NEWS- Unwelcome mat: 'Stale zoning' puts Faulconer in Ivy

Faulconer Construction currently parks its rigs at this facility just off Rio Road.

For six years Faulconer Construction Company has tried to build an office and maintenance shop in upscale Ivy. For six years residents have resisted. Both sides filed lawsuits against Albemarle County. Now the legal dust has finally settled in Faulconer's favor, giving the company the approvals it needs to start grading.

The saga began in 2000, when Billy Dettor sold 27 acres in Ivy Business Park off Morgantown Road  to Faulconer for $335,000. On land zoned light industrial in a mostly rural community– and now assessed at a cool $1.172 million– Faulconer planned to build a site to maintain the dozers and loaders it uses to make roads and mammoth building projects like the John Paul Jones arena. 

When residents got wind of Faulconer's plans in 2001, they objected to the idea of heavy trucks sharing narrow Morgantown Road with school buses. Murray Elementary School and a preschool are just down the street from the site.

Citizens, including current school board member Brian Wheeler, formed the Ivy Community Association and whipped out their checkbooks, suing Albemarle for okaying a heavy-equipment yard in a light-industrial zone. Albemarle Circuit Court sided with the county brass, and the suit was appealed until it was rejected by the Supreme Court of Virginia in late 2004.

Meanwhile, an outraged community voiced its concerns to the often growth-wary Board of Supervisors, which rejected Faulconer's site plan in October 2004, listing eight conditions that had to be met for approval.

Condition number 8– that the road be adequate to handle projected traffic– caused Faulconer to file a suit of its own. In December 2005, Albemarle Circuit Court Judge Paul Peatross ruled in favor of Faulconer against the County, noting that Virginia had adopted the Dillon Rule which says that local governments can't impose off-site conditions (such as improving a road) unless the General Assembly specifically grants such powers.

Since Faulconer's site plan was approved in April, the company has posted bond and can begin grading the site, although it hasn't applied for a building permit. Faulconer president Jack Sanford did not return phone calls from the Hook. However, resigned residents vow to keep a close watch on the construction.

"We're going to keep an eye on whether all the i's are dotted and t's crossed," promises Ivy Community Association president Shawn Evans, whose backyard adjoins the Faulconer property. He still thinks the location of the equipment yard is problematic and has the potential to violate county ordinances, such as noise.

But Evans is resigned to seeing massive flatbeds travel in front of his house. "The feeling of inevitability comes from big business having more money than individuals," he says. "Certainly if we had more money we'd explore more legal options."

He's dubious about Faulconer being a good neighbor. "Mr. Sanford hasn't tried to talk to us," he says. "They seem to not want to."

County development director Mark Graham blames the Faulconer situation on "stale zoning." The Ivy Business Park was approved when Ivy was zoned a village; now it's zoned rural.

"Things were done in a prior time that don't really fit the current zoning," says Graham. "We couldn't go in and rezone spot by spot. With 20-20 hindsight, I wish the county had fixed those when Ivy changed from a village to a rural area."

He acknowledges that the Dillon Rule hamstrings the county, even when safety is an issue.

"The idea that Albemarle could demand road ugrades– Virginia law does not allow it," says Graham, predicting that this isn't the last time commerce will move into a rural neighborhood. "We do have some stale zoning," says Graham, "and those will be controversial when people try to develop them."