The head of the nonprofit that runs Charlottesville’s Head Start program argued the organization’s future could be in jeopardy if the City Council does not approve a rezoning that would allow a senior living facility to be built off Park Street.

“This is a critical project for the Monticello Area Community Action Agency’s survival,” said Harriet Kaplan, the group’s executive director. “[More than 200] children are in our Head Start program. They would lose services. Their families who depend upon child care would have difficulty with job retention.”

Council held its first reading Monday on a request from MACAA and New Millennium Senior Living to rezone 9.3 acres from single-family residential to a customized zoning known as a “planned unit development.” There would be 141 units in a four-story building to be constructed on MACAA’s existing site.

“Then they would relocate MACAA’s operations and facilities to the adjacent Stone House, which is located at 1021 Park St., with a new school building proposed behind the Stone House,” said city planner Heather Newmyer.

As part of the proposal, the applicants agreed to build two duplexes on Park Street with four dwelling units that could only be rented to senior households with incomes of 80 percent of the annual area median income. Compliance would be ensured by the city’s housing coordinator.

The applicants also agreed to give $75,000 to the city’s Affordable Housing Fund. They would spend more than $328,000 on improvements to Park Street, including aligning MACAA Drive with Davis Avenue.

However, Newmyer said she is concerned about the residential density, the massing and the amount of surface parking on site. The residential density would be 16 units per acre, whereas the city’s Comprehensive Plan calls for a maximum of 15 units per acre.

“The scale of the building, the number of units and the business model itself is the driving force behind the large number of parking spaces,” she said.

Newmyer said neighboring residents are concerned about increased traffic, the size of the building, the commercial nature of the senior living center and the desire to keep the land in single-family residential zoning.

Much of the City Council’s discussion centered on the affordability of the units in the senior living center with rents for independent living units starting at $3,500 a month and assisted living unit starting at $5,000 a month. The facility will not take Medicaid so it is unlikely that low-income seniors could live there.

“I understand there is care involved but it is quite a pretty substantial rent being paid,” said Councilor Kathy Galvin.

“When you hear those numbers in a vacuum, it does sound like a lot of money,” said Bruce Hedrick of Retirement Unlimited, a Roanoke-based company that runs several assisted living facilities across Virginia.

Hedrick said the amount for assisted living includes meals, administration of medicine and care by licensed professionals. He added that purchasing the same services inside a private home would be more expensive.

“We have some economies of scale and have staff that are taking care of multiple residents versus one personal care person coming into a home,” Hedrick said.

Hedrick suggested doubling the cash contribution to the fund.

However, the council did not accept that increase because the rezoning request already had gone through the Planning Commission with the $75,000 figure.

“I wish it was as simple as crossing out one number and writing in another but, unfortunately, it is not,” said City Attorney Craig Brown. “Our code anticipates that a modification of a proffer statement will come in advance of a meeting.”

Instead, architect Kurt Wassenaar suggested that New Millennium donate the additional $75,000 to MACAA for them to work with the city on an affordable housing project.

Galvin said she could not support the rezoning because it would not be a good planning practice.

“Planned unit developments were meant to achieve a higher quality of development, but today they are used as a way to short-circuit the rewriting of outdated zoning that doesn’t comport with our community’s vision,” she said.

Galvin said allowing a commercial use in an otherwise residential area would be against the Comprehensive Plan, as would allowing the additional density. Instead, she would have preferred for the application to be for an affordable housing development.

“We can’t afford to give up rare redevelopable sites by approving projects that don’t align with the community’s vision,” she said.

Councilor Kristin Szakos said she is ambivalent about the project. She said she likes the four affordable units, the contribution to the Affordable Housing Fund and the road improvements. She also said she has heard from some Charlottesville residents who would like to move into an assisted living facility within city limits.

“For people who have been active in city affairs, that can be sad,” Szakos said. “People want to stay near their homes.”

Mayor Mike Signer wanted more details on MACAA’s financial challenges.

Kaplan said federal funding for organizations like MACAA has declined significantly over the past few decades.

“We need a buyer that will provide significant incomes so we can build a school building and have money left over for a rainy day fund so we aren’t so close to the bone with regard to our finances,” Kaplan said. “And we want to have a neighbor with whom we could have a relationship.”

Councilor Wes Bellamy said Galvin made significant points.

“I know Ms. Galvin often comes at things from not only a very analytical sense but her faith tells her to figure out how to compromise,” Bellamy said. “Let’s figure out how we can find an amicable [solution] for both sides.”

Signer said he was torn.

“I’m looking forward to the next discussion and what I learn between now and then,” he said.

The item is scheduled to return to the council at its Nov. 20 meeting.