Planning Commission now set to hold hearing on the Belmont proposal in June

A rezoning that a Charlottesville church proposed for a residential development has been deferred amid backlash.

Hinton Avenue Methodist Church, in the Belmont neighborhood, plans to construct Rachel’s Haven, 15 apartments with at least four affordable units and market-rate apartments listed in the application as “as affordable as possible.”

After a Monday adjustment of the proffers, voluntary conditions by a landowner to perform or refrain from performing an action to mitigate the effect of a development, the Tuesday public hearing on it has been moved to June 11. Some commissioners recently have voiced displeasure over adjustments made shortly before meetings.

The proposal also sparked opposition from the surrounding community.

Under the plan, the churchyard at 750 Hinton Ave. would be rezoned from low-density residential on small lots to neighborhood commercial corridor. This change would allow for the apartments and some nonresidential uses. Neighboring property owners have expressed concerns that the rezoning could open the door to unexpected uses on the 0.76-acre property. The original proffers allowed for up to 1,800 square feet of commercial space a few buildings down from the downtown Belmont commercial corridor, set the maximum building height to 45 feet or 60 feet with a permit and set no minimum setback from the street.

“The applicant has submitted a proffer statement that would reduce the number of commercial uses permitted on the property to: consumer service businesses, general retail, coffee shops and/or small eatery,” the original staff report states.

“The concern I have with the [neighborhood commercial] zoning designation is that, while we believe the church to be serving an important need in earnest, should they elect not to move forward now or in the future with said planned project, any number of large scale commercial enterprises could find that spot to be ripe for development thereby changing the quality of life for the surrounding homes indefinitely,” submitted comments to the city from nearby resident Grier Murphy states.

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“The proposal is way too open, allows for too many and undefined uses, and I worry that there is no effort to mitigate impact on the neighborhood and to work well with the Belmont residents. We moved to Belmont from [New York] because we wanted a vibrant, colorful and mixed-use place to live. However, the recent growth seems unbridled and we residents are suffering the consequences,” Emmie Wright wrote.

“I am opposed to the rezoning for many reasons,” Raman Pfaff said in submitted comments to the city. “My top reason is that once an area has been rezoned for business, there is absolutely no doubt that more will follow, and the residential community will fade away.”

Other concerns from neighbors included noise from additional people, vehicles, heating and cooling systems and trash service.

The Monday revision proposes banning all commercial uses from the property except for educational and day care facilities that are accessory to a church or residential use. Additionally, the maximum height was set at 38 feet, a setback of at least six feet and no more than 10 feet was proposed.

“Additionally, while several members of the public have asked whether another zone might be a better zoning classification in light of the proposed project, staff notes NCC is the zone that enables the proposed use the applicant has submitted in conjunction with the request,” the staff report states.

The church states in its application that the zoning would allow for it to remain on the property with the apartments.

Rachel’s Haven is named for Rachel Lewis, the late wife of the Rev. Robert Lewis, who ministered to people with developmental disabilities. The apartments in an addition and renovation of the church’s underused educational wing largely would cater to people who are developmentally disabled. The one- to three-bedroom units would be in a two-story building.

Under the current plan, all traffic would be directed to a parking lot on Rialto Street, which fits no more than 27 cars, and the Hinton Avenue entrance would be closed. Residents also expressed concerns about street parking, which already is limited in part because of the location’s proximity to the downtown Belmont restaurant district.

“… [It] is very likely that many of our residents will not be car drivers, given the population we intend to serve,” the application states. It also notes that the development is in a location primed for other modes of transportation.

The church also stated that, should the development fail, it would retain the building for uses related to its mission.

In the initial report, city staff recommended that the rezoning be denied for reason including that 814 Hinton Ave., several buildings down, “was an ideal endpoint to commercial activity” and that the proposed zoning requires buildings to be no more than 10 feet from a primary street and be as tall as 45 feet.

The June 11 Planning Commission meeting is set to start at 5:30 p.m. in Council Chambers.