For Justin Shimp, getting approval for a proposed urban farm and housing development straddling the Charlottesville-Albemarle County line has been a hard row to hoe.
Tuesday night, the City Council held a public hearing on a rezoning of 918 Nassau St. — formerly known as Hogwaller Farm — along Moores Creek and a special-use permit for it. Due to an amendment to the proffers and voluntary concessions made by landowners to limit property uses or perform certain actions, another hearing will be held at the council’s March 18 meeting.
Under the proposal, the property would be rezoned from two-family residential to highway commercial, which would allow for the construction to three-story buildings no taller than 35 feet. A long list of restrictions bars many of the uses in highway commercial districts on this property. In December, the Planning Commission recommended that the City Council approve neither the rezoning nor the special-use permit partially because of 11th-hour information that planning staff had not seen before the meeting.
The special-use permit would allow for an increase in density for 30 one- and two-bedroom apartments for a total of 42 bedrooms. Ten percent of the apartments would be reserved for 12 years as affordable housing at rates for households having incomes no more than 50 percent of the area median income.
The development also would include a greenhouse and a retail farm store. The original proffer in the staff report was for retail space that would not exceed 4,000 square feet. The change would “cut our proffer down to 2,000 square feet,” Shimp said.
On the Albemarle County portion of the property, the Board of Supervisors last summer approved rezoning 7.5 acres from light industrial to rural area to allow farming, farm sheds and additional parking. Shimp said Tuesday that the Albemarle portion still is awaiting some final approvals.
The farmland is expected to be run by a nonprofit and offer sheds and plots for lease to store and grow produce. The organization also would offer agricultural education.
“I’m excited about this urban farm because I think a lot of people in this town would like to grow their own food, maybe turn it into a business or just grow food for themselves and their neighbors,” said Hannah Patrick, who would coordinate farming on the site.
“We envision this urban farm as a hybrid of community garden plots available to rent and an educational space for workshops pertaining to gardening, farming or starting a farm business,” she said, noting that the plots could be advantageous for people whose landlords or neighborhood associations will not let them farm.
Councilors asked about the lack of other nonprofit groups involved in the farming component, the idea to use it to get fresh produce to underserved communities and the viability of the business plan.
“I’ve don’t see any letter from any other partner like the [Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville] or the [Charlottesville] Food Justice Network, any of the community partners that have been involved in the food justice space or the community gardens space that are in partnership with you. And it just raises some questions for me about the viability and credibility of this venture,” Councilor Kathy Galvin said.
Shimp said they have communicated with some of those organizations, but he has been hesitant to forge partnerships yet.
“I think my hesitancy to get people … excited was because I felt that if I didn’t have the zoning for the greenhouse and the farm store, it wasn’t really going to be the vision I had,” he said. “I feel strongly [the urban farm] can happen. … And really, this project, this process I’ve been through has been so difficult, has been largely about having to zone it to highway commercial. That’s a challenge. We had to do it to get the greenhouse.”
Dave Redding, of Ecovillage Charlottesville and the Healthy Food Coalition, said during the public hearing that he has been in several talks with Shimp about the farm.
“As he told you, we don’t want to get everyone excited about it because of the fact it is until it becomes a real project … we don’t want people all wound up and ready to go,” he said.
“Until it becomes a live thing, we can’t really talk to people about how the business plan is going to look,” Redding said.
Belmont residents who spoke against the development cited flooding concerns along Nassau Street. Shimp has said that current flooding on the site is due to a poorly designed stormwater runoff system on the property and that updated Federal Emergency Management Administration data only puts a portion of one of the two proposed apartment buildings in the floodplain. Shimp said that building would be built on up to 8 feet of fill to take it out of the floodplain. The permit to place fill on the property already is in place.
Without the rezoning and special-use permit in Charlottesville, five duplexes with four bedrooms could be built by-right. The Thomas Jefferson Community Land Trust is constructing four affordable housing units adjacent to the development, according to a letter from the land trust to the city. Additionally, there will be four three-bedroom duplexes on the conceptual plan that are being built by-right.
According to the staff report, the name of the development was changed from Hogwaller Farm to 918 Nassau St. after several conversations with neighbors and a meeting with the city’s Human Rights Office. Objections to the name stem from the area’s history as the site of a livestock market, which led to Hogwaller being used as a pejorative term.