The Charlottesville City Council has approved the sale of two parcels of City-owned land on the corner of Ridge Street and Cherry Avenue to Southern Development. The firm owns the land surrounding these city parcels and will seek a rezoning to create a Planned Unit Development (PUD). This designation would allow preservation of open space, a mix of uses and housing types, and development closer to the street. Under the PUD scenario, Southern Development plans to build 40,000 SF of commercial office space and 40 residential units.
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The City had taken the unique step of holding a second public meeting after no one from either the Fifeville or Ridge Street neighborhoods attended. Three weeks later on October 6, six people spoke out against the project. According to Assistant Economic Development Director Chris Engel, who presented the proposal for the City, all households within sight of the parcels were given notice of the hearing.
Neighborhood resident Carla Manno assured the council that “the neighborhood is fully against this.” She attributed the low turn-out at both meetings not to apathy, but to a general impression that Fifeville citizens will not be listened to, ever since a meeting scheduled in last December was cancelled unexpectedly. She questioned the need for more office space when there is so much in the city already, and suggested that the already blighted areas be developed before green spaces.
A few other residents voiced their opinions. Local artist Edward Thomas said he collected 60 signatures to oppose the “destruction of woods” and “construction of luxury condos.” He raised the concern that the land may have been a family graveyard before developers attempted to destroy the evidence. This claim was picked up by some City Councilors, and an archaeological review was proposed.
Matthew Simon said Fifeville residents are against this development, but added that it is harder to gauge the reaction because so many are renters. Collette Hall of the North Downtown Residents Association worried that the vehicle turning lane from Ridge onto Cherry might be lost because of this development. Finally, Emily Worrell wondered what would happen to Oak Street with such an increase of traffic.
Councilors David Brown and Satyendra Huja underscored that the decision before Council is not whether to develop or leave open space, but whether to allow a by-right development or use their leverage to ensure a planned development. Councilor Huja emphasized that by-right Southern Development could build 64 units, something he said would be devastating for Fifeville. Councilor Holly Edwards was the only councilor to express opposition to the sale. She raised several questions about whether the public input was adequate, how likely it is that a graveyard lies under this property, and whether the adjacent IGA lot, now for sale, could be developed instead.
Council discussed what to do with the $253,000 that will come to the City through the sale of the land. The sales agreement states that the money will go to the Fifeville affordable housing fund. Mayor Dave Norris and others discussed some possible uses of the proceeds of the sale. All agreed that Fifeville should benefit, but there was disagreement over whether Tonsler Park could be improved instead.
City Attorney Craig Brown said that because closing is not expected to occur until after the rezoning, there would be time to designate the appropriate fund for the money.
One of the allowances in the proffer made by South Development is for the lease of a police substation in the new development. All of the councilors agreed that is would not be a good location for one, and the language was taken off the ordinance.
There will be more opportunity for public input as the development proceeds. The item will have to proceed through the Board of Architectural Review, the Planning Commission, as well as City Council. Because there will be a rezoning, the City and Southern Development will negotiate on the appropriate proffers. The process is expected to last at least two and a half years.
The ordinance to approve the sale passed on a 4-1 vote with Councilor Edwards voting against.
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