Dairy Market neighbors mobilize to have their say in the development of more large, mixed-use buildings that most of them can’t afford to live in

Metal rails flank a stairwell leading to a mid rise building, with a sign on a gate that reads, "No trespassing, Courtyard access for 10th & Dairy residents only."

When Stony Point Development Group sent its notice of a community meeting to the city of Charlottesville, the group planned to show drawings of what the developers envisioned for the lots adjacent to the Dairy Market on 10th Street NW and Grady Avenue.

On July 25, about 10 people from three of the companies involved set up easels in the Old Trinity Church, across the street from the Dairy Market. The easels held colorful drawings of mid rise buildings, five to seven storeys tall, similar to the ones the architects working on the project, JDavis, designed for larger cities like Baltimore or Raleigh.

The idea was to create five stations for people to talk, an “informal open house,” said Lori Schweller of Williams Mullen, the law firm representing Dairy Holdings, LLC, the Stony Point Development Group company for Phase 3 of the Dairy Market development.

The meeting did not go the way they planned.

A group of people standing and setting in a room, with stained glass windows behind them.  A man in the foreground, seen from behind, is looking at a woman holding papers and standing.
10th & Page Neighborhood Association President Vizena Howard (standing, in black t-shirt) had questions for Stony Point Development Group President Chris Henry (show in foreground from behind) in Stony Point’s public meeting about proposed developments on Preston Avenue in Charlottesville. She said in a press release after the July 25 public meeting that “Mr. Henry did not have answers to our questions about how much affordable housing would be available in Phase 3 of the development or what the rental prices would be. Because promises made by Stony Point in Phase 1 of the development were not honored, we are skeptical of their intentions going forward.” Angilee Shah/Charlottesville Tomorrow

The residents who attended were not interested in one-on-one conversations with the firms involved in the development. Instead, they pulled out the red chairs that were stacked in the corner, formed a circle and began a community meeting. Local activist Zyahna Bryant, who grew up in 10th & Page and traces her family history there back generations, called on residents as they expressed their dismay to Stony Point Development Group President Christopher Henry, who sat at one end.

Two emotional hours later, residents left the church with few of their questions or concerns answered.

Henry told Charlottesville Tomorrow that after the meeting he decided to pause his plans to apply for a special use permit in order to learn more about what the community wants. He has not yet decided yet how he will go about collecting that feedback, and said that Stony Point has not hired someone dedicated to community outreach.

But nearby residents aren’t waiting. 

The 10th & Page Neighborhood Association is hosting a meeting on Thursday, Aug. 3 at 5:30 p.m. at the Legal Aid Justice Center’s offices at 1000 Preston Ave, which is across the street from the Dairy Market. Association president Howard said anyone who is interested in the development should attend.

“Anybody can attend, but we definitely want people in the neighborhood to come,” said Howard. The association is asking that there be no pictures, interviews or recordings made at the meeting, and no press.

And if you live in the 10th & Page neighborhood, as defined by the city, Howard says one way to keep up with the association’s meetings is by requesting to join their private Facebook group.

Charlottesville Tomorrow is also collecting perspectives about what Charlottesville residents want from the lots. Answer our short survey to help us understand what community members need from this site. The more responses we receive, the better we can report on the many perspectives and stakeholders in Dairy Market’s expansion, and what residents truly want and need from development of this and other sites.

The neighborhood association’s Thursday meeting is part of an effort among neighbors of the Dairy Market to have a say in what is developed where they live. They are exploring their options about how to communicate with the developer and Charlottesville city officials, who have the authority to deny building permits.

Neighbors say they need a focused approach because the Dairy Market, and Stony Point’s current proposal for the lots that are now home to Twice is Nice, Fifth Season and Preston Suds laundromat, are not designed for longtime residents, who tend to be Black and earn lower incomes than folks in other Charlottesville neighborhoods. Instead, they cater to higher earning individuals who would be new to the area, residents said at last week’s meeting.

