The developers of a new 595-bedroom residential complex on West Main Street are hoping to move swiftly through the city of Charlottesville’s review process.
“We’re trying to get approved by the end of the year and we need to be able to break ground and move dirt by the end of February,” said Ryan Holmes of Atlanta-based Ambling University Development Group.
On Tuesday, Holmes presented the concept for the Plaza on West Main Street to the Charlottesville Planning Commission. The complex would consist of a six-story and an eight-story building with a total of 219 units. The first floor of the building fronting West Main Street would contain retail space and a restaurant.
“In the center of the project will be a public plaza that will be open to the street,” said Chris Fortner with Niles Bolton Associates, the architectural firm working on the project.
The property will have three levels of parking, two of which will be underground. The top level of parking will be dedicated to the commercial spaces. Some of the units will have balconies that overlook West Main Street.
Fortner added there will be an expanded transit stop and storage for bicycles.
“We really want to encourage alternative forms of travel,” Fortner said.
The Plaza on West Main will require City Council to approve two special use permits to allow a density of 101 units per acre and the eight-story building.
“I love the open-air plaza,” said Commissioner Lisa Green. “I think that would promote exactly what we are trying to promote on Main Street.”
The city’s vision for the corridor is governed by a November 2004 document called the West Main Streetscape Plan. Fortner said the conceptual plan is compatible.
“The way we’ve planned it, we’ve sat our building back fifteen feet,” Fortner said. “We’re meeting the setback requirements that are dictated by the code, so whatever the streetscape is, we’re for it. We support bike lanes.”
“I would suggest exploring maybe making that into more commercial space,” said Commissioner Kurt Keesecker. “I would like to see parking spaces on West Main be converted into broader sidewalks and push all that life out onto the street.”
Jim Tolbert, the director of the city’s Neighborhood Development Services department said decisions about removing parking spaces should wait until the new PLACE Design Task Force has a chance to weigh in on the overall streetscape.
“We’d like to see all of the [on-street] parking removed on West Main Street but we have got to do that as part of an overall approach and this project will help with that with the public space,” Tolbert said.
The University of Virginia’s architect said he was glad the project came before the commission.
“West Main has been studied for [over] 20 years,” said David Newman, a non-voting member of the commission. “It is good to see some movement on this.”
However, Newman said he is concerned about the amount of vehicular traffic the building will generate given that there will be no vehicular entrance from West Main.
“It could put a certain amount of traffic on 9th Street that’s certainly not there now,” Newman said.
Commission Chairwoman Genevieve Keller welcomed the project but hoped that a majority of its residents would not be undergraduates.
“I have a concern about that many undergraduates on West Main Street, which will be a totally new experience,” Keller said. “There’s a certain lifestyle and activity that comes with concentrating that many undergraduates.”
Commissioner Natasha Sienitsky, a Fifeville resident, wanted to know how the developers would reach out to surrounding neighborhoods.
“I’ve already been copied on some email traffic in my neighborhood, which is right behind this,” Sienitsky said. “I think people are concerned and it might be helpful for you to reach out and explain the project so people understand what exactly is proposed before you get to public hearing.”
A representative of Riverbend Management, a local firm partnering with Ambling on the development, said he wanted to know more about neighborhood concerns.
“We’re going to be very involved with this project and a major owner of this project, and if there’s any concerns from anybody’s standpoint, we want to hear them because we want to do this right,” said Riverbend’s Alan Taylor.
The project will return before the Planning Commission at their meeting on Nov. 13. The Board of Architectural Review will hold its first review next Tuesday. A site plan conference between the developers and city planning staff will be held on Oct. 17.