The National Optronics building near Charlottesville’s Belmont Bridge soon may get a neighbor — a four-story, by-right apartment building intended to accommodate 60 young professionals. During a site plan conference on Wednesday, 100 Avon LLC representative Jim Grigg explained to eight members of the public that the plan was prompted by the lens equipment company’s move overseas.
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“The reason this project has emerged is because Optronics is moving from the United States, so the property owner finds himself with a building that is 80 percent vacant, so what do you do?” said Grigg, who is a founder at Daggett + Grigg Architects. National Optronics is planning to retain a small staff in Charlottesville. The property owner is negotiating with the company and another potential tenant to fill the existing office building. The current site plan reconfigures part of the office building into 19 residential units and adds a 50-unit apartment building in what currently is a parking lot. If the two tenants agree to share the existing building, it will remain an office building and all the residential units will go in the new building. Belmont resident Joan Schatzman lauded the plan for addressing a housing need in the city. Schatzman said that the additional population also might prompt the city to invest more in the neighborhood. “I think that in order to get [more] public transportation into Belmont, we have to reach a critical mass of population,” Schatzman said. “I think it’s our white privilege to keep saying, ‘Oh, parking!’ ‘Oh, traffic!’ all that. … We have to provide housing for young people who don’t earn a lot of money, so go for it!”
Grigg did not name an exact rental price, citing rising construction costs and other factors, but he said that the apartments would be smaller than average, which would keep the rent relatively low. The planned density for the apartment building meets city zoning requirements, so the application only needs to be approved by city staff. The National Optronics building is in the Downtown Extended zoning corridor, which allows for up to 43 units per acre. The property is nearly 2 acres in size.
Grigg presented two options to the neighbors at the meeting — 60 studio apartments or 32 apartments with a total of 60 bedrooms. The developers are required to provide one parking space per apartment, so the two options result in the developers building 60 and 32 parking spaces, respectively. If the building contains 60 apartments, however, the developers also are required to build a second entrance to the property for vehicles. “I think there has to be a balance and concern for your neighbors, who invested in those properties and are growing families there or have grandchildren. That, I hope, is something you keep at the top of your thoughts,” said adjacent neighbor Frannie Joseph, who opposed the second entrance. Joseph was concerned that the second entrance would clog her street with traffic and would make parking more difficult for her neighbors without driveways. Brian Haluska, the city planner in charge of the project, said that the second entrance primarily was for fire trucks and other emergency vehicles. He said that the developers could build an entrance that looked like a curb or that required a key to allow only emergency vehicles through. Grigg said that there would be a shared parking arrangement between the commercial and residential buildings to provide the residents with even more parking at night. The developers plan to start construction in the summer of 2019 and complete construction in 2020.
This article originally misspelled Jim Grigg’s name. It was updated to reflect the correct spelling on Nov. 30 at 10:00am.