“Nobody in my neighborhood can afford to buy a sandwich at Dairy Market,” said Ralph Brown, a chef who lives a few blocks away on 12th Street NW.

History is repeating itself, said Rosia Parker is a community activist and public housing advocate who lives in Westhaven in the 10th & Page neighborhood.

“As a Black woman, I’m very disturbed. We’re going through a modern day Vinegar Hill,” she said, referencing the razing of a Black neighborhood in Charlottesville beginning in the 1960s. “The Dairy Market has taken from a proper community to put apartments here that we can’t afford to live in. We can’t even afford to eat in the Dairy Market, let alone to live [there].”

The Dairy Market marketing manager who coordinates rentals in the Old Trinity Church, Eleanor VonAchen, said in the meeting that she had not heard of Vinegar Hill when she first started the job, but that she Googled it.

Amanda Burns, a healthcare administrator who is running for Charlottesville City Schools Board in the November election, put a two-hour live stream of the meeting on Facebook. It has since been viewed by more than 2,400 people.

Shrubs and greenery at the entrance to a shop in a one-storey building. The sign reads "Preston Suds LAUNDROMAT." More one storey building, and an empty lot with weeds growing, are across the street.
Several residents at a July 25 community meeting about the development of lots on Preston Avenue in Charlottesville, explained how crucial it is to have a laundromat, Preston Suds, nearby. Stony Point Development Group President Chris Henry said he had not talked to the business owner before presenting drawings of a proposed redevelopment to the community. Angilee Shah/Charlottesville Tomorrow

10th & Page is a rapidly changing neighborhood. It was built to be a Black neighborhood in the late 1800s, much of it developed by community leader John West, a formerly enslaved person who was emancipated. Charlottesville quickly adopted racial covenants, which made this neighborhood one of the few areas in the city where people of color could own homes. Black families have lived in this area for generations. That is changing.

Since 2013, the population of the 10th & Page neighborhood has almost doubled from fewer than 900 to nearly 1,600 people. The median income has also almost doubled to as much as $60,000 per year, according to Census data analyzed by Charlottesville Tomorrow. At the same time, the Black population of the neighborhood has decreased from 77% to 55%, while the white population increased from 20% to 40%.

Read more about the first phase of the Dairy Market development in a 2017 report by Jordy Yager in CVILLE Weekly.

The Dairy Market and 10th and Dairy developments came in the midst of this demographic shift, and longtime residents say the development has disrupted the neighborhood. Dairy Market has become an informal hub for University of Virginia students, said Airea Garland, who lives nearby. And now people leave trash in her mailbox.

“You have every right to come in and purchase, but I do think it’s important to include the neighborhood in that, to include the community,” Garland said at the developer’s meeting. The room applauded.

Because the Dairy Market charges for parking, customers and employees are also taking up street spots in the neighborhood that residents must also use because their homes were often not built with driveways or garages, she said.

The disruptions go deeper, residents at last week’s meeting said. Many spoke about how important the existing local businesses on the Preston corridor are to the neighborhood. The low-cost thrift shop Twice is Nice is accessible to those who cannot afford the new shops in the Dairy Market. Many residents said they do not want those businesses to be replaced to serve wealthier customers.

Several residents also pointed out how crucial it is to have a laundromat, Preston Suds, nearby. Not everyone in the community has their own washing machines, said community advocates. Raylaja Waller, a coach from City of Promise, which provides educational and family services from its 10th & Page headquarters, said her organization would have to add helping people get their laundry done to their work if the laundromat were to close during construction.

Respondents to Charlottesville Tomorrow’s survey asking neighbors what they want out of the space have so far said many of the same things.

More than 175 people responded within five days of sending the survey through Charlottesville Tomorrow’s email newsletter and website. About 35 of those respondents live in the 10th & Page neighborhood, or the Venable and Rose Hill neighborhoods, which are near the development sites.

