopping centers
Designers: Keeney & Co., Shank & Gray
Land: 269 acres
Under roof: 664,000 sq. ft.
Retail slots: 50-70 stores
Residential units: 893
Other: 177,000 sq. ft. public/semi-public spaces
Anchors: As yet unnamed department store and grocery store
Hot attractions: Public amphitheater; walking, biking, nature trails
Cost: $250 million
Status with county brass: Booted from BOS in May back to Planning Commission, which did not recommend approval in December
Projected groundbreaking: Spring 2004
Projected completion: 5 to 10 year build-out
Years in development so far: 9
Major obstacle: County frowning on cul-de-sacs, convenient parking (v. relegated parking)
Buzz: Perfect for Greene County shoppers
Buzz-kill: Fitting a big box into neighborhood model
Downtown Mall-ness rating: 3
The offices of Great Eastern Management are tucked into a unit at Westgate Apartments. Chuck Rotgin and Don Wagner have been working together for 30 years; Wagner says he can't retire until they get their most ambitious project under way.
That may take a while, because North Pointe also happens to be the most controversial of the three developments along U.S. 29 north.
"We're in the crosshairs," says Rotgin, "and the community is at a tipping point."
Rotgin and Wagner see the problems facing North Pointe and Hollymead Town Center as part of a bigger story: the regulatory environment in the county, and the "lack of commitment" to business.
"The economic burden of operating the county has fallen upon owners of homes rather than spread through a business base," says Rotgin.
The two are also critical of county land use policy that they say has encouraged sprawl through its large-lot zoning. They believe North Pointe, with its high density of nearly five units per acre, is a solution to the sprawl that results from people moving to rural areas. And their project is geared to dovetail into the full build-out of Forest Lakes and Hollymead subdivisions.
Don't get them going on the neighborhood model. They acknowledge that they're the first to propose a development that isn't a pure version, but they contend the neighborhood model was not supposed to be the only form of development allowed in the county.
Wagner served on the County's Development-area Initiative Steering Committee (aka DISC) that worked out the principles for high density, mixed-use development. "The neighborhood model is one form of development, but one size does not fit all," he says. "There's still a place in the world for the hated big box. Go out to Lowe's on a Saturday."
Other developers, while unwilling to speak on the record, say that the neighborhood model is being shoved down their throats, whether it's appropriate or not. For instance, one had to explain how a drive-up window met the 12 principles of the neighborhood model.
An aspect of the neighborhood model that particularly peeves the Great Eastern team is the county's insistence on "relegated parking"– parking at the sides and back of a building rather than in front. "There's vehement opposition to it from the development community," says Rotgin. "Women want to feel comfortable and safe," and having to walk behind buildings to get to their cars makes them nervous. He also says major retailers like Target, Kohl, Giant, and Kroger don't like relegated parking.
Rotgin and Wagner are not shy about voicing their concerns. They have a public relations firm to help get their message out. And Rotgin has met with groups hostile to development, such as Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population.
Meanwhile, opponents to North Pointe and Hollymead Town Center are massing. In May, representatives from Citizens for Albemarle, Trade Local, Piedmont Environmental Council, Alliance for Community Choice in Transportation, and Alternatives to Paving called a press conference to air their concerns.
Former City Council candidate and Alternatives to Paving member Stratton Salidis doesn't like the pollution potential of North Pointe's location right on a steep slope beside the Rivanna River.
"Another thing that irks me is just over three percent is affordable housing," he says, calling the project "autocentric."
"North Pointe is business as usual– sprawl," says PEC's Werner.
He's concerned about how North Pointe will affect traffic on Proffit Road and Route 20. "There's no adequate plan to construct and fund transportation infrastructure," he says. "On a broader picture, the county has in its six-year road plan a finite amount of money."
Rotgin argues that North Pointe will alleviate traffic problems on 29. "We've agreed to add a third lane on 29 from Proffit Road to the north entrance of North Pointe opposite Lewis and Clark, the entrance to North Fork Research Park. That's a long way– 1.5 miles at a cost of $1 million."
They've also offered to build a parallel road on the west side of 29 to link Northside to Cypress drives so a crossover on 29 can be moved. And a Berkmar Drive-like spine road to keep traffic off 29 brings their proffers to around $4 million.
North Pointe, too, is willing to be part of a community development authority. "We'll be able to increase the value of infrastructure with the improvements we're willing to make," says Rotgin, a long-time area resident.
"North Pointe is the epicenter of the growth area between Ruckersville and Charlottesville," he continues. And by building a mixed-use center there, "We firmly believe we're protecting the rural character of the county. No one wants to see Albemarle paved over."
