The Charlottesville City Council will spend $350,000 to help the Piedmont Housing Alliance plan for the redevelopment of Friendship Court, a 150-unit low-income apartment complex just south of the Downtown Mall.

“We are absolutely committed to a process that puts residents at the center,” said Frank Grosch, the chief executive officer of the Piedmont Housing Alliance.

The alliance is expected to purchase the property outright from the National Housing Trust and the Enterprise Preservation Corporation when the existing low-income tax credits expire in October 2018.

“In order to consider options for acquisition and redevelopment of this 11.75 acre property in advance of the October 2018 deadline, PHA would use [these] funds for a market study and to engage a notable planning team,” said Kathy McHugh, the city’s housing development specialist.

The PHA has hired Stantec’s Urban Places Group as well as Studio O to work on a development plan. The goal is to use a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “choice neighborhood” planning model which would include extensive community input.

“This effort would include extensive resident and community engagement that would help shape a highly visual master plan document, inclusive of supporting documentation reflective of public comment and involvement throughout this process,” McHugh said.

The market study will cost approximately $30,000, and the development of the master plan will cost around $260,000. The additional $60,000 would pay for “support services” to engage the community.

McHugh said the city made a similar investment in the master planning process for the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s 376 units. That plan was adopted in July 2010 but has not been implemented yet.

PHA has said it will keep all 150 affordable units on site, but McHugh said that could mean building a total of about 500 units to make the parcel financially feasible. Her analysis said that would mean a mix of 70 percent market-rate units and 30 percent affordable at 60 percent of the annual median income.

“I believe the project will lead to a better development for our community,” said Karen Barnes, a current resident of Friendship Court.

However, a former resident said she was skeptical about the potential mix of units.

“Can PHA’s board and the CEO provide oversight for themselves to make sure the people who are the most vulnerable are taken care of?” asked Nikuyah Walker. “You’re talking 150 families with an average median income of $10,000.”

Councilors said they supported the idea but still had reservations

Councilor Kathy Galvin said she was concerned that the PHA had already selected consultants without city input.

“We have got to make sure that we stipulate about what we want this process to do for the city,” Galvin said, adding that the amount being spent was the same the council spent to hire consultants to study West Main Street.

Galvin wanted to know why Grosch didn’t seek out a work session with the council first, given that the area is within the city’s Strategic Investment Area, which is part of the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

“There are a number of principles in the SIA to which we fully subscribe,” Grosch said. “That includes improving the quality of life for the people who live there and creating a healthy place for the people who live there.”

Grosch said redevelopment would happen without any displacement of existing residents.

City Councilor Dede Smith had a couple of concerns, such as the number of units that would need to be on site.

Grosch said he was not prepared to say there would be 500 dwelling units on the property.

“The question as to the right balance of market rate and affordable units is one that we’re still trying to figure out,” Grosch said. “I don’t know what that balance is and I would also say that balance could change according the type of product that we would build and the phasing.”

Grosch said he would like to see a health center on the property as well as an early education center.

The council unanimously approved the funding with conditions, including ensuring the plan would align with Strategic Investment Area goals such as the restoration of Pollocks Branch.

However, Grosch said he was concerned that with that condition he might lose flexibility to develop the site.