Councilors express concern about lack of affordable units

The Charlottesville City Council has approved a special use-permit for an apartment building and self-storage facility at the corner of River Road and Belleview Avenue. The 4-1 vote came with criticisms from two councilors about the lack of jobs created in the mixed-use development and the lack of affordable housing units on the site.

The permit allows for increased density and the site use on the 2.2-acre property at 901 River Road. Shimp Engineering, on behalf of property owner Go Store It River LLC, presented the proposed four-story apartment building and a 61,000-square-foot, four-story self-storage building at the council’s last meeting.

The apartments will front River Road, and the storage units will be built into the incline along Belleview Avenue. The apartment building is slated to have four floors and 54 units ranging from studios to two-bedroom apartments. The first floor includes 1,500 square feet of retail space at the corner of River and Belleview.

In January, the Planning Commission voted 6-0 to endorse the special-use permit. Under the proposal, sidewalks will be added to River Road and Belleview Avenue; drivers on the property will not be allowed to turn left onto Belleview; the handling of stormwater will be done on the site; and the development cannot be built in phases.

The lot, adjacent to Tractor Supply Co., is zoned as industrial corridor and is vacant beyond an abandoned building and automobile storage.

When Mayor Nikuyah Walker asked about affordable housing units, Justin Shimp, of Shimp Engineering, said the site is below the threshold under city rules.

“As it is, we don’t trip the affordable housing number,” Shimp said.

“So, is it your intention as a developer to include affordable housing in the project?” Walker asked.

“Well, I’d say at the moment, it’s near all market-based housing,” Shimp said.

“It is a concern that there isn’t affordable housing in this project,” Councilor Kathy Galvin said, adding that planned form-based code changes would include a requirement for affordable units with requests for increased height.

Galvin also expressed disappointment in a development on a site zoned for industrial uses not contributing more to the city’s workforce. The self-storage company is expected to employ fewer than 10 people in full- and part-time jobs.

“I think in the future, with these industrial sites, we have to be much more proactive and much more aggressive as a government to ensure that some of these sites are actually going to be making job opportunities for career-ladder positions for the underserved in our community,” she said. “Five jobs is not making a dent in our people’s economic prospects. … This is an underutilization of this site.”

Although Galvin gave the development a tentative yes, Walker said she would not vote in favor of the special-use permit.

“… We’re at the fact that just because affordable units are not required — even though you’re seeking a special-use permit — just the fact that it doesn’t trip it, that you wouldn’t find a way to include it or have that conversation with the councilors about it — it seems that because of the support, we don’t necessarily have to — but I’m not going to support the project because I think that is irresponsible for any developer at this time to not figure out a way to include affordable housing units,” Walker said.

Councilor Wes Bellamy was among those who were in favor of the development, which could kick off a reshaping of the industrial area along the Rivanna River.

“I feel this project could potentially change the landscape of the neighborhood and, I think, in that particular corridor,” he said. “Something like this is very much so needed.”

The motion to approve included a stipulation that the apartment building resemble the rendering submitted to the council. Galvin included the condition after citing instances when completed buildings did not resemble what was submitted for approval.