By Sean Tubbs
Thursday, July 9, 2009
On July 6, 2009, Charlottesville City Council held the first of two readings on a proposal to rezone portions of Longwood Drive near the Fry’s Spring neighborhood from R-2 Residential to Planned Unit Development (PUD). That designation would allow for the applicant, Neighborhood Properties, to demolish 18 existing residential units in order to build 43 units in a series of townhouses. Another 16 units would be renovated, increasing the total amount of housing on the road by 25 units. The existing units are rental properties priced for low-income families. Many of the new units would be constructed for sale. After a half-hour of discussion, Council unanimously approved the proposal’s first reading.
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The Charlottesville Planning Commission
recommended denial of the rezoning
on a 4-2 vote at its meeting on January 13, 2009. The majority cited a concern that the City would lose some of its stock of affordable rental housing, as well as concerns about the increased amount of traffic that would be generated on Longwood Drive, a cul-de-sac. Commissioner Michael Osteen recused himself from that meeting because he worked with the developer to create the plan.
The applicant is offering the following proffers:
City Planner Brian Haluska said that staff recommended approval of the proposal because the conceptual plan meets the City’s goal of increasing economic diversity within neighborhoods. However, Haluska cautioned that he was aware that because Longwood Drive is already considered a low to middle income neighborhood, this project could be seen as gentrifying the neighborhood by introducing home ownership.
Richard Spurzem, a developer with Neighborhood Properties, noted in his testimony that this is the first time he has sought a rezoning in the City in his twenty-nine years of working in Charlottesville’s rental housing industry. He began buying up properties on Longwood Drive in 1998, and said he has taken a number of steps to improve the neighborhood since that time, including constructing speed humps, planting additional trees and installing streetlights.
“What Mike Osteen designed with [the conceptual] plan was to eliminate this 1970’s suburban type cul-de-sac development that was developed by Dr. [Charles] Hurt,” Spurzem said. Right now the street solely consists of three bed-room townhouses, and the rezoning would be an important step towards improvement. Spurzem said the new Longwood Drive would have a greater diversity of housing types.
Several people spoke during the public hearing, mostly in favor of the project. Many of them were dressed in yellow Neighborhood Properties t-shirts. Brian Hogg, a resident of the Fry’s Spring neighborhood and a member of the Board of Architectural Review (BAR), said he thought the project was a good one because it would increase economic diversity in the neighborhood, and because the proffers being offered would benefit the community as a whole.
However, some residents of Longwood Drive spoke out in opposition of the project. Cindy Stratton has lived on the street for 22 years, and said she was concerned about the impacts that will be created by the additional people.
“The parking is already deplorable, and we’re unable to handle that, so increasing units in my mind is not logical,” Stratton said. Stratton also said Neighborhood Properties has not done enough to reach out to neighbors on surrounding streets to communicate the scope of the project.
Wali Zakee, a homeowner on Longwood Drive, echoed Stratton’s concerns about bringing more people onto a street that is already overloaded with traffic. He also said the public trail might be a nuisance for property owners.
Colette Hall of the North Downtown Residents Association had asked if a second entrance would be required as part of the rezoning to PUD. Brian Haluska said that usually depends on circumstances. He said sometimes residents of adjoining neighborhoods campaign against second entrances out of a new PUD out of a fear of additional cut-through traffic. In the case of Longwood Drive, the developer R.L. Beyer owns a nearby right-of-way called Flint Drive that has not yet been built.
“If that road is ever to be constructed, there will be a second way in and out of this neighborhood,” Haluska said. Spurzem said it was his belief that R.L. Beyer would one day build that road.
During Council’s discussion, Councilor Satyendra Huja said he thought the new development would improve the neighborhood and would providing more affordable housing. Councilor Julian Taliaferro agreed with Huja.
Councilor Holly Edwards said that she supported the idea of improving the neighborhood but was not sure if a rezoning to PUD was really necessary. She said she wanted more amenities for children and wanted an ongoing financial commitment to maintaining the new trail connections. Edwards also wanted Spurzem to make a larger commitment to the City’s housing fund. She also suggested that the developer speak with officials at Jackson Via School to see how they can transform the neighborhood into one that offers outdoor activities for children.
Huja said he wanted to see a play area depicted on the site plan when it comes to the Planning Commission. Spurzem pointed him in the direction of a “tot lot” that is currently included in the conceptual plan.
Councilor David Brown said he thought the proffers submitted with the project sets a standard by which Council should judge future rezonings.
Mayor Dave Norris said his opinion of the project had improved since the Planning Commission, but added that he still thought there were some concerns about parking that still needed to be worked out.
If Council grants the rezoning at its next meeting, the developer will then need to submit a site plan to NDS. After that, the Planning Commission will be asked to review that plan to see if reasonably conforms to the conceptual plan as well as the comprehensive plan.
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