The city of Charlottesville has yet to begin a small-area plan for Cherry Avenue, but one developer is seeking a rezoning to help turn the street into more than just a way to get to the University of Virginia Medical Center.
“We think this area is calling out for small apartments to meet the needs of the largely hospital staff, such as nurses and technicians,” said Oliver Platts-Mills with Atlas Projects. “There is a massive demand for housing in our neighborhood.”
Atlas Projects is seeking a rezoning for four properties on King Street from single-family residential to the city’s Cherry Avenue zoning district.
“Currently, there is a single-family home on one of the parcels, and the other three are vacant,” said city planner Matt Alfele. “The applicant is proposing to combine the four parcels and build a mixed-use development with residential units, commercial and office space, [as well as] accessible green space.”
Under the existing zoning, Atlas Projects could build four single-family homes and four accessory dwelling units.
“If rezoned to Cherry Avenue Corridor, the dwelling units per acre would be 21 dwelling units by-right and 43 units per acre through a special-use permit,” Alfele said.
Alfele said Atlas has submitted an application but has not yet held its mandated meeting with the community. They sought initial comments from the Planning Commission before doing so.
Platts-Mills and his wife, Natasha Sienitsky, are residents of the Fifeville neighborhood. Sienitsky served on the Planning Commission from 2011 to 2014.
“We’ve been attending Fifeville Neighborhood Association meetings for the past 12 years, and the neighborhood would desperately like to see more activity developed in the corridor,” Platts-Mills said. “Rezoning would allow for both sides to be the same zoning.”
The neighborhood association has asked for the city to conduct a small-area plan to guide redevelopment of a road that has several vacant parcels. The Planning Commission has endorsed the idea, but City Council has not yet determined where the city’s next study area will be.
The council has set aside $50,000 in the current fiscal year to conduct such a plan, and another $250,000 is anticipated to be entered into the fund over the next five years.
Platts-Mills said the neighborhood also is concerned by the lack of affordable living choices as well as a shifting identity.
“There’s concern about the preservation of Fifeville’s identity as a residential neighborhood and about outside pressure,” Platts-Mills said. “That’s been seen in the development of the William Taylor Plaza as a hotel which people view as not part of the neighborhood.”
There has been recent activity within close proximity of the site. The Piedmont Development Group is leasing a 36,000-square-foot building across the street called SoHo. The city approved a site plan for that project last August, but no date has been set for ground-breaking.
Last year, UVa paid $8.73 million for 2.63 acres between King Street and the railroad tracks. University spokesman Anthony P. de Bruyn said there are “no plans to redevelop the UVa purchased properties at this time.”
Commissioner John Santoski said he found Platts-Mills’ project interesting.
“The fear I’ve had for that whole Cherry Avenue is that something is going to start happening that we don’t know,” Santoski said. “This seemed to be something that … fit in really nicely. It worries me more what the university is going to do with their property.”
Platts-Mill said the rezoning would make it more likely for more affordable housing to be built near the medical center. He said that without the zoning, he would likely be able to build four houses and sell them for more than $400,000 each.
“That’s not affordable housing,” Platts-Mills said, but he said the apartments would likely rent at a cost that could be afforded by people making between 80 and 120 percent of the area’s annual median income.
Commissioner Genevieve Keller asked if there would be effort to save the existing structure and noted it was included in the application for the neighborhood’s historic district.
“When Roosevelt Brown was built through this area and then subsequently the neighborhood was put up for a historic district, we counted 14 houses that were taken down over 20 years,” Platts-Mills said. “This is the last house left.”
Platts-Mills said the house has been vacant for several years and has not received any improvements for much longer than that.
“It’s in very poor shape,” Platts-Mills said. “We would certainly preserve any materials that we are able to salvage from the house and reuse them as we could.”
King Street is currently a one-way road and Platts-Mills said he would consider asking the city to make a portion of it two-way in order to facilitate access to the development.
Platts-Mills said he would agree to restrict certain uses at the development, such as hotels and parking garages.
However, Sienitsky said she would like to retain the possibility of having bed and breakfast uses for some of the units.
“We’re not really contemplating having weekend use and Airbnb, but we do know there is a lot of demand at the hospital for traveling nurses who come for three months,” Sienitsky said. “We’re seeing a lot of people who want to lease close to the hospital. They don’t necessarily have cars.”
Platts-Mills said most apartments would be one-bedroom units, but some could have two bedrooms.
“It really has to do with the demand,” Platts-Mills said. “We’ve been renting apartments in this area, and if [you have] something that is affordable for one person to live in, you get a lot of calls.”