The City Council has expressed its support for a 9 story building proposed to be built at the intersection of West Main and Ridge-McIntire. Their tentative approval of the rezoning of 301 and 315 West Main Street to allow such a structure came just three weeks after the Planning Commission voted to recommend denial of the rezoning because of concerns over inadequate proffers.

Since then, the developer (Robert Englander of the Cathford Group) addressed some of their concerns and amended his statement of proffer. Those changes meant that by law the City Council had to hold  second public hearing. After passing tonight’s first reading of the ordinance, Council will hear it a second time at its meeting on September 17th.

The building Englander wants to construct is a 9 story mixed-use building with a 3 story facade on Main and McIntire Street. Above that, a 6 story residential tower would be stepped back and structured parking would be built on the lower level. The staff report suggests the development would yield 18,000 of retail space and 79 condos. But to do that, the property first needs to be rezoned from West Main North Corridor to Downtown Corridor Zoning. Under existing zoning, the building could only be four stories with a maximum density of 21 units.

Proffers submitted to the Planning Commission before its last meeting included $200,000 to the Piedmont Housing Alliance in order to provide affordable living choices. Other proffers  included limiting vehicular access to 4th Street and McIntire Road, $200,000 in street-scape improvements on West Main. Commission members felt the amount for affordable housing improvements was not enough, and also expressed concern about whether city sewers could support additional users in that location.

Since that meeting, Englander offered to raise the affordable housing proffer to $300,000, and the money would now go to the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, not the Piedmont Housing Alliance. Additionally, the applicant offered to conduct a traffic study at Ridge/McIntire intersection during the site plan process. On the streetscapes front, Englander has now specified that the sidewalks would be at least 12 feet wide, and would be compliant with the city’s West Main Open Space Concept and Streetscape Schematics Plan, a document created in November of 2004 to guide such construction.

Councilor Julian Taliaferro wanted to know if sewer capacity issues were a regional problem that affects City development as well, citing recent reports that certain County developments are on hold because of a lack of appropriate infrastructure. “With all of the development in the County, the question I’m asking is are you all looking at those issues and how it may affect things down the road?”

“The utilities department has got a firm that’s doing a major analysis right now of seven drainage areas,” responded Jim Tolbert, Director of the City’s Department of Neighborhood Development Services. “We’re making real careful movements on any new development to make sure that we are not adding load on an area that can’t handle it.” Tolbert added that his staff has determined that the new development is served by two sewage lines, and that if need be, the sewage load could be split in two.

Four people spoke at the public hearing.

Zach Shahan, the new Executive Director of the Alliance for Community Choice in Transportation, told Council his organization supported the rezoning because it put more people in the urban core. “We believe that other wise the growth will occur on the outskirts of town, and will be less efficient, less sustainable, and less attractive,” he said. “If residents of this building can walk, they will make less use of their cars.”

Andy McClure owns the West Main Restaurant, but not the building next door. He urged Council to consider making streetscape improvements outside of his business at the same time the developer makes his upgrade. Collette Hall of the North Downtown Neighborhood Association wanted the Council to make sure the developer put in enough parking to cover both the tenants and the retail customers who would use the building.

Independent City Council Candidate Peter Kleeman urged Councilors deny the rezoning, because the developer had not gone far enough to meet the Planning Commission’s concerns by making the revised proffers. “If the target for affordable housing is something on the order of fifteen percent, and the proffer has gone from 2.5 percent to 3.75 percent, I find that difference not significant enough to say we could bypass the scrutiny of Planning Commission.”

Councilor Dave Norris attended the Planning Commission’s August 14th meeting, and disagreed with Kleeman’s characterization. He said the numbers used during the discussion were based on an arbitrary figure of $100,000 per affordable unit that did not meet with other area figures.

“I know in the County they value the affordable units at roughly $19,000,” Norris said. “The County has a standard of 15 percent of the units, or you need to chip in roughly $19,000 per affordable unit to the County’s affordable housing fund. What we have with this revised proffer is a contribution of $25,000 so we’re above and beyond where the County is,” he said.

Dave Norris said he appreciated the Planning Commission for “sticking to their guns” by asking for more infrastructure developments in return for rezoning. But he also commended Englander for responding to the Commission’s concerns. “I think this is a much better project now than it was two weeks ago, and an infinitely better project now than six months ago.”

Councilor Kevin Lynch said Englander’s proffer of $300,000 is in broadly in line with the City’s guideline. “I think the figure of $100,000 came from what it would take to make these units affordable,” he said. “This might not be the most appropriate place for affordable housing.”

Council unanimously passed the first reading of the zoning ordinance, and the second reading is scheduled for the September 17 meeting.

Sean Tubbs