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A dozen years ago, Charlottesville’s City Council adopted a new zoning ordinance that sought to encourage commercial and residential development in key regions across the city, including the stretch of Cherry Avenue between Ridge Street and Roosevelt Brown Boulevard.
However, no one has taken advantage of the Cherry Avenue zoning district until now.
“This is a new development district and it had to be figured out by people,” said Katurah Roell, of Town Properties. Roell is planning a five-story building to be known as SoHo on vacant land on Roosevelt Brown Boulevard.
“SoHo will have some retail, six residential units and it’s going to have roughly 36,000 square feet of office space,” Roell said.
SoHo and an office and residential complex at 1561 Cherry Ave. are the first projects to take advantage of the by-right possibilities in the zoning.
The City Council allowed higher density and taller buildings by-right, meaning that developers do not have to obtain special-use permits. Projects also do not need to go through any design review.
That is in stark contrast to the proposed William Taylor Plaza, a mixed-use project at the corner of Ridge Street and Cherry Avenue. The City Council rezoned the property in 2009 for denser development than allowed under the Cherry zoning district. However, Southern Development has been unable to convince the city to amend the approval in order to get the project started.
The city’s development process requires that developers meet with neighbors and other interested parties to discuss the preliminary site plan. Feedback at these meetings may be used to address concerns, but ultimately the developer can proceed if planning staff are satisfied they have met all the technical requirements.
Earlier this month, a site plan review meeting was held for 1561 Cherry Ave., a project that will feature two buildings. One will be a four-story structure with nine units and 1,717 square feet of office space, and the other will be two stories with a two-bedroom residential unit and 370 square feet of office space.
“The developer is very interested in that neighborhood and thinks it is one that is going to be revitalized and will continue to grow,” said Justin Shimp, an engineer representing Hans Ritschard, an architect who is undecided about whether to use some of the office space for his practice.
Neighbors raised issues such as whether there would be retail units and how much parking would be provided.
Shimp said most of the parking will be under the building, as called for in the zoning code.
“You are required to have at least 50 percent of your parking spaces structured,” Shimp said.
The city currently is making investments in public infrastructure in the area. The projects include the widening of sidewalks, funded by a federal community development block grant, and a refurbished basketball court at Tonsler Park, a $350,000 project.
“The city is definitely investing in that area,” Shimp said. “Maybe that’s part of what’s bringing a developer to do this project.”
There are several vacant parcels in the corridor, including a former auto repair shop at the corner of Roosevelt Brown and Cherry and a lot that is currently rented to store construction equipment.
Fifeville resident Oliver Platts-Mills, who was at the plan review meeting, said his main concern is that someone will build a car wash, taking away an opportunity for the street to serve neighborhood purposes.
“I don’t want Cherry Avenue to have that kind of commercial activity,” Platts-Mills said. “We like it as a place to live, and so it’s pretty exciting that [Ritschard] sees the potential to put in 10 apartments which means more folks living on that specific piece of the Fifeville neighborhood.”
Platts-Mills said people in the community need more places to shop and that he’d like to see a coffeehouse.
“I think the biggest risk to our neighborhood is that if they only build a ton of offices, there’s going to be a ton of parking and none of those people are going to be there after 6 p.m.,” he said.
Roell said he believes SoHo will help businesses along Cherry Avenue, as well as new businesses farther to the north on West Main. He said he also thinks his decision to have a good portion of the site used as offices is worth the financial investment.
“There is literally no office space available for lease anywhere in proximity to the University of Virginia,” Roell said. He said parts of the building already are leased and that he has prospects to fill the rest.
The building will have a garage with 81 parking spaces.
A manager of one business a block away welcomed the prospect of SoHo.
“I think it will be good for the neighborhood and good for our store, as well,” said James Stovall, manager of the GoCo across from a now-closed auto repair store. “It will add more people to the neighborhood and I think that will be a positive thing for business all around.”