After a failed attempt six years ago to add density, Bruce Wardell is close to developing two parcels in Charlottesville’s Belmont neighborhood into three likely-to-be expensive homes. Despite consternation about the probability of a high price point for the development, the Planning Commission on Tuesday voted, 5-0, to recommend a rezoning of the Lyman Street properties and voted, 4-1, in favor of a special-use permit to allow the homes to be built on the combined 0.2-acre site.
The properties, one formerly reserved for open space for the Belmont Lofts condominiums and the other a parcel that once belonged to the CSX railroad, would become the site of three-story contemporary homes with rooftop terraces that would resemble the architecture of the Belmont Lofts, according to renderings. The 2,280-square-foot homes could contain attached accessory dwelling units.
“Our assumption is that the owners would have the option, if they decided to, to add an interior accessory unit. … The interior accessory unit would be about 700 square feet [and] would be on the lower level below the ground level, so it would be … a walkout on the back,” Wardell said.
Rain gardens closer to Lyman Street and the situation of the homes closer to the railroad tracks is due to a city water line that crosses the majority of the parcel closest to the street. Additionally, a proposed sidewalk along the north side of Lyman Street might not be built, as it would not connect to any other sidewalks. A decision on that will not be made until the project reaches the site plan process, according to city staff.
There also were some concerns about sight lines where Lyman Street intersects with Goodman Street and with Douglas Avenue.
“The main concern here is … the configuration of Lyman Street is somewhat challenging for cars going down. It’s narrow, the turns on either end are kind of blind. … As all of north Belmont is, it’s a popular route for people trying to avoid the major streets they should be staying on,” city planner Brian Haluska said.
In March 2013, Wardell attempted to have the properties zoned from R-1 single family residential to the city’s downtown extended category, which would have allowed for buildings between 35 and 101 feet in height. Neighbors at the time spoke against the rezoning, citing a transfer of the property that would be out of context with the surrounding area. Wardell then withdrew the proposal in order to refine it.
During that public hearing on the downtown extended zoning, Wardell said he only could put eight parking spaces on the site, which would restrict the size of a potential building. He added that a nine-story building could not be built because of requirements in the city’s zoning ordinance.
“A nine-story building would have to be 10 feet-by-10 feet-by-nine stories tall, and it’s just not a realistic option, and it’s not a physically possible option to build,” Wardell said in 2013.
In June 2014, the rezoning to downtown extended returned with proposals such as restricting many of the uses in downtown extended and setting the height of a building between 18 and 38 feet with no more than six dwelling units. Action on the rezoning once again was deferred, and the City Council in August 2014 rejected the rezoning request.
With his new requests, neighbors of the project seemed more amenable to the design.
“I think this design is much more sympathetic to the residential nature of the street,” John Huff, who lives on Lyman Street, said during Tuesday’s joint Planning Commission-City Council public hearing. “I’m glad it’s not a high-density development there. I think three buildings is about right. I’ll miss my view of the train tracks and the post-industrial landscape, but I think this will enhance the neighborhood and I’m just delighted that another high-density development is not planned for the neighborhood.”
Before the vote to rezone the lots to R-2 two-family residential, commissioners had mixed feelings about the proposal.
“I think it’s appalling that City Council turned down the last application and that on a piece of land … that is assessed at $986,000 per acre [and] that we’re talking about putting giant single-family houses there that are going to be sitting on $65,000 of land alone underneath them. And the fact that we’re seeing this proposal now of just very large single-family residences that, undoubtedly, will be quite expensive, and we’re seeing the Belmont neighborhood line up in support just shows the problem we face in trying to achieve actual affordable housing,” Commissioner Rory Stolzenberg said in opposition to limiting the development to only three homes.
“This is a spectacular place for housing,” Commissioner Lyle Solla-Yates said. “This is tremendously walkable, it’s a wonderful area. … The design is lovely. It will fit in well, I can see that. I just wish there was more housing, I wish there was an affordable housing component.”
Commissioner Gary Heaton said that putting housing on the long-vacant land is “a step in the right direction.”
Commissioner Jody Lahendro agreed, saying, “… I’d rather see it developed than sit vacant, and I think the proposed development fits in well with the existing character of Belmont.”
The rezoning request and the special-use permit, in which Stolzenberg cast the dissenting vote, now head to the City Council for its consideration.
Commissioner Taneia Dowell and Chairwoman Lisa Green were absent Tuesday. Commissioner Hosea Mitchell, whose home is adjacent to the property in question, was informed by counsel for the city that he did not have to recuse himself from this portion of the meeting.