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Planning Commission recommends denying Fry’s Spring downzoning
by Sean Tubbs | Tuesday, August 12, 2014 at 11:25 p.m.

After more than a decade, the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association’s request to downzone parts of that community had a public hearing before the Charlottesville Planning Commission on Tuesday — and got shot down.

“We have been trying to keep this debate in the public for many years and we’re grateful to have this opportunity,” said Jeff Greer, president of the neighborhood association.

However, the majority of speakers at the meeting said changing the zoning from the R-2 classification to the slightly less dense R-1 designation would encroach on property rights.

“This is an elitist way of controlling density,” said Elisabeth Laws, an owner of a home on Crestmont Avenue.

The Planning Commission voted 3-1 to recommend the City Council deny the rezoning. Commissioners Lisa Green and Genevieve Keller were absent, and Commissioner Natasha Sienitsky resigned in June.

“I have searched in the Comprehensive Plan and have tried to find a series of clauses that would support the change and I can’t find a need or justification for the change,” said Commissioner Kurt Keesecker.

The City Council initiated the rezoning in June after the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association persisted in its requests that the matter be studied.

“The proposed amendment would rezone 356 parcels in the Fry’s Spring neighborhood area,” said Missy Creasy, the city’s planning manager.

If the council grants the rezoning, no new duplexes or single-family attached homes could be built in the area. However, existing duplexes would be OK unless the structure was destroyed and not rebuilt in the exact same manner.

There are currently 72 properties in the area that have duplexes or single-family attached units.

“The only way you would lose the ability to have that duplex is if it is destroyed and you don’t bring it back to the same state,” Creasy said.

Accessory apartments would still be allowed, but that requires the property owner to live within the structure.

The neighborhood association has sought the land-use change for over a decade in order to encourage more property owners to live in the neighborhood.

“We have seen what can happen to a neighborhood like Jefferson Park when renters begin to outnumber homeowners,” Greer said. “We watched as homes were destroyed to make way for density that would not be fitting with the character of our neighborhood.”

The association’s request had been restricted to Crestmont Avenue, Stribling Avenue and Shamrock Road. However, the city extended the potential rezoning to other areas, including portions of Cherry Avenue, Center Avenue and Valley Road Extended.

Commissioner John Santoski, a Fry’s Spring resident, said he supported the rezoning in order to give the neighborhood more protection against dense development.

“I think there’s enough reasons to move this forward to City Council, but we should exclude some of these properties,” Santoski said.

Creasy said the rezoning would be consistent with the city’s goal to respond to its citizens, but added that the land-use action would not be consistent with other goals to provide a diversity of housing types and affordable housing.

There are 16 vacant properties where the owners could not build duplexes.

“A lot of the potential devaluation will be coming on the vacant land,” said William Craddock, a former Albemarle County planning commissioner whose in-laws own property on Shamrock Road. He said their investment would be lost if they cannot build what they have been expecting to build.

Kirk Wassenaar, who owns three of the vacant properties, said he opposes the rezoning. He said he plans to build duplexes on the site and that the rents on those will be much lower than what he would get for a single-family attached home.

“One of the big issues in Charlottesville is affordable housing,” Wassenaar said. “This downzoning effectively terminates everything we’re trying to do to support the Comprehensive Plan.”

In addition to Greer, three past presidents of the neighborhood association spoke in favor of the rezoning.

The rezoning is expected to come before the City Council at a meeting in September.
 

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