The Charlottesville City Council has taken the penultimate step toward a rezoning that would lower maximum heights of future buildings on West Main Street.
“What’s happening right now is a significant change over the last zoning overhaul that was done in 2003,” said Mayor Mike Signer. “Municipalities don’t always get it right. We have to listen and we have to adjust.”
The council held its first reading Monday on an ordinance that would rezone West Main Street into two districts divided by the Drewary Brown Bridge. Developers would no longer be allowed to ask for special-use permits to exceed the by-right height limits.
On the west end of West Main, buildings could be no higher than 75 feet. The maximum height on the eastern end would be 52 feet.
City Council has twice held public hearings on the rezoning but sent the matter back to the Planning Commission in October and December in order to further refine the ordinance.
A consultant hired as part of a larger study on a future West Main streetscape recommended that the Amtrak site and the adjacent parking lot be included in the taller zoning district. The Planning Commission, however, voted in February to recommend including it in the eastern end.
The council upheld that decision over the wishes of landowner Allen Cadgene.
“That site has gone through zoning changes in your drafts and you’ve ignored the advice of your consultants,” Cadgene said. “I find the process a little arbitrary and upsetting.”
Cadgene said the legacy of the Flats at West Village had driven a reactionary process. A special-use permit issued in 2012 allowed the Flats at West Village to be built at a height of 101 feet.
“You got an ugly project that upset the citizens and upset the City Council,” Cadgene said. “You should be addressing the question of what happened in the planning process to get that approved. This ordinance doesn’t address that at all.”
Councilor Kathy Galvin said the origins of the West Main study and rezoning stem from a 2013 recommendation made by the PLACE Design Task Force and is not in response to the Flats.
“As an historic district, I think the heights really matter in terms of maintaining this corridor,” Galvin said.
Scott Peyton, a partner in the business that owns the Hampton Inn on West Main, supports the changes. His father owned and operated a Pontiac dealership on the street for more than four decades.
“I’m thankful he’s not alive today to see some of the changes that have been wrought on West Main Street,” Peyton said. “The actions of this council will indelibly place your fingerprints on the West Main corridor for generations to come.”
The lower maximum heights are not the only change in the ordinance debated by City Coun-cil.
The Planning Commission had recommended future buildings be set back at least 15 feet from the street, but the council has changed that to 10 feet.
“It will provide ample space for outside dining, street trees with better planting strategies and more comfortable walking on both sides of the street,” Galvin said.
The current zoning allows up to 43 dwelling units per acre without asking for a special-use permit. Under the new zoning, the by-right residential density would be 200 dwelling units per acre.
Signer said the change is a compromise to give developers more certainty. Galvin agreed.
“All of that does make for a more efficient process and allows for smaller developers to get in the game because the process isn’t as complicated, which then leads to the diversity of form the community has been clamoring for,” Galvin said.
Councilor Bob Fenwick expressed caution about the change.
“If we go up to 200 units per acre by-right, that’s what we’re going to get,” Fenwick said.
The owners of Midway Manor were successful in their efforts to be excluded from the eastern zoning district. The property instead will be in the Water Street zoning, which allows 70 feet heights by-right but still would allow a height of 101 feet through the special-use permit process.
The second reading of the bill will be on the regular agenda at the council’s next meeting March 21. Council also will be presented with a revised plan for streetscape.