Belmont residents weigh in on proposed mixed-use development

Riverbend Development representatives addressed neighborhood concerns about the company’s Belmont apartment project at a meeting earlier this week.

Currently, the developers plan to build a two-story commercial space across from Mas Tapas on Carlton Avenue in Charlottesville. Farther back from that street, the by-right plan includes two four-story apartment buildings. 

The proposed development would bring 130 rental units to the property — the maximum density allowed without requiring the City Council’s approval. Previously, the company had planned to apply for a special-use permit to add more units to the site. 

“We’ve heard a lot of feedback from the neighborhood saying, ‘We feel like that [density] is way too much for us to handle,’ and so where we are right now is we’ve pulled that back,” said Ashley Davies, a land-use planner with Williams Mullen who fielded questions at the meeting Tuesday. 

To develop the property by-right, the complex has to meet the zoning requirements for a Neighborhood Commercial Corridor. One Belmont resident said he thinks the property would not meet the requirement of engaging pedestrians. 

“Looking at the revised site plan, the first building kind of meets the requirements,” said Eugenio Schettini. “But the two buildings in the back, they’re just floating in parking lots.” 

City Councilor Kathy Galvin, who attended the meeting, objected to the layout of the two apartment buildings, as well. 

“Have you thought about using this kind of housing called ‘missing middle’ — small apartment buildings, multiplexes, even courtyard housing — that would allow you to have higher density but much smaller scale?” Galvin asked. “We’re talking about the blending of character, as well as need for units.” 

Robby Saady, who is both a member of the Belmont-Carlton Neighborhood Association and a development manager for Riverbend, said that decreasing the number of units in the apartments was not part of the company’s plan. 

“Some parts aren’t necessarily negotiable, like lowering the density of this. We want to hear all feedback, but that’s not likely to happen,” Saady said. “We’re here to discuss just about everything else. The design of the building, the layout of the plan — those are pieces that we might be able to adjust.” 

Riverbend, through Belmont & Carlton Holdings LLC, has owned the property constituting the 1000 block of Carlton Avenue since 2006. 

Many meeting attendees expressed concerns about the impact of the new residents on the neighborhood’s infrastructure, particularly parking and traffic. 

“The right place to have that discussion is probably at the Belmont-Carlton Neighborhood Association meeting and to have that discussion as a neighborhood with the development in mind, but they’re not responsible for that larger conversation,” said Erin Hannegan, president of the BCNA. 

Hannegan suggested that the neighborhood invite the city traffic engineer to the discussion, so the city would know which areas need the most engineering attention. 

Although Riverbend is currently pursuing a by-right plan for the site, Davies and Saady floated the idea of adding 25 affordable units to the complex. The additional density would require a special-use permit. 

“If they go by-right, they don’t really care what we say,” Belmont resident Holly Hatcher told other attendees. “I would be in favor of an SUP, for a couple of reasons. We can get to the affordability issue, and then we can actually spend this time talking about design, materials, scale and appropriateness to the character of the neighborhood.” 

Saady said the company was imagining they would target renters who make 60 percent of the area median income. Several neighbors objected to increasing the number of renters. 

“I like the idea of affordable housing, but our streets aren’t handling the current traffic. Increasing the density to put affordable housing in just doesn’t seem workable,” said Belmont resident Vivian Stein. 

Davies said the developers still are interested in their first SUP idea of paying for a pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks that divide Belmont from the Martha Jefferson neighborhood. The developers estimate the proposal would cost $2 million, which the developers would pay for with more market-rate units — if the neighborhood decided to support that density. 

Riverbend officials plan to meet with the neighborhood again before submitting the updated, by-right site plan to the city.