Albemarle Co. explores program to help build more affordable housing; asks for concert series ‘DORA’

Published: May. 4, 2022 at 10:47 PM EDT
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ALBEMARLE Co., Va. (WVIR) - Albemarle County is moving toward a new plan with an end goal of more newly-built affordable housing.

County employees brought the Affordable Dwelling Unit Program back in front of the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday. The program would take a zoning amendment to implement, and it was received well by supervisors.

A few Virginia localities already have an ADU Program, which provides a list of incentives for developers to build more affordable housing, on the books. Supervisor Ned Gallaway wants to make sure that list is not too restrictive.

“Anytime we start putting things in writing, in ordinances, in all of that, then we think that’s all that can happen,” Gallaway said. “To me, that limits the flexibility on our side, and also would limit the flexibility on the developers’ side.”

The county said it’s common for these ordinances to require a certain percentage of units to be affordable and to set a maximum affordable rental rate, for-sale price, and square footage standards.

“Setting the square footage... will provide smaller units and potentially more what we used to call ‘starter home’ sizes,” said Stacy Pethia, the county’s housing policy manager. “The entire country, not just Albemarle County, has moved away from [homes of that size]. And it makes them more affordable for lower-income and moderate-income households to purchase.”

Chair Donna Price was wary of the size requirements.

“But if you’ve built 100 units, 80 of which are market-rate at 3,000 square feet, and 20 are affordable at 1,800 square feet, what you’ve basically done is identify and likely stigmatize those individuals that moved into the affordable housing,” Price said. “‘Oh, you live in the small house.’”

The county also discussed the importance of having a waitlist of income-eligible households, allowing county staff including teachers, police officers, and firefighters to begin the waitlist sign-up.

“That will really help ensure the units, particularly those units that are affordable for sale, actually get purchased by income-qualified households,” Pethia said.

The board also expressed approval for a Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area at the Shops at Stonefield for over a dozen events as part of a concert series. Pending ABC approval, attendees would be allowed to buy drinks sold in special cups and carry them around the shopping center, and even some stores.

“I really appreciate the innovation, looking for new ways to enhance the quality of life, the fun, and as we saw, substantially increase the traffic flow and business to the shops that are there,” Price said.

The DORA vote was unanimous, though a couple of supervisors asked county staff to explore ways to keep the event environmentally friendly because the special cups as proposed would be made of plastic.

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