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Urban Development Areas (UDA) have been a big topic of discussion and debate recently among Virginia localities, Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO) and Planning District Commissions (PDC) as it relates to transportation and the HB2 project prioritization process.  The HB2 process, enacted in 2014 by the General Assembly, creates a new framework for the way in which the Commonwealth Transportation Board selects and prioritizes projects.

The Virginia Multimodal Transportation Plan (VTrans2040) contains a pre-screening for the HB2 process. This filter, if you will, ensures that a project application must fall into one of three categories:  Corridors of Statewide Significance (CoSS), Regional Networks and Urban Development Areas.  The focus on this, and a series of future articles, is the UDA.

As way of an introduction, let’s start with some fundamental facts about the legislation (§15.2-2223.1 of the Code of Virginia):

  • Any county, city or town may amend their comprehensive plan (and future land use map) to include UDA(s).
  • UDAs are designed to handle a locality’s projected residential and commercial growth from 10 to 20 years.
  • The Code recognizes that UDAs are designed to be ideal for high-density residential and commercial uses, due to their location to transportation networks.
  • UDAs must be zoned in order to accommodate a minimum development density of:
    • Four single-family residences
    • Six townhouses
    • 12 apartments or condominium units
    • Floor area ratio of at least 0.4 per acre for commercial development

Initial Comments

Over the past year, the Virginia Secretary of Transportation’s office held various public meetings and comment periods as it endeavors to implement HB2 policy. During that process, localities, MPOs and PDCs have provided input which has helped shape HB2 policy.  For context of where we are and where we have been, here are some initial comments submitted from the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization with applicable updates (in bold):

  • Hypothetically, if UDAs are not accepted by a community (prior to HB2’s implementation), what are the negative effects relative to project prioritization for such communities?  Localities cannot apply for local projects that must impact a UDA, and are therefore limited to applying to the other two categories.
  • With regard to compliance with HB2’s Land Use and Transportation Coordination factor, will there be a review and approval process for localities developing UDAs?  Guidance and grant assistance is being provided by the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, with localities submitting comprehensive plan amendments and/or resolutions for inclusion. 
  • Assuming that such guidance will be developed for communities that did not apply for Urban Development Areas Technical Assistance Grant Program, must a Comprehensive Plan refer to §15.2-2223.1 and/or is the community’s governing body required to make a resolution affirming compliance with the Code of Virginia?  Yes.  There is a two-pronged approach to UDA compliance:  formal establishment and naming of UDAs and the recognition of “UDA-like” areas which have existing elements but may be referred to as village centers, mixed-use districts, etc.
  • There is emphasis on the creation of UDAs for communities of all sizes, citing that the principles of urban/village development areas are applicable to all localities. With regard to predominately rural counties like those in far Southwest Virginia with little to no population growth, what is the correlation between the designation of UDAs and priority for HB2 governed transportation projects?  The creation of “UDA-like” areas may better suit rural localities, however, there remains concern that there be no priority distinction between these areas and formalized UDAs.

Next time we will discuss technical assistance and MPO/PDC review and consultation with localities when establishing UDAs.

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