Location: U.S. 29 north at Hydraulic Road around Sperry Marine
Developer: Landonomics in Chicago
Project master planner: Cox Company
Known for: UVA Medical Center expansion, UVA Aquatic Center, Redfields
Designer: K.A. Architects of Cleveland
Land: 67 acres
Under roof: 1.9 million sq. ft.
Retail slots: 80 stores
Residential units: 600-800 high-end apartments
Other: 250,000 sq. ft. office and research facilities
Anchors: As yet unsigned upscale East Coast department store
Hot attractions: 14-screen, stadium-seating theater; restaurants and cafés
Cost: $250 million
Status with county brass: Staff loves it; needs BOS rezoning approval
Projected groundbreaking: Spring 2004
Projected completion: Fall 2005, with a 5-year build-out
Years in development so far: 4
Major obstacle: "Getting through the political process"
Buzz: Upscale shopping, favorite of no-growthers
Buzz-kill: Will the Hydraulic/29 intersection get even worse?
Downtown Mall-ness rating: 7
Frank Cox is a patient man. Now in his fourth year of trying to get Albemarle Place built, he knew that being a test case for Albemarle County's New Urbanism concept would be "a long and arduous effort."
He's even philosophical about it: "When you do what we do for a living, you learn to live with missed deadlines and shunted aspirations."
Unlike other developers, Cox is positive about the length of time it's taken for his project to wend its way through the county's process. He even likes some of the suggestions the planning staff has made, such as putting townhouses instead of a parking deck along Hydraulic Road. (Whether the residents of those townhouses like living on a busy street remains to be seen.)
Still, even his patience has its limits. "It's very important to the owners to get zoning approval by early fall," he says. Without the rezoning in hand, the owner, Albeville Station LP, can't sign retail tenants.
"The strategy is to open mid- to late fall 2005 to catch the full selling season," he explains. "We don't want to move in after the holiday season. And if groundbreaking doesn't begin this spring, the developers will have lost another year."
Of the three new developments, Albemarle Place most closely conforms to the neighborhood model. "It's more dense and more intense," says county senior planner Michael Barnes. And its location encircling Sperry Marine "meets urban infill goals."
Rather than fields of asphalt, Albemarle Place has parking decks. Its location at Hydraulic and 29 provides transportation access.
"Albemarle Place I consider to be the lesser of all evils," says Alternatives to Pavement rep Stratton Salidis. "It's closer in, it has structured parking, and it can create a more pedestrian friendly environment because you don't have 10-acre parking lots."
PEC's Jeff Warner is also less critical of Albemarle Place than of the other developments. "This is an interesting project because you've got a far more efficient use of that land, and you've got a focus on the transportation component." He notes that both Hydraulic Road and the Hillsdale connector are in the county's limited six-year road plan.
Albemarle Place also limited big box potential by promising that no building would have a larger footprint than 75,000 square feet. "That caused us enormous concern at first," says Cox. "Some retailers are excluded unless we can convince them to be in a two-story building."
Cox won't name the retailers being courted, but he drops hints that stores like Crate and Barrel, Ann Taylor, and Virgin Records, and franchise restaurants like Macaroni Grill could be possible.
Albemarle Place is designed to lure in shopping addicts, and once they're there, not to let them go until they've lunched, shopped, eaten dinner, and seen a movie, he says.
Is it possible to have too much retail in the county? Cox thinks not, citing a study reporting that retail sales in this area totaled $1.7 billion in 2000, or about $10,800 per person in the Charlottesville area.
Even more enticing to developers is the estimated $240 million in leaked sales– shoppers who headed to Tysons Corner or Georgetown or Richmond to spend big bucks outside Albemarle County.
"What I've seen here is that new store competition really stimulates the entire region," observes Cox.
He believes Barracks Road Shopping Center had become complacent until Fashion Square Mall came along. Likewise, Fashion Square was "a tad threadbare" until it spent millions in improvements after Albemarle Place was announced and "captured a handful of tenants that would have come here to our project."
There's been some concern that Albemarle Place will pose a threat to the Downtown Mall. Cox discounts that notion. "Folks who shop at Barracks Road and Fashion Square Mall never come to the Downtown Mall," he says. Or hardly ever, anyway. A study of Wal-Mart shoppers shows that while they come there two to four times a month, they visit the Downtown Mall only once or twice a year.
"The Downtown Mall is unique to a 60-mile radius," says Cox. "It's got an entertainment constituency, not retail. It's not oriented to shopping addicts. We want to attract shopping addicts. Experts did not recommend that we compete with a historic center like the Downtown Mall. They said, 'You'll lose.'"