For the third time in four months, the Charlottesville Planning Commission has recommended adoption of new zoning districts for West Main Street that would lower maximum heights for future buildings.
“There’s no new content in what we’ve gotten the third time in what we’ve had the first and the second,” said Commissioner Lisa Green during the group’s pre-meeting Tuesday.
Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson said the material presented to the commission was the exact same as what they had reviewed on Dec. 8. The commission also had recommended the changes in October.
The City Council opted to send the matter back to the commission for another public hearing after some property owners complained that there had not been enough advance notice of the proposed changes.
However, several attorneys representing the development community said they were frustrated that commissioners read from a prepared motion that had not been shared with the public before the pre-meeting.
If approved by the council, the rezoning would change designations for 114 parcels in the existing West Main North and West Main South districts.
The new districts would be split into eastern and western halves of the road between Ridge Street and Jefferson Park Avenue, with the Drewary Brown Bridge serving as the dividing line.
The new zoning would lower the minimum building height in both zones from 40 to 35 feet. The maximum building height would be 75 feet on the western side and 52 feet on the eastern side.
The opportunity to ask for additional height through a special-use permit would be eliminated.
One land-use attorney asked the commission to consider allowing a special-use permit for at least some additional height on the eastern side.
“The city made a decision when they adopted the zoning [in 2003] to facilitate more urban development in the corridor,” Maynard Sipe said. “This ordinance sends the opposite [message] and I think it will create stagnation on West Main Street.”
Special-use permits for additional density above 43 units per acre still could be granted.
Since the commission’s last public hearing, City Councilors Kathy Galvin and Kristin Szakos held a conference call with Rhodeside & Harwell and Code Studio, two consultants who worked on the West Main streetscape.
Galvin and Szakos requested commissioners consider three possible changes based on that conversation, including a recommendation that the properties in the 800 block of West Main on the southern side be included on the western side.
An attorney for Amtrak site owner Union Station Partners asked that the property be in West Main West in order to provide for the large-scale development originally envisioned by a previous City Council.
“This is one of the few unbuilt sites in the West Main corridor,” said Page Williams, with the firm Lenhart Pettit. “When the height was raised, the tax values went up. We also feel that the dividing line of the bridge was simply arbitrary.”
A champion of the city’s rail connections urged the Planning Commission to limit the possibility of development of the Amtrak site.
“You’ve never sought the input of the one entity that’s been bringing intercity passenger rail to this city for the past 45 years,” said Meredith Richards, chairwoman of the Piedmont Rail Coalition and a former Charlottesville city councilor.
Richards said the property’s value to the city as a transportation center far exceeds its value for development. She said she was concerned development of the site would jeopardize Amtrak’s future in the city.
The commission recommended including the Amtrak property in the eastern district with the 52-foot maximum.
One resident of the Starr Hill neighborhood asked that the commission once again recommend the rezoning.
“Pass this downzoning with no exceptions to it,” said Pat Edwards. “The character of West Main Street east of the bridge is in danger, and the neighborhoods on either side of the street are in danger.”
Representatives from Midway Manor, at 100 Ridge St., again pleaded with the commission to not place their property in the West Main East district. Instead they want the property to be placed in the Water Street District, which would allow higher buildings when redevelopment occurs.
“This is the one and only property that is part of the downtown neighborhood and not West Main Street,” said Valerie Long, with the firm Williams Mullen.
During its discussion, the commission did not address Midway Manor’s zoning fate and recommended leaving it with the 52-foot height limit.
One developer asked the city to leave the zoning allowing taller buildings in place.
“Height is important in a city that is landlocked,” said David Mitchell, of Great Eastern Management Co.
The City Council will have the final say when it discusses the recommendation at a future meeting.