City planning commission denies waiver for Meadowbrook Flats

The developer of the proposed Meadowbrook Flats building at the corner of Emmet Street and Barracks Road was dealt a setback Tuesday by the Charlottesville Planning Commission.

“I don’t see an overwhelming public benefit in recommending to City Council that they grant the critical slopes waiver,” said Commissioner Genevieve Keller.

Developer William Park sought the permit to construct the five-story residential building in the back corner of a 3.5 acre property owned by Clare Belle Wheeler. The 73 apartment units in the project could be built by right, but Park needs the waiver to disturb slopes on a vacant section of the property.

The property is also home to the Meadowbrook Shopping Center, which has been in Wheeler’s family since the 1950’s. At one point, Park had submitted a site plan which depicted the center being redeveloped as part of a second phase but withdrew that proposal in May.

Several members of the Rugby and Barracks neighborhoods told the Commission they felt the project was out of scale.

“The site there desperately needs to redeveloped,” said Jack Brown, a member of the Meadowbrook Hills neighborhood association. “But the proposal in front of you is weighted with flaws.”

Brown said the building would eliminate the last piece of green space at the location, will remove many trees, and would not be an improvement for the neighborhood.

Tim Heaphy said he lives in the closest house to the development. He said disturbing the slopes would have negative impacts on the environment.

“This development would take the only green space on this entire site and replace it with impervious surface, concrete, and roofing,” Heaphy said.

 Valerie Long, attorney for the developer, said conditions would actually be better following construction

“The existing shopping center as is does not control any surface runoff and the water sheet-flows across the parking lot, picking up pollutants and velocity before discharging into Meadow Creek,” Long said in an email. “ The proposal would incorporate modern stormwater management facilities into the property that will provide stormwater management quantity and quality control prior to discharge into Meadow Creek.”

Park also volunteered to designate 40 percent of those units as affordable and would improve landscaping on the whole site.  There would also be bike lockers and a charging station for electric cars.  

Long pointed out that the critical slopes ordinance specifically lists affordable housing as a reason why the commission could recommend approval of a waiver.

But city planner Brian Haluska recommended Commissioners not take that into account when making their decision. However, he did recommend approval of the waiver for other reasons.

Some commissioners suggested that Park move the building to another section of the property.

“This entire site is widely recognized as developable and it seems that there are other pieces of land that would be more suitable to a housing development that wouldn’t disturb critical slopes,” said Commissioner Kurt Keesecker.

Chair Dan Rosensweig was the lone vote in favor of granting of the waiver.

“I think that there are multiple benefits that are backed by the comprehensive plan that could be accrued by approval,” Rosensweig said.

The commission had also been scheduled to consider whether the project complied with the city’s entrance corridor review guidelines.

Planner Mary Joy Scala recommended that review be deferred until after City Council considers the critical slopes waiver. She also recommended that the project did not meet the guidelines in part because the design is too suburban.

“I felt the same way,” said Commissioner John Santoski

Some commissioners did provide feedback on the entrance corridor review anyway.

Keesecker told the developer he should submit a plan that better relates the building with Emmet Street and move the building away from neighborhood.

Rosensweig said he understood the difficulties facing Park due to the fact that he does not have access to the entire block.

“We’re talking about an odd parcel where they don’t own all of the street frontage,” Rosensweig said, referring to the fact that ALC Copies is under different ownership.

Long said her client is “reviewing all options” before proceeding. Council is expected to hear the critical slopes waiver request on Nov. 4.