Draft master plan for Friendship Court revealed

The nonprofit organization slated to purchase Friendship Court has published a draft vision for its redevelopment of the subsidized housing complex as a mixed-income community.

“We wanted to put this report out so people could take stock of where we are,” said Frank Grosch, chief executive officer of the Piedmont Housing Alliance. “The master plan won’t be done until folks have a chance to go through this and give us feedback.”

The PHA announced last year it will purchase a majority of the development in November 2018 and will retain the current 150 units funded by Section 8 vouchers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Work on the design began in December and a final master plan is expected to be ready by the end of the summer.

“The entire plan and the phasing plan really turns on our first commitment, which is to not displace any residents before, during and after redevelopment,” Grosch said.

Friendship Court was built in 1978 following the urban renewal of Garrett Street. As with Vinegar Hill, homes and businesses were purchased through eminent domain and cleared in the name of removing neighborhoods thought by government officials to be blighted.

PHA acquired a share of the property in 2001 when the site was purchased by the National Housing Trust and Enterprise Preservation Corporation as a joint venture.

A design team consisting of nationally known architects has developed the plan based on input from residents and other stakeholders. The interview process is ongoing.

Some recommendations in the plan include changing rules that require interior walls to be painted white or off-white, a desire that ceilings be higher and larger windows that will allow for more natural light.

“The redevelopment needs to use modern, market-driven apartment plans for all apartments,” reads the draft plan. “These plans can offer more efficient, comfortable and attractive spaces even with limited square footages in units.”

The report states that parking lots have become a de facto recreation area where people interact socially.

“Unfortunately, it is a dangerous space in which to play or ride bikes,” reads the plan. “Sometimes those who use it as a social space are negative elements from outside Friendship Court. Those elements can make the space feel unsafe for residents.”

The black fence that currently surrounds the buildings will be removed.

“Although installed to reduce crime, the fence instead feels like a wall trapping residents in, creating opportunities for conflict at the few entry and exit points,” the plan reads.

The plan points out that an obstacle to redevelopment is Pollocks Branch, a stream that runs through a box culvert between 16 and 18 feet under the ground. The design team is advising new structures not be built directly above it.

The proposed unit count of 480 could change.

“It’ll take another turn or two of the wheel to really get into exact unit sizes, exact building sizes and unit mixes,” Grosch said. “We’re committed to the mix of the two, three and four bedrooms for the Section 8 housing.”

Each building will contain a mix of units for different income levels.

The annual median income in Charlottesville was $77,800 in 2015, according to HUD.

The 150 Section 8 units will continue to be for people who make less than 30 percent of the area median income. These residents pay 30 percent of their income in rent and the rest is covered by vouchers.

Another 50 units will be designated for people who make less than 60 percent of AMI. These units are subsidized through tax credits and will be guaranteed as affordable for 30 years. Another 30 non-supported units will go to people who make between 60 percent and 100 percent of AMI.

The rest of the units will be at market rate.

“The goal is very much to mix the units throughout the buildings,” Grosch said. “It’s to fulfill the social goal of integrating people economically.”

Grosch said it is important to begin the planning well in advance of their official ownership in 2018.

“It is real estate, so the cycle takes a while. And this is Charlottesville, so things take time,” Grosch said. “It is better for us to take time and not rush.”

Grosch said he hopes construction will begin by 2019. To make that deadline, he’s hired a project manager and engineering firms to begin preliminary work on a site plan for the first phase of complex.

The draft concept envisions the entire site redeveloping over a 10-year period.

To accommodate the commitment to maintain all existing units for low-income residents, the site will be redeveloped in phases. The first will involve building on existing green space with units facing Sixth Street.

Fourth Street and Hinton Avenue will be extended through the site, though it has yet to be determined if these will be full streets or just pedestrian walkways.

The concept calls for ground-floor retail along Second Street and the Hinton Avenue extension. Building heights toward the Belmont neighborhood will be kept low to be closer in scale to the single-family residences.

The draft plan envisions 28,000 square feet of community and commercial space and 6,000 square feet for an early-childhood center. The estimated cost for redevelopment is more than $90 million.

“It’s an awful lot of work for us to do but it really feels like we’re off to a great start,” Grosch said.