In 2003, the City of Charlottesville amended its zoning ordinance to give City planners and developers additional tools to increase the residential density of the City. One such mechanism is the Planned Unit Development (PUD) zoning classification, which allows for smaller lot sizes.
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In the past few years, at least two sections of the Fry’s Spring neighborhood have been rezoned as Planned Unit Developments – Cherry Hill and Huntley. Both projects have pitted the City’s interest in increasing the housing stock against the desire of the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association (FSNA) to retain the character of their community.
Another application for a PUD came before the
during a joint public hearing on April 8, 2008. Hill and Center LLC, a development of Tom Hickman and Jack Stoner, sought the rezoning of nearly 2.5 acres at the ends of Hill Street and Center Avenue from R-2 to PUD. The conceptual plan submitted with the application shows 12 single-family detached units, but no specific number of units was cited in the staff report. The applicant proposed extending Hill and Center streets to provide vehicular access to the sites.
The developable area of the property is constrained by a stream, an 18-inch water line and very steep topography. The land is one of the only remaining undeveloped tracts in the area.
The FSNA voted in December 2007 to oppose the rezoning, citing the loss of forest, an increase in traffic, as well as various environmental concerns. Their disapproval came despite a FSNA task force that worked closely with Hickman as plans for the project evolved.
Before reading his staff report, City Planner Brian Haluska reminded the Commission that if they were to vote to recommend denial of the rezoning, they could only do so based on the merits of the property under consideration and not any additional prior rezonings in the neighborhood.
Under the existing zoning, Haluska said the applicant could build 5 units, depending on how they were oriented. Staff’s recommendation was to deny the application in part because there is no interconnection between Hill and Center Streets.
“I think the impact in that area and the impact to that neighborhood would be too much for that street,” Haluska said.
said a member of the FSNA had told him the units would have accessory apartments, meaning the total number of dwelling units would be double what is listed in the staff report. Haluska explained that under City code, an accessory apartment is considered to officially be part of the house it is attached to, and can only be rented out if the owner resides on the property. Otherwise it would be considered a duplex.
Neither Jack Stoner or Tom Hickman were present for the public hearing, so it was left to Chris Murray of the Jefferson Area Board for Aging (JABA) to present the application to the Planning Commission. JABA is a partner in the development and would invest in half the homes to be built.
“We seek to increase the stock of senior-friendly and affordable housing in the City and to create intergenerational neighborhoods,” Murray said. He said the Hill and Center project was an attempt to address the lack of supply of such houses, given that the baby boom generation is beginning to retire. The idea is to create residential units with universal design principles such as wider doorways and large rooms designed to allow an elderly couple to live on one floor. Accessory apartments would be created for each unit and would be marketed to nursing students.
“We believe that an apartment at market rate could reduce the housing cost for the senior in that house by almost 40%,” Murray said.
Murray said there were no large developable tracts left in Charlottesville, and that it was necessary to pursue “in-fill development on marginal land.” He reminded the Commission that increased density would help grow the demand for the bus lines that currently serve the neighborhood.
Commissioner Genevieve Keller asked Murray if he could guarantee that units in the development would only be sold to the elderly. Murray responded that was not possible, but that every effort would be made to make the units senior-friendly. Keller said that was admirable, but encouraged JABA to also put efforts into retrofitting existing home.
Thirteen people spoke in opposition to the rezoning. Peter Hedlund, FSNA President, listed many reasons why he found fault with the project, including increased traffic, the inability of the City to police who would live there, and an excess of new development in the neighborhood. He encouraged the City to consider purchasing the property to develop a new park, something mentioned by several other citizens.
Other speakers singled out different reasons why they felt the rezoning would not be consistent with the City’s Comprehensive Plan. Charles King said previous PUDs have been ecological disasters, and that the loss of tree canopy in the community would not be a benefit to the City. Carrie Hannan said accessory apartments would not offset the cost of owning the home, because such units are assessed accordingly. Morgan McCloud said the increased density would not fit with the existing character of the neighborhood, which consists of single-family units and duplexes. Architect Michael Wenrick said the environment would be inhospitable to seniors due to the extreme topography. Michael Petrus said the site currently acts as a filter for the watershed, and that water quality would be affected as a result. Dave Timmerman said Center Avenue is more like an alley than a real street.
After the public hearing, Commissioners had the chance to weigh in. Keller began by saying
she felt the steep slope ordinance was designed to prevent developments such as this. Commissioner Hosea Mitchell said he was at first enthusiastic about the proposal, but his support waned after hearing the comments from the public. Commissioner Cheri Lewis said she could support a PUD under different circumstances, but that the slopes were too steep to support the proposed density. Commissioner Dan Rosensweig said he supported JABA’s need to find more places to build, but that this site was not appropriate.
Commissioner Michael Osteen agreed with his colleagues, but pointed out that under the existing zoning, the owner had the right to clear cut without any review from the City, but a PUD would at least give the trees some protection via site plan review. PUDs require 15% of the land be left in open space, and the applicant had proposed keeping half of the 2.5 acres in open space.
After the public hearing and the Commissioner’s discussion, Murray requested a deferral on behalf of the applicant. That will allow Hill & Center LLC to submit a new conceptual plan. There is no time limit for either the City or the applicant to act.
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