More than half (91) of people who responded called on Stony Point to make sure the existing businesses have a place in any new development and to make sure new businesses can operate in a way that stays affordable to the people who already live nearby.

This is a request Henry said he has heard from residents, but he said he can’t make any promises.

“I need to get this project approved first, then I have to figure out a way to build it, then I have to build it for three years. And then, if at the end of all that, if Fifth Season still wants to come, we’d lease them the ground floor of one of the mixed use buildings,” he said. “I think a garden center would be an amazing use. How cool is it to have plants around the front? But for me to guarantee that today, when all of those things are going to take me six years to complete, I just can’t do it.”

Henry said at the meeting that neither he nor anyone at his firm had spoken with any existing businesses.

You have every right to come in and purchase, but I do think it’s important to include the neighborhood in that, to include the community.

—Airea Garland, resident who lives near the Dairy Market in Charlottesville, at the Stony Point Development Group’s public meeting

The second most common response so far to the survey was to build affordable housing (67 responses).

Sharon D. Jones, a 10th & Page resident, wrote that her family was displaced from both Vinegar Hill and the Black neighborhood Gospel Hill, much of which was purchased by the UVA Health System in the 1970s and razed to make parking lots and medical facilities. She doesn’t want to be displaced again.

“I would like to see affordable housing built on the lot. 10th and Dairy has already increased Henry’s bank account and now is the time for him and the city to address the affordable housing crisis in Charlottesville. Henry will be a hero in town because he will be the solution rather than the problem,” she wrote.

Affordability in housing is often defined by a federal data point called area median income, or AMI. AMI has been going up in Charlottesville, driven largely by gains by high earners. The city does not have its own definition of affordability, and City Council heard in a presentation in 2022 that most rentals in Charlottesville are out of reach of those who get federal assistance for rent.

One-bedroom apartments that are 560 square feet start at more that $2,000 per month in the 10th and Dairy building, according to its website at the end of July.

More about Charlottesville’s changing neighborhoods

In an interview with Charlottesville Tomorrow late last week, Henry said he’s heard from many Charlottesville residents who want to see affordable housing at this location, but that it is not economically feasible for him to build.

“It’s extremely difficult financially for a developer when new construction is hundreds of thousands of dollars per apartment, and we’re talking, like, two to probably $300,000 or more by the time we get this going,” he said.

His firm is looking into options, he added. Though, he said he believes higher income housing is also a valid use of the lot.

“I think housing is a great opportunity for this site and many sites in Charlottesville that are now underutilized parking lots and light industrial,” he said. “A lot of people are coming from other places that wouldn’t be living here if there wasn’t the opportunity to rent from us. But they also work in Charlottesville. And I think that they deserve a place to live close to where they work.”

Those are the type of renters who would likely be served by the plans Stony Point presented at their community meeting. Those plans showed commercial and residential buildings, with seven storeys along Preston Avenue and five storeys along the residential West Street, in lots where one-story commercial buildings and parking lots now stand. The planned buildings look like modern cubes that take up most of the lots, much like the 10th and Dairy apartments that were built in 2020. They don’t save anything from the current buildings on the lots and don’t look much like the neighborhoods around them.

The existing homes in the neighborhood were not in the background, and they were grayed out on the maps. Existing local businesses were not featured.

The timeline for this development is unclear. But, if the Stony Point development moves forward, there will be many opportunities for public comment.

In order to get the city’s approval to build, Stony Point Development and its partners must first apply for a special use permit to build. (Last week’s community meeting was part of Stony Point’s special use application process. Charlottesville requires developers to hold community meetings before granting them a permit.)

Once the permit application is in, city staff will review it, which generally takes two to three months. If the city staff find no major problems with the proposal, the application then goes to the Planning Commission.

The Planning Commission will then hold a public hearing where community members are invited to speak. After that, if the Planning Commission gives the developer the green light, there will be a second public hearing before the City Council, which will have the ultimate say on whether the project can go ahead.