Council again defers action on West Main rezoning

The Charlottesville City Council decided Monday to wait until January to vote on a rezoning for West Main Street that would lower the maximum heights of future buildings.

The Planning Commission had recommended changes at its December meeting but the city received letters from two property owners last week that claimed the joint public hearing that evening was not widely advertised.

“Given that there has been a communication that the notice to individual property owners was inadequate for the joint public hearing, it’s my recommendation that this be returned and re-advertised for another joint public hearing,” said City Attorney Craig Brown.

That means the decision on whether to proceed will be made by a council that has two new members. The next joint public hearing will be during the Planning Commission’s next meeting on Jan. 12.

Councilors delayed a vote on the West Main zoning once before, in early November, after the owners of 100 Midway Manor objected to being included in the West Main East zoning district. If adopted, that district will restrict buildings to a maximum of 52 feet east of the Drewary Brown Bridge.

The commission opted to include the property in the West Main East district anyway.

However, the property owner said she will continue to work with the council and staff to find a way to get them to reconsider.

“We think we have a good solution put forth and we look forward to continuing that dialogue,” said attorney Valerie Long of the firm Williams Mullen, who was representing the property owner.

The West Main West district would restrict future building heights to 75 feet. The Flats at West Village and the future Sycamore House Hotel are both 101 feet tall.

Despite the rezoning being removed from the agenda, the topic came up during the public comment period Monday night.

Lena Seville, a member of several planning committees, called for the council to revisit the Planning Commission’s recommendations to allow a range of setbacks up to 20 feet. That refers to the distance between where a building can be built and the public right-of-way.

“The consultants recommended a minimum of 10-foot setback, the tree commission has recommended a 10-foot setback and so has the bike pedestrian committee,” Seville said, adding that the larger distance would create a more welcoming space.

A resident of the Starr Hill neighborhood was adamant that the city protect her quality of life.

“I want to urge you to do whatever you can to lower the heights and make no exceptions,” said Pat Edwards.

Edwards has been active during negotiations about a project to build a multistory building in the 500 block of West Main. That project, by architect Bill Atwood, could go forward at a height taller than the 52 feet allowed if the zoning is changed.

“I wish you could make Mr. Atwood do something with the Atlantic, which is an awful thing that will be built and will destroy the character of the neighborhood, as well as West Main Street,” Edwards said.

An attorney for a developer who wants to build a multistory building at 512 and 600 W. Main also said the additional time will allow the city to get the zoning right.

“The changes under consideration are one of the most important steps the city has taken to downzone in many years,” said Maynard Sipe. “Real care needs to be taken in crafting the details of the ordinance.”

Sipe said he would like the city to open up discussion again to stakeholders, perhaps through a roundtable discussion.

Councilors did not discuss the matter except for a brief comment from Councilor Kathy Galvin.

“I think we’re all sorry in some way that we’re not talking about it tonight,” she said.