By Sean Tubbs
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Over the past few years, several restaurants have opened up on Hinton Avenue in Charlottesville’s Belmont Neighborhood by taking advantage of a zoning designation that was given to sections of the street in 1949. There are currently six restaurants open or about to open on a two-block stretch of the road.
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At their meeting on April 14, 2009, the Charlottesville Planning Commission considered a rezoning to allow for one more restaurant on the street, but not without hearing from neighborhood residents who want a clearer plan on the future of their neighborhood.
The application was from the owners of 814 Hinton Avenue, who live immediately next to a former residence that was recently converted to the Belmont BBQ restaurant. That was allowed because 816 Hinton Avenue has been zoned since 1949 as Neighborhood Commercial Center (NCC), which allows for such a use. Because the original zoning ordinance did not contain provisions for buffers, the two structures are within four feet of each other.
Property owner Andrew Ewell said that he is seeking the rezoning in part because of the lack of a buffer. He said he was originally opposed to the presence of Belmont BBQ, but that in general its operations have not had as much of an impact on his residence. But, now he wants to turn that home into a business itself. His application included several pictures depicting the many commercial properties adjoining his property, including a tire repair shop across the street.
“Our intentions are to do everything possible to help the neighborhood with our property and to make our lot a more natural divider between the commercial corridor and the residential corridor,” Ewell said. There are 32 feet between the other side of his house and the next property line.
City Planner Brian Haluska said that in this case, the lack of a buffer between the two properties would make staff willing to recommend a rezoning, if Ewell would guarantee that a buffer of at least 20 feet be guaranteed. The new restaurant would not require a site plan, and thus no further review from City planning staff, unless Ewell and the other property owners opt to expand the existing building’s footprint.
For example, if Ewell opted to build a deck or a bigger kitchen, staff would have the opportunity to require more parking or ask for other demands in exchange for approval.
Haluska also said that parking would not be an obstacle to the rezoning because parking requirements for restaurants in NCC districts are not “a high hurdle to jump over” with one space required for every 250 square feet of seating area. Haluska acknowledged that as a result, parking tends to spill over into neighborhood streets.
Jesse Fiske of the Belmont-Carlton Neighborhood Association said that his group was concerned about how another eating establishment would affect traffic and parking, but also expressed concern that a rezoning may trigger changes in property values on neighboring properties.
“The greater concern is [over] what the broad sense of downtown Belmont will be when more businesses want to move in,” Fisk said. “What happens when the smoking ban happens and everyone moves outside to smoke cigarettes?”
Neighborhood resident Janet Hatcher said it was very difficult to compete with restaurant patrons for parking spots. She said she was not opposed to commercial activity on Hinton Avenue, but she wanted to know how much more her mixed-use neighborhood could absorb. Fellow neighbor Lisa Green said that she did not move to the Corner or Downtown for a reason. Belmont resident and property owner Greg Jackson called for a plan to study the future of Belmont.
Commissioner Mike Farruggio said one hurdle to granting the rezoning was the lack of parking in Belmont, but that he could see the benefits to the City getting a more natural buffer between Hinton’s commercial and residential zones.
Commissioner Dan Rosensweig said he disagreed that the neighborhood’s growth as a destination for restaurants was generally a positive step for the City and residents.
“I lived on Hinton Avenue during a period where shootings were nightly and there are many things that have happened to that area that have made the situation a lot better,” Rosensweig said. “I believe the commercial activity that has arisen since 2000 there has made that stretch of Belmont a safer place.”
Commissioner Michael Osteen said he had come into the public hearing in favor of the rezoning, but his mind became open when he heard the comments from the neighborhood. He said at some point, the neighborhood could pursue tools to restrict parking at certain times.
The application submitted for this public hearing did not include the buffer, and Ewell requested a deferral after it appeared that the rezoning would not be granted with without one. He offered to come back with “whatever proffers would help the neighborhood and help the issues with parking and with the buffer.”
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