County reviews 20-year construction against population growth

Details of 20-year “theoretical construction estimates” for all building types. Courtesy of Albemarle County Planning Department.

Albemarle County planners presented a draft of their analysis of land use construction in 2022 to both the planning commission and the board of supervisors in May and June, and the report’s findings recalled with force the tension between housing needs and the density of development in the county. . Developed as part of Albemarle’s comprehensive plan review process which begins by reviewing its growth management policy, the analysis attempts to determine whether current planned construction aligns with the county’s expected population growth over 20 year.

Asked whether the county will have enough housing to support its population in twenty years, the report’s answer is a tentative “yes,” though the arrangements have left several council members unsettled. “I don’t think our current growth policy meets the needs and demands we see,” said supervisor Ned Gallaway. “I really think we have to go through this and come up with a new growth management policy.”

Planning consultant Jessica Rossi of Kimley-Horn explained that the study focused only on development areas in the county, not rural areas, to assess building potential. “We started by identifying plots that might have potential for development or redevelopment,” she said. “We looked at empty plots with no structure and plots where the value of the land was higher than the value of the improvements, suggesting that a property might have potential for redevelopment. Perhaps the structure of this property has lived its life and is ready for the next use.

Summary of current pipeline projects and the county’s “build estimate” for future development. Courtesy of Albemarle County Planning Department.

The analysts did not make a plot-by-plot study of building possibilities, but rather applied their assumptions to all of the development zones. “There are things we can’t predict: we can’t predict owners’ preferences and how developers might choose to develop a property, [so] what we did was look at the max build [potential] property,” said county planner Rachel Falkenstein. This means that the study used building densities proposed in master plans and master plans, not those for which properties are currently zoned, which are often much lower.

“Stage 2 refined the assumptions from stage one to ensure we were field verification properties that were identified for future development opportunities,” Rossi said. “And our third step looked at properties that were either already approved or under review and removed them from the model so they weren’t double-counted, because we already know what those approval numbers are.”

Initially, the developable area of ​​each property was reduced to take into account possible environmental constraints, infrastructure needs and preservation of open space, although this approach was not applied to the demand side of the analysis. “It is important to note that demand may be constrained due to factors such as land availability, development costs, access to infrastructure and environmental factors, and these constraints have not been considered in demand forecast,” Rossi said. “So we created a maximal theoretical construct and compared it to an unconstrained demand forecast.”

The analysis used three sources of population forecasts through 2040 to forecast demand, and the projections were relatively consistent across sources. Population projections ranged from 138,000 to approximately 143,000 countywide, compared to the county’s 2020 population of 112,000. occupancy and recent building trends, along with population growth estimates, to predict a 20-year residential growth demand of 11,000 to 13,500 units to be built in the county.

On the supply side, across all designated growth areas in the county, the residential development pipeline currently contains 14,881 units as of February 2022, and notional land use construction is considering an additional 9,265 units, for a total of 24,146 units as maximum construction. . As this number exceeds the 20-year demand forecast of 11,500 to 13,500 units, the report concludes that “there appears to be sufficient land available for residential and non-residential growth in existing development areas” over the past few years. next 20 years.

However, the model makes several key assumptions that historically have not proven true. Chief among these is that development will always occur at the highest level of density possible within each area’s master land use plan. The planners themselves reported that since 2016 the supervisory board has only approved new development projects at a rate of just 58% of their potential maximum.

“We should probably go back to the last 15 or 20 years, maybe see what the trend is over 20 years [on density approvals]said supervisor Ned Gallaway, “so you incorporate different philosophies and board decisions, but you probably also get what a true max will be. I think we could learn from that.

“We’re probably not going to approach this maximum build in the future,” said board chair Donna Price. “Is there any reason to believe that the future construction [rate] will be better than the past? I do not think so. In fact, I think it’s less likely in the future, because more development means more people and more people means more “not in my backyard” [attitude]. We hear that with every request that comes to us—people who live in development areas believe in their minds that it should remain as rural as undeveloped rural areas. And it is not. »

Price acknowledged that the general reluctance to build densely has serious implications. “If we don’t build in … development areas as much as possible, we will be in rural areas much sooner than expected,” she said. “We have to look in the mirror, council, because we’re the ones who have to increase the density when we do the approvals.”

Supervisor LaPisto-Kirtley said the forecast came as no surprise. “I’ve heard constituents in my constituency say, ‘Can’t you keep people out?’ “, did she say. “It won’t happen because people will keep coming here, and I’ve always told my constituents that in development areas we will go higher and denser. I wish it was along Rt. 29 where we already have the services and infrastructure, but that will be a question many of us will have to answer. I think eventually we will probably go to rural areas.

Supervisor McKeel expressed her belief that climate migration should be factored into any population forecasting model, as Albemarle County has a safer climate than many in the country and this factor will attract more new residents. “My gut tells me, when I look at the fires, the storms, the floods and all that’s going on, [that climate migration will be an issue here]. I think [because] we have a major medical center, I think we’re going to start seeing climate migration.

Falkenstein noted that the issue was raised with Weldon Cooper, one of the companies that produced population projections for the analysis. “We asked them that question, and they didn’t think [climate migration] would have a huge impact on our population projection aggregators,” she said. McKeel said she respectfully disagreed and added that she fears Albemarle will become “primarily a retirement community for wealthy white people”.

Another concern with the analysis is that some of the units currently “approved” in the development pipeline, taken as facts by Kimley-Horn, are obsolete numbers. For example, Old Trail’s initial approval of 2,200 units is still included in Crozet’s construction estimate, even though Old Trail has said in recent years that it will likely only build 1,200 units.

White Hall board representative Ann Mallek said the board needed to show “respect” as it moved forward. “The presentation said we just have to get used to more density because we’re going to be Arlington in 50 years,” she said. “I don’t think anyone in our county today wants to be Arlington 50 years from now. We now have residents who need better places to live, but there is no connection between relaxing our regulations and getting more of the types of housing that we certainly need.

Mallek also spoke of respect for existing residents, in addition to those projected. “There are also 110,000 people, or about 50,000 families, who have already made the biggest investment they’ve ever made in their homes, and they have rights too,” she said. “So balancing all of these rights of current people against future people who are going to come is a real challenge, and also understanding that we may not have room for absolutely everything. I can only represent people in my riding, and many of them are still reeling from the rapid growth of the past 20 years. So I look forward to many more details in the future.