The Charlottesville City Council has voted to rezone 814 Hinton Avenue in the City’s Belmont neighborhood from residential to Neighborhood Commercial Corridor (NCC). The owners of the property have plans to convert their home into a restaurant. The rezoning came despite opposition from some in the Belmont neighborhood who say the increasing number of commercial uses on Hinton Avenue is affecting their quality of life. Council’s vote was 3-2 with Councilors Satyendra Huja and Julian Taliaferro voting against the project.
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The NCC zoning district was created in the late 1940’s to encourage business in both Belmont and the Fontaine Road area. Over the past few years, the Belmont corridor has emerged as a dining and entertainment destination, with several restaurants opening in former commercial buildings and former residences. The Belmont Barbecue is among the latter, operating in a building at 816 Hinton Avenue.
Andrew Ewell is one of the owners of 814 Hinton Avenue. In testimony to the Charlottesville Planning Commission , he reasoned that because the NCC corridor ends at Belmont Barbeque four feet from his property, he should be allowed the opportunity to join the commercial zoning. Ewell said his property would be a more natural buffer with the residential zone because there are 28 feet between his house and the next one further up Hinton Avenue.
However, the Planning Commission recommended denial of the rezoning at their meeting on May 12, 2009. They did so in part because some members of the neighborhood had expressed concern that the commercial uses were becoming too concentrated. Yet, the City Council indicated their support for the rezoning when the item came before them for a first reading on June 1, 2009 . At that time, Mayor Dave Norris acknowledged the concerns of the neighborhood, and directed staff to work with key stakeholders to work out solutions created by the increased commercial use.
The item’s second reading was postponed to Council’s meeting on July 6, 2009. Because the public hearing had already been held, Council did not have to take further public input. However, several opponents of the rezoning took the opportunity to discuss the proposal during matters from the public at the beginning of the Council meeting.
Tomas Rahal, the owner and chef of the Mas Tapas Bar, called on the City’s Neighborhood Development Services department to spend more time addressing the issues of traffic, vandalism, and excessive noise. He said Mas is working with the neighborhood to promote “a pro-family, residential character in all of our plans going forward.” Rahal said he wanted Council to regulate amplified music outdoors, called for additional bike patrols, and to require nightclubs to keep their doors closed when live music is playing. Rahal did not publicly comment one way or the other on the rezoning of 814 Hinton Avenue.
Allison Ruffner, a Belmont resident, said she has grown frustrated by the increasing commercial activity in her neighborhood. She said she has been personally threatened and her property has been vandalized. During her testimony, Ruffner read from the description of the NCC corridor from the City Code:
“The intent of the Neighborhood Commercial Corridor district is to establish a zoning classification for the Fontaine and Belmont commercial areas that recognize their compact nature, their pedestrian orientation, and the small neighborhood nature of the businesses. This zoning district recognizes the areas as small town center type commercial areas and provides for the ability to develop on small lots with minimal parking dependent upon pedestrian access. The regulations recognize the character of the existing area and respect that they are neighborhood commercial districts located within established residential neighborhoods.”
Ruffner said the Planning Commission had recommended denial because the NCC corridor is becoming a “monoculture” with only one type of commercial use being promoted. She said there are other commercial properties in the existing NCC corridor that could be developed if the applicant so chose. Ruffner said families with children have moved out of the neighborhood because of the noise generated at some of those restaurants.
Fellow Belmont resident Eleanor Biasiolli said the rezoning would remove one more residence from the City’s housing stock. She said the neighborhood would bear the brunt of the rezoning by giving up more parking.
“Your decision to make on any rezonings will send a message to the Charlottesville community as to your priorities and your goals,” Biasiolli said.
COUNCIL TAKES UP THE REZONING
On June 1, Mayor Dave Norris said his support was contingent upon NDS staff working with the neighborhood to address their concerns. City Planner Brian Haluska said he has met with Jesse Fiske, the President of the Belmont-Carlton Neighborhood Association. Together, they’ve met with city traffic planners as well as Police Chief Tim Longo. There will be a meeting on July 13, 2009 between planners and the neighborhood in the basement conference room at City Hall. Traffic counts are being gathered so planners have data on which to base the next steps.
Norris also asked if the proffers being made by the applicant would be in place if the property changes hands. Haluska said future owners are bound by the proffers, which are to maintain a vegetated buffer, not to expand past the building’s existing footprint, and not to offer amplified music.
Councilor Satyendra Huja said he was impressed by the sincerity of the applications, but did not think he could support the rezoning for several reasons. First, he said rezoning was against the spirit of the City’s comprehensive plan. Second, he said rezoning would contradict the reason why the NCC zone was created. Third, he said there were other available properties zoned commercial in the NCC zone. Fourth, he said the rezoning would not benefit the neighborhood.
Councilor Julian Taliaferro said he would not support the rezoning because the precedent it would set would make it harder for future Councils to deny requests to rezone residential land to commercial. He also said the neighborhood is already stressed by the commercial uses that are already allowed.
Councilor David Brown said the issues experienced by the Belmont neighborhood had come to Council’s attention due to this rezoning, but that he thought those issues were somewhat separate from the merits whether or not to change the zoning for 814 Hinton Avenue.
“Those issues will be there whether this property is changed or not, and these issues in my mind will not be dramatically affected by this one piece of property being changed,” Brown said. He said he supported NDS’s outreach to the neighborhood, but supported Ewell’s claim that his property would be a more fitting buffer between residential and commercial zones. Mayor Dave Norris agreed with both of Brown’s arguments.
Councilor Holly Edwards said she thought having businesses in the neighborhood made it safer and provided job opportunities. She said she wished other parts of the City, such as 6th Street S.E., had the ability to have commercial uses mixed in with homes.
“I would rather see more businesses on 6th Street than the violence that I’ve seen on my block,” Edwards said.
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