Councilors voted 4-1 Monday to approve The Standard, a 600-bedroom, six-story building to be erected by Landmark Development. The Athens, Ga.-based firm specializes in upscale student housing projects.
“I think it will be good for the city,” Councilor Satyendra Huja said.
However, Councilor Dede Smith voted against the project because she said it did not fit in with the historic fabric of West Main and because it will not add any affordable housing units.
Smith also expressed concerns that there might not be enough demand to fill the building, given that a similar project is under construction across the street.
“This is a big investment that Landmark is making in the community and if we didn’t believe there was demand, we would not be here,” said John Williams, who represented Landmark before the council.
Councilor Kristin Szakos said she felt the project would help the city’s overall affordable housing problem.
“We do have a huge problem with housing in the neighborhood behind there, and rising rents because landlords are tempted to break up houses to rent to students, and then families can’t afford the rents,” Szakos said. “This is going to be a valve to relieve some of that pressure.”
To the north of the project is Westhaven, one of several public housing sites operated by the Charlottesville Redevelopment & Housing Authority.
“We’ve had six meetings with local residents of the Tenth and Page neighborhoods, as well as community groups and organizations,” Williams said.
Williams added that his company will make an effort to hire local subcontractors.
Landmark will also donate $50,000 to the Public Housing Association of Residents to be used for salaries and job training and to support the Westhaven health clinic. It will also donate $50,000 to the city for workforce development efforts. Williams also said the project’s contribution to the Charlottesville Housing Fund will be as much as $700,000.
“I think it’s very commendable that they are willing to do what they can to target job creation for residents in the area,” said Councilor Dave Norris.
As part of the approval, all of the first-floor space will be reserved for commercial uses such as shops and restaurants.
“Our entire frontage will be commercial,” Williams said, adding that leasing offices will be relegated to the sides and back of the building.
Landmark needed a special-use permit to build a taller and more dense building than allowed under the property’s zoning.
One resident, whose rezoning request for a project in the Fry’s Spring neighborhood was turned down in June 2012 by the council, said The Standard should also be denied.
“Councilors’ responsibility is to protect the welfare, health and safety of the entire city,” Alex Hancock said during the public comment period. “I feel like we’re missing the long-term impacts of approving all of these [permits] and density increases without a real true clarification for what that reason is.”
City Planner Brian Haluska said that the council must vote on projects based on their merits.
“In the special-use permit process, the densities and the heights we’re talking about are in the code, and have to be for someone to ask for them,” Haluska said. “If there is a project that brings a quality the council is opposed to, you have a certain amount of control about whether height and density are appropriate.”
Norris said he felt the project and the Flats at West Village are both appropriate.
“There’s been an unwritten rule in Charlottesville going back decades now that we’re not going to let the [University of Virginia] expand any farther east,” Norris said. “This stretch of West Main has been desolate and an urban graveyard. These projects are the best of both worlds because we’re finally breaking down that wall.”
However, he added that he shared concerns that all of West Main will become a canyon formed by tall buildings.
Councilor Kathy Galvin said she wants the council to see input from a market study that’s in progress before considering a third student housing building proposed for a block away.
In other news, Southern Development has received an extension of a deadline by which they must close on the purchase of land on Elliott Avenue from the city. When the council selected a firm to develop the property in May 2012, an agreement stated that the deal must be finalized by January 2014.
However, Southern Development asked for a year-long extension because of problems preparing the site. The city agreed to give the company until July 1 to close the deal.
Additionally, the developer of the 75-unit Meadowbrook Flats apartment building on Emmet Street at Barracks Road deferred consideration of a critical-slopes waiver necessary for the proposal to go forward.
“We are continuing to work to see if there are options to modify the project’s design to minimize impacts to the critical-slope area near the tributary to Meadow Creek, and to address the comments we heard at the Planning Commission,” said Valerie Long, attorney for developer William Park.