The University of Virginia now owns several properties on Roosevelt Brown Boulevard south of the railroad tracks that separate its hospital from the Fifeville neighborhood.
The university paid $8.73 million in late August to acquire a total of 2.63 acres on seven properties on Grove Street and King Street.
“The university purchased the Grove Street property because it is contiguous to the Health System and because the university currently leases the property and wants to protect its future use for the benefit of the university,” said UVa spokesman Anthony P. de Bruyn.
Several of the properties previously had been associated with a planned development called Grove Square.
Charlottesville planning officials approved a site plan for an eight-story office building at 999 Grove St. in the summer of 2011. A parking structure with 928 parking spaces would have been built at 1001 Grove.
“The plan has not moved forward and expired in July of this year,” said city planner Matt Alfele. “A letter went to the applicant informing them that the approved site plan was no longer valid.”
A two-story building at 999 Grove was built in 1965 and is currently home of the UVa Health System’s Learning and Organizational Development team. It is within the Cherry Avenue zoning district, which allows dense mixed-use development.
Other properties now owned by UVa currently are zoned for single-family homes, though one along Roosevelt Brown Boulevard is in the Cherry Avenue zone.
“We have no specific plans at the moment to change the current uses,” de Bruyn said.
The properties are now held in the name of the rector and visitors of UVa. State institutions are exempt from paying property taxes to localities.
“For state institutions, land acquisition by the public institution is usually a challenge for cities because it cuts into the tax base,” said Alexander Ikefuna, the city’s director of neighborhood development services.
“However, the revenue generated by the institution and its multiplier effects tend to offset the land-grab issue,” he added.
Carmelita Wood, president of the Fifeville Neighborhood Association, said she hopes future development of the properties doesn’t take away from the character of the neighborhood.
“Even though Fifeville is a historic district, it has changed over the years,” Wood said. “Even with its narrow streets and community vitality, there are still strong cultural ties to and in Fifeville. With the growth of UVa, there will always be a high demand for student housing in neighborhoods.”
City Councilor Bob Fenwick said he was initially concerned when he learned of the purchase but came around to the idea based on UVa’s track record.
“Their approach is not bottom line, but community improvement and academic utility,” he said.
In August, the Charlottesville Planning Commission voted to recommend a small area plan for the Cherry Avenue corridor. De Bruyn said UVa architect Alice Raucher is “very interested” in participating.
Wood wants the small area plan to address transportation concerns.
“I am hoping that they will take into consideration the traffic congestion between Cherry Avenue, West Main Street and Roosevelt Brown Boulevard,” Wood said.
Fenwick said he wants the plan to be conducted by staff and not through another consultant.
“A good product is more likely if City Council would pay more attention to the recommendations of both the Board of Architectural Review and the Planning Commission,” Fenwick said. “The council is getting in a bad habit of overruling both these citizen panels as if we know better than volunteers that spend much more time on individual projects than we do.”
Councilor Kathy Galvin met with the neighborhood association in August and is supportive of a small area plan.
“There was a palpable sense that the city’s zoning laws were out of step with the community’s aspirations,” Galvin said. “This [neighborhood] wants a new vision for Cherry Avenue and new tools to implement that vision without running afoul of private property rights, discouraging investment or displacing longstanding residents.”
Cherry Avenue already is being used to support functions at the university.
A parking lot at 801 Cherry is being used by McCarthy Building Cos. to mock up exteriors for future buildings at UVa. The building permit states that the model will be removed by 2017.
A former auto repair shop at 835 Cherry Ave. currently is being used as a construction staging area and office for the ongoing expansion of the UVa Medical Center.
Other changes also have occurred. Earlier this month, a structure at 513 Seventh and 1/2 St. was demolished. The same property owner also owns 801 Cherry Ave. and several other parcels in the neighborhood.
The Piedmont Development Group is planning to build a 36,000-square-foot mixed-use building called SoHo on vacant land across the street.
“We are just beginning our construction drawings for the building and anticipate starting construction after the first of the year with space available the summer of 2018,” said developer Katurah Roell.