The Charlottesville Planning Commission wants to see more details before taking a vote on a rezoning that would allow for a third multifamily apartment building on Carlton Avenue.
“I look at the site plan and I see a scattering of four buildings that are surrounded by parking, driveways and parking,” said Commissioner Jody Lahendro at a meeting earlier this month.
“The green space [appears to be] the leftover spaces around the buildings with some little pocket areas,” he added.
Fountainhead Properties has asked to rezone four parcels of land to the “planned unit development" category, which allows for customized rules for specific sites. Two buildings have already been constructed and a third is nearing a groundbreaking.
"The rezoning request is part of a larger development that started back in 2012," said city planner Matt Alfele. "The first phase of the development was the completion of the by-right Blue Ridge PACE Center."
The Blue Ridge Pace Center opened in 2014 as a health care facility for seniors. It is a partnership between Riverside Health System, the University of Virginia Medical Center and the Jefferson Area Board for Aging.
In May 2014, City Council granted a special use permit allowing for the residential density at the adjacent Carlton Views, which has 54 units. Construction was completed in early 2017.
"At the time of this public hearing, all 54 units are rented out to residents making under than 60 percent of the annual area median income," Aflele said.
This January, the Planning Commission approved a site plan for a third phase known as Carlton Views II. This calls for 48 units and is moving forward in part because Council authorized the spending of $1.44 million from the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund.
“The first two residential buildings were financed with low-income housing tax credits which are received through the Virginia Housing and Development Authority,” said Stacy Pethia, the city’s housing coordinator. “They have already signed agreements those units will be affordable for 30 years.”
Alfele said the rezoning is being requested to add the potential for more homes in the fourth phase.
"At the completion of phase 3, Carlton Views II, the development will have exhausted all available density under the special use permit," Alfele said. "As the zoning ordinance only allows 21 dwelling units per acre for the [industrial zoning] district, the developer needs to rezone all four parcels if they want a residential building for phase four."
Fountainhead could only build four housing units on the remaining land by-right. The rezoning would increase the residential density on the entire site from 21 to 32 dwelling units per acre.
Pethia said Fountainhead has contacted her to request additional funding for the third residential building. That will require the rezoning to be granted in order to qualify for the low-income housing tax credits from the VHDA.
Some members of the Planning Commission have grown wary of the planned unit developmentPUD mechanism. One of them is John Santoski, who was at his final regular meeting.
“We’ve had it happen in the past that when we’ve looked for PUD documents, most recently thinking about the one out on 5th Street, there was a lack of documentation within the public files about what exactly that document was,” Santoski said.
Santoski is referring to the Beacon on 5th Street, a recently constructed apartment complex build by Riverbend Development. Council approved a PUD rezoning for the project in March 2004 but it wasn’t constructed for over a dozen years later.
In this case, Santoksi expressed concern that if the rezoning took place now and the development was not built, the development could be out of synch with changes that might come in the current review of the Comprehensive Plan.
Alfele said he is aware of that frustration but that Fountainhead’s application laid out expectations for the future.
“They’ve provided a really good document so that if someone in ten years comes along they would have this document and would really know what they can and cannot do on this parcel,” Alfele said. “That has not always been the case.”
Lahendro said he was also skeptical of using the PUD method in this case.
“We’re not getting the real benefit of a PUD when two-thirds of the site has already been decided upon and the third that’s left is at the opposite end of the site,” Lahendro said.
Civil engineer Scott Collins represented Fountainhead before the Planning Commission. He understood the concerns about the PUD process but said the approach was taken to expand the possibility of more affordable housing within city limits.
“We’re actually building on a very successful project and it looks great and has been well received in the community,” Collins said. “This is really providing something for the community that Charlottesville doesn’t have. It’s providing for a campus style development that provides accessible and affordable housing next to an amenity that is set up to provide [services] for residents within a walkable area.”
Four people spoke against the project the during the public hearing.
Mark Kavit, a resident of the North Downtown neighborhood, said he recently stopped working for the Blue Ridge PACE Center.
“I know the area and the property extremely well and have been following this matter for quite some time,” Kavit said. “I had been told to really not discuss much and keep my mouth shut.”
Bill Emory of the nearby Woolen Mills neighborhood said was also opposed to the project.
“Bumping up the density will come at the residents’ expense,” Emory said. “The Planning Commission understands, but the general public might not understand that there is no different zoning from rich and poor.”
A current resident of the existing Carlton Views said the quality of life in the building is not high.
“There’s general frustration with the apartment,” said Rachel Vigor. “People experience it as being hastily built and not built right and things such as broken dishwashers, the sliding doors for balconies being too heavy to move, doors closing on people as they enter or exit their apartments.”
Vigor said management is lacking and people are asked to go to another apartment complex on Prospect Avenue if they have complaints. She added she cannot afford to live there and will be moving out soon.
Collns said the plan is conceptual at this time. He also said that as more units come on line there would be more on-site management staff.
“Most apartment complexes, if it’s anywhere below 100 units, it’s very typical to find the leasing offices and staffing off-site because they do it from another place,” Collins said.
All five commissioners present at the meeting had issues with the proposal.
“For all of the specificity of this, there’s still a good number of details and questions that remain unanswered,” said Commissioner Genevieve Keller. For instance, she wanted to see a diagram depicting how people would be able to walk and circulate around the entire community.
“We want these to be very good and livable and successful communities,” Keller said. “I think maybe a little more time to address some of these questions would result in a better community and a better PUD.”
As the discussion neared its end, Commissioners discussed whether the item would be deferred or recommended for denial. Interim city attorney Lisa Robertson pointed out of that if the item was deferred, four different planning Commissioners would hear the presentation from scratch.
Commissioners Taneia Dowell and Lyle Solla-Yates were not present. Hosea Mitchell and Hunter Smith will replace Santoski and Commissioner Kurt Keesecker on June 1.
Collins asked for a deferral when it appeared the Commission was going to vote to recommend denial. He had hoped for a recommendation for an approval because of the timing of getting funding to help subsidize the project.
Santoski said he understood that complexity.
“These things are so complicated and pull in so many different pieces of funding and it’s not the developer or the agency’s fault,” Santoski said. “It’s so hard to grab that federal money and other local monies to make these things work.”