The Charlottesville Planning Commission talked about two major development projects Tuesday, but an advertising error for the meeting meant they could take no action.
The commission heard updates on Oliver Kuttner’s proposed nine-story apartment building near the Downtown Mall and the William Taylor Plaza project off Ridge Street and Cherry Avenue.
Both projects had to be rescheduled for public hearings on May 12.
Kuttner is seeking a special use permit in order to build more than 200 residential units above and around the existing Glass Building on Second Street Southeast and Garrett Street. He wants to build 229 apartments, 5,000 square feet of office space, and 4,000 square feet of retail.
To do so, he needs a special use permit in order to exceed the 43 units per acre allowed under the existing zoning.
Kuttner said most of the units will be between 450 and 700 square feet and the building will be built in phases. He said he hopes all units will be below $1,000 a month including utilities.
“I want to create housing that people can actually afford to [buy],” Kuttner said. “One way you do that is to simply make [rooms] designed efficiently and smaller because a building is [priced] by square foot.”
“Everyone else is building things that rent for $1,600 a month,” Kuttner added.
The proposal has changed since it was last before the commission in January. Kuttner now wants to build a four-story building on top of the existing Glass Building rather than a nine-story one. The nine-story building will now be constructed behind the Glass Building.
Several residents of the nearby Gleason building, which was constructed in 2008, took the opportunity to speak against the project. One pointed out that Kuttner’s proposal is still at the conceptual stage.
“We are being presented with the opportunity to comment on something that is not stated clearly or definitively,” said Bob Maushammer. “We don’t know what the proposal is that Mr. Kuttner is making.”
The project was generally favored by the commission.
“I don’t have a problem with the density,” said Commissioner Lisa Green said. “That’s the idea we put in our Comprehensive Plan for density. It’s two blocks from the Downtown Mall.”
Green also said the commission should have a conversation about how to encourage construction of housing units for all income ranges. She pointed out that the Gleason has high-end luxury condominiums right across the street from Friendship Court, which is restricted to low income families and individuals.
“It does seem to be a work in progress and I hope by the time we see it next month there is some specificity so I could feel more comfortable with it,” said Commissioner John Santoski.
While the commission largely favored Kuttner’s proposal, they were not receptive to the new request from Southern Development to amend a previous rezoning plan for the William Taylor Plaza, a proposed mixed-use development at the corner of Ridge Street and Cherry Avenue.
Council approved a rezoning in November 2009, but Southern Development has sought several changes to that plan.
The commission previously indicated in January they do not favor changes to the plan that would have allowed a hotel to be built on Cherry Avenue.
“They’re wanting to move in a direction that would embrace a lot of the changes that have been suggested,” said city planner Matt Alfele.
The existing zoning requires 90 percent of the parking on the site to be in a structure, but the company wants that lowered to 60 percent.
“Some of the design changes you’ll see in May are really aimed at activating the Cherry Avenue streetscape including a formal entrance with a large entryway into buildings there,” said Southern Development’s vice president Charlie Armstrong. “The intent is to get people onto that street.”
Armstrong said he is no longer asking for the LEED certification requirements to be dropped and wants to increase the amount of the property set aside for an arboretum.
“I admire Mr. Armstrong’s tenacity in bringing this forward again and trying to make some minor changes,” Santoski said. “You can dress this up however you want to, but it still looks the same as it has always has.”
Armstrong argued the plaza would be the first step in revitalizing Cherry Avenue, pointing out that nothing new has been built on the street for many years.
“Cherry Avenue and Fifeville has a great neighborhood fabric,” Armstrong said. “It has some interesting streets and layouts that would never be built today but give the place its character. What it doesn’t have is any kind of viable commercial areas.”
However, Keller said she wanted more certainty than that.
“I’m not looking for ‘could’ or ‘would,’” Keller said. “I’m looking for ‘will-be.’”
Armstrong said he could only say that there would be a hotel with more 100 rooms with overnight guests who would be spending money in town.
But commissioners indicated they are not likely to change their mind.
“Cherry Avenue has been waiting for the right project, and in my estimation this isn’t the right one and we can wait a little bit longer,” Santoski said.