Kuttner seeks to build small apartments in downtown complex

The Charlottesville Planning Commission has indicated they like the general direction that developer Oliver Kuttner has in mind for an apartment complex and commercial center at the corner of 2nd Street SE and Garrett Street.

“They are aiming for a product that is not really in the downtown area,” said city planner Brian Haluska.  The residential units would be between 450 and 600 square feet and rent would be under $1,000 a month.

To make that work, Kuttner needs a special use permit for additional density  to allow up to 229 apartments in a complex that would include building around the Glass Building. The commission held a preliminary discussion on Tuesday and will hold a public hearing in February.

The preliminary plan includes up to 18,750 square feet of office space, 5,000 square feet of retail space and 271 parking spaces.

“I find this to be extremely refreshing,” said Commissioner Lisa Green. “There is an entire group of young adults that want to live in something smaller… This is the kind of structure that other innovative communities are putting in.”

“Where else do we want density but right where we have businesses and jobs and transit?” asked Commission Chair Dan Rosensweig.

However, one nearby resident said she was concerned.

“We are not pleased with the proposal to increase the density of the housing in our area,” said Jeanne Maushammer, a resident of the Gleason building. “He’s talking about 450 square foot spaces that would be studio apartments and we feel this does not fit into the neighborhood as we see it.”

Maushammer said there would not be enough parking and that a nine story building would be out of character for the neighborhood.  

A nearby business owner said he supported the project.

“What he’s proposing is something innovative,” said Kurt Woerpel of the Downtown Design Center. “What he’s talking about is new and different and I support it very much.”

Kuttner is also the developer of the Gleason Building and the Terraces on First Street and the Downtown Mall.

“We have a developer who has a dream and that is to help people live closer to downtown Charlottesville,” said project designer Russell Nixon.

Nixon said the project would fit right in in major metropolitan areas.

“If you go to New York City, you see this type of development every day because folks there know you can’t just get in a car and go wherever you like,” Nixon said.

Nixon said the units would be targeted at anyone who wants to live in a small space, but that they would not be aimed at University of Virginia students.

“I consider this as filling as a hole in the market,” Kuttner said.  

One commissioner said she wanted market research to back up that claim.

“It would be good to make sure there’s really nothing like this on the market,” said
Commissioner Genevieve Keller said. “How many market-rate apartments are there in this section of the city?”

In all, there would be three buildings as part of the complex and Kuttner said they would be built in phases.

Haluska said the city’s Comprehensive Plan calls for density downtown as well as affordable housing units.

Kuttner said he would build the required parking spaces, but he will design the garage to be flexible

“I also believe that parking garages are going to become completely obsolete,” Kuttner said. He said driverless cars are coming and they will change the landscape.

The idea was generally well received by the Commission though some members were concerned about some of the details.

“I like the idea of trying a space that helps our residents become multimodal,” said Commissioner Taneia Dowell “I also like the affordability idea but I am not so sure about the small square footage.”

Keller said she was concerned that the building should have a mix of unit types, rather than just efficiencies.

“I’m only going to build small units because small units are what the market needs,” Kuttner said. He said if he does not get a permit for additional density, he will build the 47 units allowed by-right and convert the rest of offices. He also said he would design an aesthetically pleasing building.
“I won’t build a monster because it’s not who I am,” Kuttner said.

Temporary City Market recommended for approval

The city planning commission recommended allowing the City Market to operate a block east of its traditional location while the nine-story Market Plaza building is constructed.  A special use permit is needed to allow that use.

“The application specifically states a temporary market and the applicant is the City of Charlottesville because we will be running it,” Haluska said.

Gregory Powe and Keith Woodard, architects and developers of Market Plaza, have entered into a lease with the Charlottesville Parking Center to operate the surface parking lot. They in turn will lease the property to the city to run the market until the new public space next door is ready.

“It’s really probably the best temporary spot you can think of,” Haluska said. “From a topography perspective, it will be easier to move around.”

If approved by City Council, the market will be allowed to operate on the temporary site through the end of 2017.

 “I think putting three years on it allows us enough time,” Keller said. “Put a term on it, let things proceed, and it doesn’t perpetuate the status quo for a long time.”