The Charlottesville City Council has denied a rezoning request on Park Street that officials with the Monticello Area Community Action Agency have claimed is necessary for the survival of the organization.
“To me, it comes down to neighborhood protection,” said City Councilor Bob Fenwick shortly before the unanimous vote late Monday night.
MACAA and New Millennium Senior Living had applied for a rezoning from single-family residential to a more flexible zoning category called “planned unit development” that would have allowed commercial activity on the site.
That would have allowed a four-story 141-bedroom assisted living center to be built on MACAA’s existing site. The agency planned to move its operations to a new building on the property and have two duplexes built at 1021 and 1023 Park St. Those units would have been restricted to senior households who make less than 80 percent of the area’s annual median income.
The Planning Commission voted 4-2 to recommend approval on Oct. 24 and the council held its first reading on Nov. 6. At both meetings, MACAA officials said the sale of the property would help cover the agency’s operating costs in the face of waning federal and state funding.
City property records indicate MACAA has two properties on Park Street with a combined value of $3,336,925.
Several neighbors of the project had complained about the increased traffic it would have caused. Some argued that the new building would be out of scale with the neighborhood, but that the city needed to find some way to help MACAA and its Headstart program.
“The fate of this valuable program which serves the developing child cannot be determined by a profit-driven corporation which appears to be using MACAA to advance their agenda on a site not befitting,” said Kathleen Free, whose house is adjacent to the site.
City attorney Craig Brown said since the Planning Commission and the City Council’s previous meetings, the developers submitted a revised list of proffers including a commitment to build an additional 14 affordable units elsewhere in the city, possibly with the assistance of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville. They also agreed to give $90,000 to the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority to help replace flooring at the deteriorating Crescent Halls complex on Monticello Avenue.
However, a public hearing had been held on the former proffer statement and state law requires a new hearing to be advertised and conducted for the revised proffers. New Millennium and MACAA suggested holding a public hearing be held at the council’s Dec. 18 meeting.
The council instead chose to proceed on a vote to deny the request. The applicants were not given an opportunity to speak because the public hearing had been already been closed.
Harriet Kaplan, executive director of MACAA, declined to comment on the rezoning.
City Councilor Kathy Galvin made the motion to deny the rezoning because she said to approve it would not be good planning practice. She also said it would be against recent precedent.
“This planned unit development is being used to rezone this [single-family residential] to a [commercial] district,” Galvin said. “We didn’t approve rezoning a property on Booker Street from R1-S to [B-3], so why should we do so here?”
In the Booker Street example, developer Richard Spurzem had sought a rezoning to a commercial use because it would have allowed for a three-story building to be operated as three luxury apartments. Council denied that rezoning in July 2016.
Galvin said approving a planned unit development would be a “breach of trust” with the surrounding neighborhood, adding the neighborhood should have been more involved with a charrette to design the future of the site.
“That might have led to a successful mix of affordable housing embraced by the neighbors all within a walkable, bikeable and bus-rideable distance to the 30,000 jobs in downtown,” she said.
Councilor Kristin Szakos said she was torn about the vote because she felt there should be an assisted living center within city limits.
“I think that’s a community good that we need, but I do weigh that against this idea that this is an area where we also have a need for housing,” Szakos said, adding the new proffers did not tip the balance in favor of the rezoning.
Mayor Mike Signer said MACAA is an “amazing nonprofit” but it is not the council’s job to fix its fiscal problems. He added he hoped MACAA could work with the city to come up with another plan that fits the community vision.
“There have been a lot of arguments put together in this,” Signer said. “Job creation, seniors interacting with kids and then the proffer attempts on top of that. But it doesn’t add up for me to overcoming the really important concerns that have been raised to us by the neighborhood.”