MACAA rezoning advances to City Council

The Charlottesville Planning Commission has recommended approval of a rezoning that would allow for a senior living facility to be constructed at the current site of the Monticello Area Community Action Agency.

The action came two weeks after the commission’s regular monthly meeting was canceled by the Charlottesville Police Department following a disruption by local political groups. None of the individuals who took part in the demonstration was in attendance Tuesday.

“I’d like to thank all of you for your patience with the delay that you have had,” said commission Chairwoman Lisa Green.

MACCA is working with New Millennium Senior Living on a request to have 9.3 acres on Park Street re-zoned from single-family residential to the “planned unit development” category.

MACAA was founded in 1965 as part of an initiative by President Lyndon B. Johnson to eradicate poverty in the United States. The agency is now struggling financially, and its executive director, Harriet Kaplan, told the commission earlier in the month that this plan will allow it to stay in business.

MACAA’s existing building would be demolished and New Millennium would construct a four-story senior facility in its place. That’s one fewer story than the Planning Commission saw during a preliminary discussion in August. In turn, MACAA would move into a new building that would be constructed on the property.

The facility would be operated by Retirement Unlimited Inc. At the public hearing, architect Kurt Wassenaar said there would be 85 full-time and part-time jobs with an annual payroll of $2.6 million and $400,000 in new tax revenue for the city.

There would be 145 units in the senior living facility. Four units would be built in a duplex at 1023 Park St. that could only be rented to people older than 62 who also make less than 80 percent of the area’s annual median income.

The applicant also would contribute $75,000 to the city’s affordable housing fund.

Commissioner Corey Clayborne asked the applicant about how the affordable housing provisions and how that contribution was determined.

Bruce Hedrick, of New Millennium, said he and city planner Heather Newmyer met with the city’s housing coordinator, Stacy Pethia.

“We walked through several different scenarios of what could be there,” Hedrick said. “We settled on the elderly age-restricted [model] but recognized there was a need for workforce affordable housing elsewhere.”

The city planner working on the proposal had concerns about the residential density of the project.

“The main issues that remain for staff would be the density of 16 dwelling units per acres,” said Newmyer, pointing out the city’s Comprehensive Plan calls for a maximum of 15 units per acre.

“There is also concern with the massing, given that the property is surrounded by single-family residential homes,” she added.

Commissioner John Santoski said he was concerned about the proposal.

“It’s just bothersome to me that we’re sitting here between a rock and a hard place on this between MACAA as the organization and our need to weigh in on planning and zoning,” he said.

Some commissioners sounded concerned that the four-story building might become an office building if Senior Millennium Living or MACAA went out of business. Newmyer said that could not happen because the application specifically lists which kinds of activities can take place at the site.

Several commissioners expressed concern about the use of planned unit development zoning, which allows for customized land-use rules to accommodate topography and other unique conditions.

Santoski is a frequent critic of the planned unit development tool and said that very few of them have exceeded what could happen under the current zoning.

“I’m going to come down on the side of saying I don’t think this is the right use for this property at this time,” he said.

Commissioner Genevieve Keller said she would have preferred for the project to come in as rezoning to one of the city’s commercial categories.

“We’re not really looking at an innovative arrangement of buildings,” she said. “If this were an apartment building with 146 units next to a school, would we be considering that a PUD?”

Another commissioner, however, said he felt the use of the planned unit development zoning was appropriate.

“This site is, in my mind, very unusual in that it has different characteristics depending where you are on the site,” said Commissioner Jody Lahendro, adding that residential-scale buildings would front Park Street and the larger building would be in the back.

“It seems to me that this is responding to the unique characteristics of this site, and a PUD is an appropriate tool for that,” he said.

Commissioner Kurt Keesecker said he was undecided about using the PUD to allow a four-story building.

“Are PUDs the tool we are going to use to put big buildings next to our neighborhoods?” he asked. “PUDs are probably asking for things we’ve never seen before or answers to difficult sites.”

Clayborne made an initial motion to recommend approval of the rezoning. He supported it along with Lahendro and Keesecker. Keller, Green and Santoski voted no.

Keller then opted to change her vote.

“I think we have had substantial discussion, and I would hope that our comments would go to council to inform their decision,” Keller said.

Commissioner Taneia Dowell recused herself from the meeting because she is an employee of MACAA.

The item now will move on to the City Council for its consideration Nov. 6.