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City Planning Commission recommends new homes along Water Street extended
by Effie Nicholaou | Friday, January 17, 2014 at 3:35 p.m.

A plan to build two dozen homes between downtown Charlottesville and Carlton Avenue along Water Street Extended received support from the Charlottesville Planning Commission.

If a rezoning is granted for the Water Street Promenade by the City CouncilRiverbend Development would be able to build nine more homes than the 15 allowed by-right.

“We tried to design this to look something like the Fan in Richmond and not have a suburban product,” said Riverbend’s president, Alan Taylor. “The lot width in the [current zoning] is 50 feet. These lot widths are going to be between 35 to 38 feet, and we just thought it was a more urban product.”

Plans for the site include 24 three-story houses, each with a basement and garage, the donation of the historic Coal Tower to the city, and public open space surrounding the tower.

“The purpose of this rezoning is to establish the characteristics of this neighborhood with a traditional neighborhood design,” Riverbend Development wrote to staff. The current zoning, Downtown Extended Corridor Mixed Use, does not allow for the narrower lots.

Staff recommended approval at the commission’s meeting Tuesday because they said the application is consistent with requirements for a rezoning to the “planned unit development” district.

“I’m quite supportive of the project in many ways,” said Dan Rosensweig, chairman of the Planning Commission. “I’m perfectly willing to support this.”

Two proffers are included in the proposal. The first is $100,000 toward the Charlottesville Housing Fund, an amount Taylor said is $60,000 above the expected amount. The second is the donation of the historic Coal Tower on site.

However, the commission questioned the donation of the coal tower and the amount of open space surrounding the structure, among other items. Security and maintenance of the tower were brought into question by a member of the public and many of the commissioners.

“We were told five years ago that this city always wanted this structure [the coal tower]. If you don’t want it, we can keep it,” Taylor said. “We just wanted to clean it up … and make it a nice place.”

Commissioner Genevieve Keller said she wants the size of the development to be reduced by one unit in order to provide more open space.

“I think it is an issue the council will take seriously,” Keller said. However, that requirement did not become part of the final recommendation to the City Council.

Commissioner Lisa Green told the commissioners of a recent conversation with about 50 young professionals planning to move away from downtown due to high living costs.

“Young professionals can’t find the housing that they want when they first get married in their price-point range,” Green said. “We are missing an opportunity for the younger generation.”

Other commissioners disagreed.

“This fills a niche in the market that doesn’t exist. I think we’re going to be able to attract those folks [in Glenmore or Forest Lakes],” Rosensweig said.

“It has an urban attitude towards the city in a way we haven’t seen a lot,” Commissioner Kurt Keesecker said.

“This is one of the more appropriate PUDs we’ve seen … it will really be hurt by diversity of housing types,” Commissioner Michael Osteen said. “There will be a certain similarity. I’m really sensitive to the universal design.”

The impact of additional traffic was a concern raised by Bruce Odell, representing the Martha Jefferson neighborhood. He said this development, along with the 301-unit City Walk project and a new residential building at 925 E. Market St., would generate traffic that would affect his community.

“We have asked for a study of and action plan to deal with traffic impacts on the principal arterial and collector streets in the area, and local streets,” Odell said. “We hope the Planning Commission understands our concerns and finds a way to endorse the kind of forward thinking needed on the street network, traffic management and, indeed, the full range of infrastructure in city services.”

The City Council is expected to consider the rezoning in February.

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