Commission not pleased with Cherry Avenue hotel proposal
When a Southern Development representative recently asked the Charlottesville Planning Commission to consider changes to a mixed-use development to accommodate a hotel on Cherry Avenue, the response was not favorable.
“I see this as extending the Fifth Street and Interstate 64 interchange into the heart of our city and I really don’t like that,” said Commissioner Genevieve Keller.
The City Council agreed to rezone forested land at the corner of Cherry Avenue and Ridge Street in 2009 for a mixed-use development that would be called William Taylor Plaza.
Commercial buildings were to be constructed on Cherry and apartment buildings would be built on Ridge. However, the project has yet to get off the ground.
“Cherry Avenue has long been in the city’s Comprehensive Plan for redevelopment and revitalization,” said Charlie Armstrong. “Nothing has happened.”
Armstrong is seeking an amendment to the rezoning to allow for a Marriott-branded hotel. He said he needs to be able to build a parking lot behind the hotel rather than a parking garage as required by the rezoning.
Armstrong also wants a requirement that it be certified as energy efficient to LEED standards to be dropped.
“There would still be green building features and other low-impact development [features] but LEED is a very specific requirement,” he said. “That doesn’t fit well with the hotel program that the Marriott brand is proposing.”
Armstrong also noted the property is within the boundaries of the Strategic Investment Area plan, a study area that was adopted into the city Comprehensive Plan last February.
“[The plan’s] recommendation for Ridge Street is specifically to facilitate market-driven development of major properties on the west side, and that is this,” Armstrong said.
Two members of the public asked the commission at its meeting Tuesday to recommend denial of the changes.
“We are very much in support of sensible development in the area,” said Clayt Lauter, who owns land adjacent to the property. “However, these changes really are abhorrent to the development of this part of the city.”
“The commitment to provide at least 90 percent of parking in an underground structure has been replaced with a simple statement that surface parking will be provided and shielded from view,” said Travis Pietila, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Pietila urged commissioners to keep the original requirement.
Armstrong said he cannot afford to build three stories of underground parking to meet the requirement.
“Structured parking costs $30,000 per space to build and that’s just not feasible,” Armstrong said.
Commissioner John Santoski said he didn’t care about the expense and that Armstrong shouldn’t have agreed to that condition back in 2009 if he had no plans to build it.
“It gives me extreme heartburn that they want to take away the open space and substitute open-air parking and that they want to take away the LEED certification, which was a big selling point at the time,” Santoski said.
Keller, who was on the commission in 2009, said she was surprised to see the requested changes.
“I don’t think any of us thought of a hotel as commercial,” Keller said. “I think we were thinking restaurants, cafes, offices and those sort of more neighborhood commercial uses.”
Missy Creasy, assistant director of the city’s Neighborhood Development Services department, said that zoning ordinance would classify a hotel use as commercial. However, she also said the commission should look at the proposal as if it is a brand-new application.
“They have an approved [planned unit development] and that is the zoning for the site,” Creasy said. “They are asking to revise the rezoning and this brings the opportunity for all things to be discussed because it will be a new zoning.”
One new commissioner said he could not support the amendments because the hotel would be a rectangular building not envisioned in the original rezoning.
“What I see in the 2009 plan are three articulated blocks of buildings with porosity in between them to allow pedestrians to get from Cherry to the interior lot,” said Jody Lahendro, who joined the commission last year. “It’s a completely different animal that I’m looking at.”
Other commissioners also said they could not support the rezoning.
“This project in concept is to bring life and vitality to the neighborhood of Cherry Avenue and I’m not sure you’re going to convince me that a hotel does that,” Commissioner Lisa Green said.
“We want to keep this a neighborhood,” said Commissioner Taneia Dowell.
In an email late last week, Armstrong said he is still thinking through how to respond to the commission’s concerns.