The Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s plans for South First Street cleared another hurdle Tuesday when the Planning Commission unanimously endorsed a critical slopes waiver for it.

CRHA has until March to apply for low-income housing tax credits and has a goal of beginning construction in December. The initial work includes 63 new apartments on the field at the intersection of South First Street and Hartmans Mill Road and an overhaul of Crescent Halls near the intersection of Monticello Avenue and Second Street Southeast.

In January, the CRHA board approved a memorandum of understanding among CRHA, Riverbend Development the Virginia Community Development Corp., Castle Development and the Public Housing Association of Residents for the redevelopment. CRHA will remain the owner of the land under the public housing sites and will manage the properties.

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The South First Street site is along the steep banks of Pollock’s Branch, a tributary of Moores Creek that begins downtown and is encased in a pipe until Elliott Avenue. According to the application submitted to the Planning Commission, the majority of the development will be outside of the critical slopes area.

Charlottesville defines critical slopes as any slope that has a grade of at least 25 percent, has a portion that extends horizontally more than 20 feet, has a total area that is at least 6,000 square feet and is within 200 feet of a waterway.

“The proposed project is designed to preserve all critical slopes,” Riverbend states in the staff report. “This waiver is being submitted because some of the building footprints are close to areas of critical slopes, therefore this waiver is being requested should some minor disturbance of the slope areas be necessary to accommodate building footers.”

In a presentation to the Planning Commission, Riverbend said that the nearest portion of a building to a critical slope would be 7 feet away, there would be flat land between the edges of buildings and the critical slopes and stormwater would be handled by on-site detention facilities. Water would then be directed to a pipe away from the slopes.

The waiver was approved with conditions including protections for trees that will not be cut down as a part of the redevelopment and a requirement that the phasing of the construction begin nearer to South First Street to better stabilize the site before work begins near the critical slopes.

The waiver application now heads to the City Council.

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The Planning Commission, acting as the Entrance Corridor Review Board, also voted in favor of a certificate of appropriateness for the proposed Gallery Court Hotel. The seven-story building is slated to be built on the site of the Excel Inn & Suites, which caught fire in May 2017.

gallery court

A rendering of the Gallery Court Hotel on North Emmet Street in Charlottesville.

Credit: NBJ ARCHITECTURE

In October, the City Council approved a special-use permit for the structure at 140 N. Emmet St. The 1950s-era motel originally was named the Gallery Court Motor Hotel and hosted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. when Robert F. Kennedy invited him to the University of Virginia for a lecture.

The building plans include a street-level café that will have a roof that screens the parking garage from Emmet Street. The roof of the café would double as a terrace for that facility.