Charlottesville Planning Commission recommends lower buildings for West Main
The Charlottesville Planning Commission voted Tuesday to support a rezoning of West Main Street that would limit the heights of future buildings on the corridor.
“The proposed zoning amendments seek to alleviate the concerns revolving around development in the West Main corridor by establishing clear building envelopes, reducing allowable heights and encouraging adaptive reuse of existing buildings with reductions in parking requirements,” said Carrie Rainey, the city’s urban design planner.
Commissioners voted 5 to 2 recommend the changes, with Kurt Keseecker and Dan Rosensweig voting against.
If approved by City Council, the changes would create two new zoning districts for West Main with the Drewary Brown Bridge as the dividing line. New buildings on the eastern side could be no higher than 52 feet, and new structures on the western side could be no higher than 75 feet.
Buildings on the southern side of the street can currently reach as high as 101 feet if City Council grants a special use permit. That’s how the Flats at West Village came to be. The developers of the UnCommon at 1000 W. Main St. also were granted a permit for that height, but have opted to build a shorter building at 70 feet tall.
Buildings on the northern side have a maximum building height of 60 feet but can rise to 70 feet with a special use permit. The developers of the Standard at 853 W. Main were granted permission for a six-story building but that project has also not begun construction.
Council also recently granted permission for a 101-foot tall hotel at 1106 W. Main St. Construction of that project has not yet begun.
The Board of Architectural Review would maintain the ability to review the massing, scale and aesthetics of new construction.
Details of the zoning changes were crafted as part of the $340,000 study of West Main Street that has been underway for the past two years.
An economic analysis of the changes was performed by Robert Charles Lessors & Company and found the changes would not
have an adverse fiscal impact.
The new rules also would require buildings to be set back within 15 to 20 feet of the property line. If that rule had been in place, the new Marriott Residence Inn could not have been constructed so close to the roadway.
“The proposed code changes encourage street activation by providing space for outdoor seating and other activities, as well as plantings and bio-retention areas,” Rainey said.
Up to a quarter of building spaces can be used as an appurtenance, but the code changes would take away the ability for that space to be habitable. There would also be new requirements for developers to provide places to store bicycles.
“We’re glad the proposed zoning changes for West Main have made it to the public hearing,” said Morgan Butler, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Butler added that recent developments have exposed the flaws of the existing zoning.
“A careful balance must be struck where we are complementing the historic structure rather than overshad-owing it,” Butler said.
However, a representative of Midway Manor spoke in opposition to changing that property’s zoning out of a concern it would hurt potential redevelopment opportunities.
“The owners of the property were only made aware of the potential changes only one week ago,” said Mark Rinaldi. “The character of this area has been cemented by the construction of the Lewis & Clark building, Waterhouse and the Marriott Residence Inn.”
A possible future for another site on West Main was revealed when an attorney expressed concern the changes would limit his client’s development opportunities.
“The details need more attention and there is more work to be done on this ordinance,” said Maynard Sipe, an attorney who represented a potential developer for land currently occupied by the Blue Moon Diner, a convenience store and a vacant lot.
Richard Dreyfuss, who also worked on the West Main streetscape, said the prospective property owners of that site want to build homes for up to 50 to 60 residents but was concerned that might not be possible under the rezoning.
The overall vision of the rezoning was supported by most commissioners.
“I am very much in support of this and it is my understanding and feeling that the community is behind this,” said Commissioner Genevieve Keller.