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A proposal for a grocery store and an apartment building on Cherry Avenue is back before the Planning Commission

A lot surrounded by a wire fence at the corners of a street, with a one-story brick building. A sign in front is empty, except for some washed out text.

A plan to reintroduce a grocery store — and build apartment-style homes — in Charlottesville’s Fifeville neighborhood is back on the Planning Commission agenda this week.

On Tuesday, August 8 at 5:30 p.m., the commission  will have a public hearing for a rezoning application and special use permit submitted by Woodard Properties. City Council members also plan to be present. The developer’s plan is to build multiple mixed-use structures on a vacant Cherry Avenue parcel — the site of the old Estes IGA supermarket, across the street from Tonsler Park.

This plan is the result of a prolonged negotiation between Woodard Properties, Piedmont Housing Alliance and the Fifeville Neighborhood Association. And while each organization has signed off, neighborhood leaders say not everyone living in Fifeville supports the proposal — and they expect to hear that at Tuesday’s meeting.

Community members will have a chance to share their thoughts with Council and the Planning Commission at the Tuesday meeting. People can attend in person, at CitySpace at 100 5th St. NE, right on the Downtown Mall, or virtually on the city’s social media pages and streaming site. Register for the Zoom meeting link here. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m., and the 501 Cherry Avenue rezoning is the third item on the agenda.

The commission intends to vote on whether to recommend approval of the rezoning and the special use permit for the project at the meeting. If the commission votes to recommend approval, then the rezoning and the special use permit will go up to City Council for a public hearing and a vote.

Click here to read the full proposal in the meeting agenda packet. The proposal for “501 Cherry Avenue Rezoning” begins on page 65, with details on proffers for affordable housing starting on page 78.

Under the current zoning ordinance, Woodard Properties cannot build the project it is proposing: a four-story apartment building with around 60 units, and around 26,400 square feet of commercial space. That’s why the company is requesting a rezoning and a special use permit.

This is Woodard Properties’ second proposal for the site. The current proposal has some similarities, and a few key differences, from the one that it presented to Council and Planning Commission back in March.

More about developments in Fifeville

The initial proposal included space for a grocery store, as well as commercial space for community nonprofits Twice is Nice, whose business benefits local seniors in need, and the Music Resource Center, which teaches all types of music and music production skills to local kids and teens. Both have the option to buy their spaces from Woodard for a below-market price. That part of the proposal remains.

An architectural rendering shows two buildings in relation to other homes and trees in the neighborhood around it.
This rendering shows the previous scheme for the proposed 501 Cherry Avenue development, the one brought to the Planning Commission in March. The new scheme is below. Courtesy of Woodard Properties

What has changed is the traffic plan, the size of the building — reduced from five stories to four, and set back further from both Cherry Ave. and the nearby residential properties — and the affordable housing component.

Originally, Woodard Properties proposed building 87 to 110 units on the lot, with five of them made affordable to households earning 60% of the area median income or below (for a family of four, that’s $73,980) for six years.

“That’s way over on the skim milk side,” Planning Commissioner Phil D’Oronzio said at the time. He and other commissioners and city councilors wanted to see more affordable units in the proposal, and deeply affordable (for households earning 30% AMI or below). They also wanted to see affordability guaranteed for more than six years.  

After that meeting, Woodard Properties went back to the drawing board. The group held a community meeting, and with the help of the Fifeville Neighborhood Association and Piedmont Housing Alliance, came up with a new plan, one that includes a proffer for more affordable housing.

The size of the building “had to be pared down because of neighbors’ concerns about building height and size,” said Michael Eaton, director of real estate development for PHA.

An architectural rendering shows two buildings in relation to other homes and trees in the neighborhood around it.
This rendering shows the new scheme for the proposed 501 Cherry Avenue development. Courtesy of Woodard Properties

The proposal going before the Planning Commission and Council this week could result in at least 60 units of affordable housing on the site. According to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) document created and signed by the Fifeville Neighborhood Association, Woodard Properties, and PHA, the affordable housing will include:

  • 10% of homes at 30% AMI (with 60 units, that would be up to 6 homes)
  • 50% of homes at 50% AMI (up to 30)
  • 30-40% of homes at 60% AMI (up to 20)
  • 1-10% of homes at 80% AMI (up to 6)

If Woodard Properties is granted the rezoning and the special use permit to build the project, it would, as the proposal says, “engage in good faith negotiations” for a contract with local housing nonprofit Piedmont Housing Alliance. If that works out, Woodard Properties would sell land —to PHA, who would develop and build the affordable units independently of Woodard, and then lease them to families with low incomes. In this proposal, the only apartments on the site would be the 60 to 65 affordable ones owned by PHA.

The proposal says that PHA plans to finance its portion of the project through Low-Income Housing Tax Credits and an investment from the City of Charlottesville, or a combination of the two.

If that happens, PHA’s apartments would be affordable for at least 30 years, but possibly longer, as other types of funding require longer terms of affordability. 

“Those conditions cannot be known until we are much further down the line on financing,” said Michael Eaton, director of real estate development for PHA. “In any event, PHA is dedicated to producing affordable housing, and has no intention that these 60-65 units, or any other of our affordable housing properties, will ever be market-rate units.”

Woodard Properties would then develop the spaces for Twice is Nice, the Music Resource Center, and a grocery store offering fresh produce. The spaces for Twice is Nice and the Music Resource Center would be sold to each organization as office shell condominiums, said Eaton. 

If the rezoning and special use permit are approved but Woodard and PHA do not enter into a contract, then Woodard would be required by the city to offer a minimum of five units, affordable to households with an income of up to 60% AMI for six years — that’s what is in the original proposal — or lease to a household with a Section 8 Housing Choice voucher.

The new proposal meets more of what Council and the Planning Commission wanted to see, but it needs more substance, Neighborhood Development Services planning staff wrote in their analysis of it. They’d like to see “clear and definitive agreements” between Woodard Properties, PHA, Twice is Nice, and the Music Resource Center, to “ensure more tangible commitments to the development of affordable units,” among other things.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify the relationship between Woodard Properties and Piedmont Housing Alliance. We have also updated a few specific details about the proposal. The new proposal is for around 60 apartments.