The Charlottesville Planning Commission voted, 4-3, Tuesday to recommend denial of a special-use permit that would allow a 126-unit apartment complex to be constructed in the Little High Street neighborhood.
“I think development of this parcel would be a good thing,” said Commissioner Corey Clayborne. “But I think what’s being requested might be a little excessive.”
Clayborne was joined by Commissioners Taneia Dowell, Genevieve Keller and John Santoski in the vote to recommend that City Council deny the permit.
Commissioners Lisa Green, Jody Lahendro and Kurt Keesecker voted against denial, though all three expressed reservations about the project during the group’s half-hour discussion.
Great Eastern Management Company will now take their request for a permit for 1011 E. Jefferson to City Council on a date to be determined.
The property is zoned B-1 and allows for up to 21 units per acre. The developer asked for permission for an increase to 87 units per acre in order to build an apartment complex consisting of only one- and two-bedroom units.
Nearly 30 people who spoke at the commission’s public hearing asked for the permit to be denied out of concerns the structure would be too dense for their neighborhood. Some wanted to compel the developer to build fewer units or to construct their building elsewhere.
“There’s a lot of expectation among those who spoke that we have a lot more power than we do,” said Lahendro, pointing out that the property can be developed by-right, without a permit.
“The only reason the applicants are here is because they’re asking for something more than what is allowed by-right, and we can then start a conversation to help improve the development,” he said. “They don’t have to be here at all.”
The B-1 zoning classification allows for buildings up to 45 feet in height. The 1.46-acre property could yield 30 dwelling units on top of commercial space.
“I think all of that is possible, but obviously they went to tremendous effort to bring us something that did not do that,” Keesecker said. He suggested the commission should discuss concerns about traffic and the building’s massing.
However, Santoski said he wanted to proceed cautiously.
“We’ve been through this before where we turn down special-use permits and we warn neighborhoods to be careful that what they might get by-right is a lot worse than what you would get by negotiating with the developer,” Santoski said. “We’ve also heard a neighborhood come out very much in support of limiting this special-use permit that’s before us.”
Keller said she felt the proposal was “speculative development” that would disrupt a stable neighborhood. She said the Planning Commission should have been consulted early in the process to de-termine whether the applicant should have gone for the permit or a rezoning.
“I really see this as a spot zoning by special-use permit,” Keller said.
Lahendro said that he could support the project if there was an effort to save the existing trees on site. He also wanted the building to be scaled down as it approaches 11th Street to match the residential scale.
“This building is a transitional building that bridges to two areas, a more commercial area to a more residential area,” Lahendro said, “and I’d like to see that expressed more in the architecture.”
About 20 minutes into the discussion, Santoski made a motion to deny the recommendation.
Keesecker began discussing conditions by which the commission might influence the development.
“There are some things about the application that we have in front of us that are worthwhile,” Keesecker said, adding that he appreciated that the design is intended to activate the street by having 20 pedestrian entrances.
Keesecker said he wanted to have an informal work session with the developer to flesh out the details.
But Santoski asked whether it was really the purview of the commission to help design the building.
“I think time and time again we hear from neighborhoods wanting to have an active role,” Santoski said. “Developers can choose to ignore that or to go with it or do something else. Now they’re asking for a special-use permit that I think in this case exceeds their stretch.”
Santoski suggested the Commission still could send a list of conditions.
However, one commissioner said they should not.
“I think the burden lies on the council,” said Dowell. “We’ve spent almost three hours tonight listening to our residents and it’s not something I can stand behind, so I think to me, personally, we leave that burden to council, and if council makes a decision that our citizens don’t like, then it is then up to our citizens to do something about our council.”
The developer was not given an opportunity to give a rebuttal after the public hearing.