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Charlottesville Planning Commission recommends denial of two zoning amendments

Two developers have been unsuccessful in convincing the Charlottesville Planning Commission to allow them to alter projects that were approved by the City Council several years ago.

At a public hearing last week, commissioners recommended denial of Southern Development’s latest request for more flexibility in how the proposed William Taylor Plaza at the intersection of Cherry Avenue and Ridge Street can be built.

They also recommended denial of Neighborhood Properties’ request to allow five more townhomes at the corner of Longwood Drive and Harris Road.

“I have a problem with developers coming in and asking for something to be amended when they haven’t fulfilled the original agreement we had in the first place,” said Commissioner John Santoski.

In July 2009, the City Council approved a “planned unit development” zoning to allow for higher residential density on Longwood Drive.

That November, the council approved the mixed-use William Taylor Plaza development to be built on the forested land at the top of Cherry Avenue over the objections of some in the community. Up to 100,000 square feet of building space was allowed.

A planned unit development rezoning establishes specific rules that the development agrees to abide by. For example, the approved rules for William Taylor Plaza require that 90 percent of parking for the mixed-use development must be in a structure.

Southern Development has tried several times to get the city to agree to amend the rezoning.

In January, Southern’s vice president of development, Charlie Armstrong, asked for changes to accommodate a Marriott hotel on Cherry Avenue, a street that has its own zoning district intended to encourage mixed-use development. When it appeared the commission did not support the change, Armstrong asked for a deferral.

This time around, Armstrong asked to reduce the 90 percent parking requirement to 60 percent. To sweeten the deal, he offered to expand an “arboretum” on the property to 25 percent of the site, up from 20 percent.

Most of the public comments received have been in opposition to the rezoning.

“The public is concerned about the impact a hotel will have on the neighborhood, the scale and architecture of a large development, the effect of a large development on the historical integrity of Fifeville, and how traffic on Cherry Avenue will be impacted,” said city planner Matt Alfele.

Armstrong said he thinks the new plan is an improvement, thanks to previous work sessions.

“This is a big change from what you saw last time, which was just a rectangular box showing what appeared to be a monolithic structure,” Armstrong said. He then showed a more detailed rendering than one shown at previous work sessions, but commissioners objected to the fact that he had only made it available on the day of the public hearing.

“I think we’ve become increasingly dependent on last-minute information and that’s difficult in making a decision,” said Commissioner Genevieve Keller. “We all spend time reviewing material in advance and then we have to adjust.”

Armstrong said the property taxes collected on the property would increase from $9,000 to $425,000 a year once it’s developed.

“Certainly, it’s not all about the money, but this is a significant thing to note to the city because that’s nearly half a penny on the tax rate at a time we need funds for things,” Armstrong said.

Antoinette Roades, a historian who lives close to the site, said the property is not suitable for development because of its topography and because it is a probable location of a cemetery dating back to the 19th century.

“It’s a steep-sided, wooded ravine bisected by a creek,” Roades said. “In 1883, heirs of Allan Woodson Hawkins reserved a graveyard on a deed … the land described in the deed overlaps a large part of what Southern Development wants to build on.”

The commission did not address Roades’ specific concern but made it clear it was unwilling to amend the project, and voted 5-0 to recommend the City Council deny the request.
Commissioners Jody Lahendro and Dan Rosensweig were not present at the hearing.

Longwood Drive

Richard Spurzem, of Neighborhood Properties, wanted to amend the July 2009 rezoning to accommodate five additional townhomes that would face Harris Road. He said these units would be priced at around $230,000, which would be considered affordable to a family that makes 80 percent of the area’s median income.

“We think it’s a product that the city needs and it’s a product that the city wants,” Spurzem said.

Several residents of Longwood Drive expressed opposition to the amendment.

“If this new development is allowed to proceed, it will be too close to my own home,” said Lisa Pisani, who moved to Longwood Drive in 2013. “We want to keep it nice and quiet and peaceful the way it is.”

Some commissioners objected to the garages that were included with each townhome.

Keller said she does not think the townhomes would fit the character of Harris Road.

“I have a concern that there aren’t porches on the first-floor level because I don’t think the garages support our goals [of place-making],” Keller said.

Spurzem said many of the newer houses elsewhere on Harris have garages and that homebuyers want them.

Santoski said he could not support the amendment because the existing project has not yet been built out to capacity. The commission voted 5-0 to recommend denial.

However, the commission did vote to recommend a special-use permit that will allow Spurzem to redevelop 1725 Jefferson Park Ave. with 19 apartment units. If approved by the City Council, the project would replace an existing structure there that has eight units.