The developer of a proposed apartment building near the former Martha Jefferson Hospital said his request for additional residential density will help meet Charlottesville’s need for more housing units.

“If the jobs are here for high-income earners across all age groups, and they want to live near where they work, they’re going to drive up the cost of housing,” said David Mitchell, construction manager for Great Eastern Management Co. “The only way to combat that is to provide housing across the board at all levels.”

Mitchell wants to do just that and has a special-use permit before the City Council on Wednesday to allow as many as 126 units on a 1.4-acre lot at 1011 E. Jefferson St. The project would be called East Jefferson Place

Nearby residents argue the request will result in a building that is out of scale.

“It is way out of context with the surrounding buildings, which are used as office spaces but they are house-sized,” said Kate Bennis, president of the Little High Neighborhood Association. “That’s not harmonious and it’s not transitional.”

The property is designated as B-1 in the city’s zoning code, which allows for 21 units per acre. However, landowners within such a district can ask for a special-use permit for an increase to 87 units per acre.

A divided Planning Commission voted 4-3 in October to recommend the City Council reject the permit. More than two dozen people spoke out against the proposal.

“The Planning Commission indicated the requested density may be too much for the transitional nature of the parcel and area,” wrote city planner Carrie Rainey in a staff report.

In June, new materials were submitted for the project that incorporated feedback from the public and the commission.

“All of it was in response to attempting to alleviate the fears and concerns of the neighborhood,” Mitchell said. “We added additional bulb-outs and crosswalks and more traffic-calming and pedestrian protection.”

The requested density increase has not been changed but the design has been shifted so there will be five stories along 10th Street Northeast and three stories along 11th Street Northeast.

Alexander Ikefuna, director of the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development Services, has concluded that the new building design meets the city’s height requirements.

Great Eastern also is now proposing as  much as 10,000 square feet of commercial space on 10th Street Northeast that could be used for restaurants or shops. Mitchell said that would mean a reduction of apartments in the building.

The updated application also includes results of a market study conducted by S. Patz and Associates that demonstrates a demand for the 126 units in a community with an apartment vacancy rate of 0.7 percent.

“The demand for this type of living based on downtown-area apartment occupancy rates and past development trends is currently not being met, partly due to the limited number of readily available sites,” reads the conclusion of the market study.

Great Eastern also is proposing to cap the number of bedrooms at 180 and that leases will be for each apartment rather than by bedroom. Leasing by bedroom has become a common practice among new housing complexes on West Main Street, including the Uncommon and the Flats at West Village.

The developers now propose setting the building farther back from 10th and 11th streets.

If he does build 126 units, Mitchell said at least four of them would be rented to families or individuals who make less than 80 percent of the area’s median income. The alternative under city code is to pay into the city’s affordable housing fund.

As for the rest of the price points, Mitchell said he doesn’t know yet because the apartments likely won’t be completed for a couple of years because another space has to be built to replace the doctor’s office currently on the site.

“The market units that are not rent-controlled per the ordinance will be what the market is,” Mitchell said.

Bennis said she will not be in town Wednesday, when the council is meeting due to the Independence Day holiday, and neither will many of her neighbors. She’s concerned the timing of the public hearing is not in the neighborhood’s favor.

“It’s been complicated to us in terms of how fair the process feels,” Bennis said.

“We agree completely that the [existing] building will be taken down and they will have to build something new there,” she said. “Our question is, why do they have to go for the maximum density possible? The site was already zoned with 21 units per acre, which would be 30 or 31 units.”

Bennis said the neighborhood would support a special-use permit that grants residential density that is not the maximum.

“From the very beginning they have not budged on the density,” she said. “They’ve spun this narrative that they’re done all this work based on the recommendations of the neighborhood without acknowledging we’ve said we would support [a lower density].”

Mitchell said the footprint of the building with a special-use permit would be 40 percent of what can be built by-right.

‘We can put between 135,000 and 150,000 square foot of commercial space as allowed under B-1 zoning,” Mitchell said. “On top of that, we can put 31 units with up to four bedrooms each. We’ve done the math on that.”

Bennis, a member of the city’s PLACE Design Task Force, knows that potential.

“I know the massing is actually by-right,” Bennis said. “They can go very big in that space. It was a strange way to have zoned it.”
Bennis said part of the problem is the special-use permit process, in which the city can extract conditions in exchange for additional density or height.

“The city can ask for capital improvements such as street improvements,” she said. “The city gets funding for things they need funding for, as well as tax revenue. The developers get more density and they get more profits. The neighborhood sort of takes the burden.”