A project that would build two dozen single-family homes in Charlottesville’s Ridge Street neighborhood is closer to reality now that the Planning Commission agreed to a planning milestone.
The group’s consent agenda Tuesday included a major subdivision of 7.134 acres of vacant land off Hartmans Mill Road that will create 25 single-family lots and one new public street to be called Paynes Mill Road. No rezoning is required.
“In many situations, asking for extra permits or a zoning change introduces too much uncertainty to the process, and small local businesses like ours want certainty for our 30 [plus] employees,” said Charlie Armstrong, vice president of Southern Development.
The final site plan for the Paynes Mill project is under review.
The project is proceeding at the same time the city is updating the Comprehensive Plan, a state-mandated document that establishes a planning vision for Virginia localities. Some groups, such as the Charlottesville Low-Income Housing Coalition, have called for the city to rewrite its rules to encourage more affordable units.
“Until the city has a Housing Strategy to address our community’s affordable housing needs, any measures put into place by the Comprehensive Plan will be piecemeal at best,” reads a March 7 letter sent to the Planning Commission.
Armstrong said he would welcome more guidance from the city in the future.
“If the city sends a clear message about what they want and guided us toward that vision without surprises, then we will do everything we can to achieve that vision,” he said.
Meanwhile, developments such as Paynes Mill are moving forward based on existing zoning practices. The project includes four parcels close to the city’s southern border. The current landowners are June Payne, of Muncie, Indiana, and Verlease, Bell of Albemarle County.
“When an applicant has submitted a subdivision that complies with the requirements of the City’s Subdivision Ordinance, then approval of the plat must be granted,” reads the staff report for the item. “In the event the Planning Commission determines there are grounds upon which to deny approval of a subdivision, the motion must clearly identify the deficiencies in the subdivision.”
The Planning Commission expressed no objections on at their meeting on Tuesday.
Armstrong said the price of the homes in Paynes Mill will be in the low $400,000s but he will try to reduce that number, if possible. He said he is aware of the desire some have for additional density to drive down housing costs.
“More supply gives the buyer more choices so sellers lower prices to be more competitive,” he said. “A shortage of housing causes bidding wars among multiple buyers who want the same property and prices go up.”
One advocate for low-income housing said he would like Charlottesville to reform the zoning code to encourage density, but only if that creates significantly more affordable units.
“By-right development is fundamentally broken and gives developers total power to do whatever they want, which has been disastrous for affordable housing and neighborhood character,” Michael Payne said.
Payne said rezoning could lead to more units, but only if there are mechanisms to prevent developers from profiting from the higher density. Rezonings and special-use permits currently trigger certain requirements related to affordable housing.
“The formula used to determine the required number of affordable units is completely ineffective and can be opted out of by just paying into the affordable housing fund, anyway,” he said.
In the past 13 years, Southern Development has constructed 135 homes as part of the Burnet Commons development straddling Elliott Avenue.
“There is one lot left unbuilt in phase three, but we’ve sold everything,” Armstrong said. “It was extremely popular, and we’re very proud of it for a lot of reasons.”
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville built 25 of those units for families with incomes that qualify under guidelines determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The nonprofit satisfied the requirement that 15 percent of the units be made available to families who make less 80 percent of the area’s median income.
The Habitat families at Burnet Commons make between 25 percent and 60 percent of the area’s median income, according to Dan Rosensweig, the organization’s executive director.
Also on the consent agenda Tuesday was a site plan approval for the second phase of the so-called William Taylor Plaza at the corner of Ridge Street and Cherry Avenue. That project also has been developed by Southern Development.
The City Council voted 3-2 in July 2015 to amend a previous rezoning to make way for the Fairfield Inn and Suites hotel on Cherry Avenue that is under construction and expected to open this summer. In that action, the council reduced the amount of parking that had to be within a structure from 90 percent to 60 percent.
In the second phase, Management Services Corporation has plans to build a 27-unit apartment complex on Ridge Street.
“A public plaza, arboretum, improvements to the streetscape along Cherry Avenue and Ridge Street, and parking infrastructure are all under construction as part of phase one,” reads the staff report for the project.
“Quirk has a building permit and has started construction,” said city planner Brian Haluska. “Six Hundred West Main will likely have a building permit by the end of the week or early next week, and I believe they intend to start very soon.”
Utility work is already underway for both projects, which are almost directly across the street from each other. Demolition has begun for the buildings that formerly housed Mel’s Barber Shop and the Atlantic Futon.