"In your face": PEC attacks new Kluge plan
Perhaps nothing has rallied residents of southern Albemarle like the proposal by winery owners Patricia Kluge and Bill Moses to scatter 28 houses among vineyards on a 511-acre parcel. While the couple withdrew their unusual proposal, dubbed Vineyard Estates, last week, not all opponents are appeased.
Why not? Because the couple is planning a conventional subdivision, and there's nothing on the books to stop them.
"Sour grapes," is how Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council describes the new plan for the would-be vineyard and neighborhood, which supporters had portrayed as environmentally superior to what can be built without a special use permit.
Gone are the smaller lots and 330-acre preservation tract. In their place are 31 lots ranging from two acres to 27 acres in three subdivisions.
"If this is what they can do with the county's by-right rules, then it's time to take another look at the regulations," Werner says.
Kluge and Moses were out of town and referred calls to their attorney, Steve Blaine, who explains why the couple abandoned their innovative plan.
"It required action by the Board of Supervisors," says Blaine. "There was such an uproar about it, and when we consulted the supervisors, we weren't confident they'd support us."
When Moses initially surveyed the supes, the plan was greeted with enthusiasm– until they found out that part of the property is in an agricultural-forestal district.
Virginia commissioner of agriculture J. Carlton Courter III is a supporter of the Vineyard Estates plan. In a letter to the Planning Commission, he argues that far from being a dangerous precedent in an ag-forestal district, the preservation tract would keep two-thirds of the land in open space and agricultural production. "I believe granting this special use permit makes more sense than the 'by-right' alternative," he writes the commission.
The Planning Commission recommended denial of the special use permit on October 7. More than 200 people, including novelist John Grisham, crowded the meeting to demonstrate their dismay.
Blaine says it's now "questionable" whether any vineyards will be planted on the property. "They have other areas for planting vineyards," he says.
"For them to say, 'We can't do our vineyards,' that's bull," charges Werner. "For them to become martyrs is too much theater for me. If they wanted to plant vineyards, they could have."
Werner says the PEC and the neighbors are "extremely disappointed" with the "in your face" plan for three subdivisions. One is called Blenheim View, and Werner says the neighbors perceive it as a slight to the owner of neighboring Blenheim. That historic property is owned by Val Matthews, mother of rocker Dave Matthews.
Are Kluge and Moses trying to stick it to their uncooperative neighbors?
"I don't believe that's how they view it," says Blaine. "They felt disappointment and anger. But in the end they're going to do what's best for their own interests. This is where they live."
So why did the neighbors object to what some call an innovative proposal? Blaine suggests they didn't want any subdivision.
"Certain elements who knew what they were doing thought that my clients would go away if they didn't get approval. Maybe they thought we were bluffing," he says.
Blaine calls the "high emotion" whipped up by the attempt to alter the agricultural-forestal district a "red herring" because the designation still allows development. "You can still do the 21-acre lots," he says, "that you can do anywhere else in the county."
"A lot of people were surprised at what's permissible in an ag-forestal district," says Green Mountain Road resident Paula Beazley. "I haven't seen their plans, but my reaction in general is that it seems inappropriate to be building a subdivision in an ag-for district."
And, says Beazley, the issues remain the same: water and traffic. "This may suggest that by-right zoning is not consistent with the comprehensive plan and with protecting the rural areas. Once you start developing the agricultural areas," she warns, "they're gone for good."
Longtime resident Virginia Klumpp of Keelona Farm is pleased that Kluge and Moses have dropped the Vineyard Estates project and are going for a more traditional subdivision. "Everyone is relieved," says Klumpp.
And she enjoyed the sense of community that resulted from uniting against the residents of 45-room Albemarle House. "I've gotten a chance to meet some wonderful people," she says.
Klumpp is still concerned about water on the property. Both she and Beazley say that area is known for its problems. "We lost two wells here," says Klumpp, who was appalled when a Kluge supporter said there was plenty of water on the property. "I wanted to boo him," she says.
"That area is one of the first to have problems around here," says Beazley, who adds that a realtor warned her 10 years ago there was a water problem in the area.
Currently, water studies are not required to build subdivisions, according to county planner Yadira Amarante. "The county is talking about looking at a study from the owner before subdividing, but that's not part of the ordinance now," she says.
As to further obstacles for the new subdivisions, Amarante says, "There's nothing about these plans that tell me it wouldn't be appropriate as a by-right use."
If the project doesn't need waivers, it won't go before the Planning Commission– unless a commissioner or an abutting property owner calls it up before the commission. Does Amarante expect that to happen? "Yes," she says without hesitation.
But even if the plan is called up before the commission, Amarante says she's never known it to deny a by-right use. "They don't have that discretion," she says.
Meanwhile, in the same area, another subdivision, Blenheim Ridge, which has nothing to do with the Kluge project, has gotten preliminary approval to subdivide 30 acres. The Marjorie W. Jones trust is dividing two parcels into five lots ranging from four to nine acres each. And because it's by-right, the project didn't need Planning Commission review.
Vineyard Estates may become three subdivisions: Blenheim View Estates with six lots, Meadow Estates with eight lots, and Orchard Estates with 17 lots.
FILE PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO
Residents of Patricia Kluge's three new subdivisions won't have far to go for an espresso.
FILE PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO