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Nelson board approves rezoning for apartment units in Afton

Nelson board approves rezoning for apartment units in Afton

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Construction of eight two-family units on Virginia 151 in Afton has zoning clearance from Nelson County to proceed.

The Nelson County Board of Supervisors on Nov. 9 unanimously approved rezoning the property from its split-zoning of Residential (R-1) and Agricultural (A-1) to Service Enterprise (SE-1) to allow the construction of eight two-family dwellings and to conduct agricultural operations on the property.

Justin Shimp, owner of Rockfish Apartments LLC, seeks to add to the 14 units he currently has on a part of the property on Mountain View Drive.

The site is located along a commercial and service-oriented corridor where affordable housing is in short supply and high demand, according to county documents attached to the application request.

During a recent presentation to the Nelson County Planning Commission, Shimp said he hoped to use the spare land for a small Christmas tree farm that could be used by his family for years to come.

According to the application submitted by Rockfish Apartments LLC to rezone the 16 acres, certain proffers were given for the use of the land, but they did not strike out every potential use. Proffers given eliminated the opportunity for a farm winery, farm brewery, and restaurants, among other uses.

Shimp said the 16 units in the eight buildings would be a mix of single and two-bedroom apartments.

“We have learned there is a tremendous shortage of rental houses in the community,” he told supervisors. “There simply is nothing available and the prices are high. We need more projects like this to help the community with some of those pressures.”

He said the project in his opinion is a step toward providing more options for many struggling to find housing.

“This is a beautiful neighborhood. I live there,” Shimp said. “I’m not going anywhere. And the reality is a lot people cannot afford to live around the area.”

County resident Anne Landry spoke against the project during a public hearing.

“Why are we approving a super dense development along [the] 151 corridor while we have so many failing drain systems, particularly in that area, in an accident-prone area?” Landry said.

She urged the board to delay action and said it needs more restrictions.

Supervisor Tommy Harvey said he had no problem with the housing part of the request.

“There’s no question the need is there,” Harvey said.

Harvey asked Dylan Bishop, director of planning and zoning, if the SE1 is the only zoning district he could have to achieve the apartments.

“To achieve the density he is looking for, yes,” Bishop said in response.

Chair Ernie Reed said the SE-1 is appropriate zoning for the property and what Shimp intends to do. As the board’s representative to the commission, he supported it during its 5-1 vote in late October to recommend approval.

“I certainly would like to see more housing, which I think is important,” Reed said. “I think this is a good location for it. I think the application is thoughtful.”

Supervisor David Parr said the need for more affordable housing is a constant source of discussion and he supports the development.

“I think it’s a well-thought-out project,” Parr said. “Is it the end of the world if a veterinary office ends up on the property? I certainly don’t think so.”

Rockfish Ranch project draws concerns during public comments

In other news from the board’s Nov. 9 meeting, a Charlottesville-based company’s plan to develop vacation houses, a farm winery and associated infrastructure in a project called Rockfish Ranch drew concerns from a few residents during the board’s public comments period.

The property at 45 Quarter Lane in Shipman is zoned Agricultural (A-1) and proposed by-right uses include a farm winery and vineyard, equestrian area and agritourism activities, 25 vacation cabins and associated accessory uses and infrastructure, according to county documents.

The by-right status means the site plan application does not require a public hearing as part of a special use permit or rezoning review process as it goes before county officials. Bishop said if any permanent structures are proposed with the project in the future, a special use permit for events in that structure would be required.

So far in the process, uses proposed in the application are by-right uses, according to Bishop. Vacation houses were added as a by-right use to the zoning ordinance in 2016 and are defined as a “house rental to transients,” Bishop said.

Jennifer Norwood, who lives on Stagebridge Road near the project, said by-right zoning allow citizens some relief from permitting on agricultural land.

“They were not created for out-of-town developers to avoid proper review of commercial projects,” Norwood said. “The county gets to decide what is by right, not the developer. By failing to take stand on an egregious attempt to subvert county bylaws, the board affirms the developer’s exploitation of a potential loophole, a precedent others eagerly will follow.”

Norwood said “cherry picking” which parts of zoning bylaws work for a developer while ignoring others shouldn’t be allowed.

“The Board of Supervisors must demand transparency and honesty, especially for out-of-county developers who are buying agricultural property for commercial use,” said Norwood to supervisors. “You need to take action now or Nelson will slide toward adult Disneyland. Developers will clear the hillsides, slapping up by-right vacation homes as fast they can.”

Barbara Larson, who also lives on Stagebridge Road, described Rockfish Ranch’s plans as a “backdoor approach.”

“We’re not anti-growth. We know Nelson County needs to offer more high-paying jobs and also offer more affordable housing for residents,” said Larson. “This proposed development does neither.”

Larson said if the development occurs it should do so on commercial-zoned property.

“We do not wish to wish to see all of Nelson County become a bedroom community for Charlottesville or other large cities,” said Larson. “Just because Rockfish Ranch contends it can develop the property by right doesn’t make it right. This is not an appropriate development for agricultural land.”


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