Developer Brian Roy’s plans to convert the former Woolen Mills factory into a mixed-use complex have passed through the Albemarle County Planning Commission with a favorable recommendation.
“When I saw the site for the first time, I was shocked that such an amazing site like this existed in the county,” Roy said at a recent public hearing on the matter. “To have such an attractive property sitting on arguably Charlottesville’s greatest natural amenity, the Rivanna River, made the development even more compelling.”
Commissioners unanimously recommended approval of a series of motions needed to develop the property, including a rezoning, a preserved slopes waiver and two special-use permits.
The Woolen Mills factory closed in 1962 after a long history. It most recently was used as a storage space for a moving company.
“I’m really excited that you’re developing it,” Commissioner Karen Firehock said. “I think it is a gem and it takes a lot of guts to take this on.”
The Board of Supervisors would need to approve a rezoning from light industrial to commercial. It also would need to sign off on special-use permits allowing building activity in a flood plain and residential use in a commercial district.
“The site is located at the end of East Market Street and at the end of Broadway Street,” said Bill Fritz, the county’s chief of special projects. “The connection on the Woolen Mills property will provide emergency access and pedestrian links. It will not provide vehicular connections between the two streets due to the narrow area between the buildings and Moores Creek.”
Staff recommended approval for several reasons, including the preservation and restoration of a historic building. They also said the proposed use is better than other possibilities.
“This application is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan and allows for the adaptive reuse of a historic resource,” Fritz said. “The activity permitted by the various applications will not result in overall impacts greater than those that could currently occur with the current industrial zoning.”
Under the terms of one of the special-use permit applications, Roy could build as many as 94 apartments, for a total density of nine units per acre. The commercial component would include office and restaurant space. Commissioner Bruce Dotson wanted to know what the mix would be between residential and commercial uses.
Roy said residential uses are capped at 55 percent of the total site.
“We had a number of discussions and I would have preferred a greater residential percentage,” Roy said. “I think this building is extremely attractive for residential. I’m not convinced that there is a market for light industrial in this area.”
The commission last heard about the property at a joint meeting with the Charlottesville Planning Commission in October.
“Since that time, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has issued a final letter of map revision adjusting the flood plain down approximately five feet so that it allows for the rezoning request,” Roy said.
Roy has agreed to a proffer by which he will pay for improvements to East Market Street to satisfy concerns of the city’s traffic engineer.
“The proffer the applicant has made is to provide $10,000 to the city for restriping,” Fritz said. “It’s really changing some turn lanes in the city on Meade Avenue, Carlton Avenue and Market Street.”
Roy will help finance the project through tax credits for historic preservation. That means he will have to follow the guidelines set by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
“We are getting down to the specifics of what is and what is not allowed under that tax credit program,” Roy said.
“Overall, the buildings are sturdy, solid and of sound construction,” Fritz said. “However, upon close inspection, areas that need maintenance are apparent. Restoration of this site before deterioration begins is important to ensure that the restoration doesn’t become uneconomical.”
Roy also is setting aside land for the Rivanna River trail as part of the conditions for the rezoning.
“It has been a collaboration to this point, and I think this has resulted in a better overall plan for the site, including the proffers that will allow for increased connectivity to the Rivanna River,” he said.
The commission only saw a conceptual plan and there are some issues that still need to be worked out.
“The parking is still a work in progress,” Roy said. “The number of parking spaces the county would require for a site like this is well over 300 and it’s physically impossible to put that many spots on the site.”
Roy said the parking will be resolved as the project proceeds to the site plan stage and he has submitted an application to lower the parking requirements. Travis Pietila, of the Charlottesville-based Southern Environmental Law Center, said the site is in a significant spot.
“It’s right at the confluence of Moores Creek and the Rivanna River, both of which are impaired due to excessive stormwater runoff,” Pietila said. “The redevelopment of this site needs to place a priority on minimizing further stormwater impacts both during and after construction.”
Firehock said she wants to be involved when techniques to mitigate stormwater issues are addressed in the site plan. Roy agreed and said he would continue to meet with anyone interested in the redevelopment.
Bill Emory, a resident of the city’s section of Woolen Mills, praised Roy for his community engagement strategies. “He’s not a pushover and sometimes he says no, but he listens and then he responds,” Emory said. “He’s been one of a kind to deal with. We hope that this will carry on through the development of this project.”