The Charlottesville City Council wants residents of the Fifeville neighborhood to weigh in on the proposed sale of two parcels of land to the firm Southern Development. No one from the neighborhood spoke during a public hearing on the matter held on September 15, 2008. A second public hearing will be held at Council’s meeting on October 6, 2008.
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The City owns two parcels of land at 521 and 529 Ridge Street. They were conveyed to the City by VDOT in the 1970’s after a project to widen Ridge Street was abandoned, and the land has been undeveloped ever since.
In February, Council issued an RFP to find out who might be interested in purchasing the properties. Southern Development sent in the only response, and submitted a conceptual plan which would combine the two parcels with five others in order to create a mixed-use development totaling 40,000 square feet of commercial office space and 40 residential units. By right, Southern can build 64 units on the land it already owns, given that the land is zoned either R-2 or R-3. In order to proceed, Southern will need to request a rezoning to Planned Unit Development.
The staff report lists several potential benefits of the development:
City staff have negotiated a sales agreement with Southern Development in which the $253,000 purchase price will go entirely to the Fifeville affordable housing fund. Southern also agreed to “diligently pursue the necessary approvals” which would include approval from the Board of Architectural Review, a site plan review by the Planning Commission, as well as the rezoning to PUD. The staff report indicated that Council’s agreement to sell the land would not mean that the rezoning would occur. The land would not officially be handed over until the approval process is over. That could take up to 29 months.
No one from the Fifeville neighborhood spoke during the public hearing, but Colette Hall from the North Downtown Neighborhood Association indicated her opposition. She said the City should not cut down any more trees.
“We call ourselves a green city and yet I see development in different pockets around the City and I see trees being cut down,” Hall said. “Does every little piece of property [have to] be built on?”
Raymond Mason, a resident of the Westhaven public housing complex, urged the City to build affordable housing on what he called “two nice portions of land.”
In their discussion, Councilor David Brown said he was disappointed that no one from the neighborhood attended the hearing. But, he said he wanted more information about how the City’s sale of the land could allow for a better development. “The no-build option isn’t something we control, it’s something the developer controls, and there’s a lot of development that can be done by-right on that piece of property,” Brown said. He said that with the City land, Southern Development could avoid building on a steep slope and could have a much better project. Councilors Satyendra Huja and Julian Taliaferro agreed.
Councilor Holly Edwards said she didn’t like either the by-right option or the sale of the City land. She said that just because the Fifeville neighborhood did not have an active association, that did not mean that residents opinions are not valued. Edwards wanted more information on what the development might look like if the City declines to sell. Huja said Southern Development would build 64 units and would level the entire ground without preserving any of the open space.
Brown suggested holding the second public hearing, and urged City staff to make a special effort to notify Fifeville residents. Mayor Dave Norris agreed, but said might be a “controversial view.”
“I am generally a supporter of urban infill development. I’d much rather see this kind of development happen here in the City when it’s done well… then to see it out in the County and encourage more sprawl development.”
Norris said he did not want to lose the green space, but that the City would benefit by having more office space and residential units within walking distance of downtown. He also pointed out that Fifeville residents would have more money in a fund to rehabilitate the homes of low-income and elderly residents.
Council approved the first reading of the sales agreement, and will hold the second public hearing at its next regular meeting.
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