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Council majority favors amendment for William Taylor Plaza

The Charlottesville City Council is poised to grant a zoning amendment that will allow a proposed mixed-use development at the corner of Cherry Avenue and Ridge Street to proceed.

A majority of councilors indicated their support Monday to allow more surface parking at the site to satisfy the needs of a Marriott-brand hotel expected to be built on Cherry Avenue.

“It’s going to create a gateway for the city, an important gateway to Cherry Avenue and a gateway for the Strategic Investment Area,” said Councilor Kathy Galvin.

The council is expected to vote on the project at its next meeting on July 6.

Galvin joined Councilors Satyendra Huja and Kristin Szakos in supporting the project. Councilors Bob Fenwick and Dede Smith expressed their opposition.

“It just feels so forced and I worry that this is going to be the next Flats at West Village,” Smith said. “We’re trying to conjure some reason to approve something that is really sited poorly for that particular corner.”

The council rezoned the property in 2009 to allow for up to 100,000 square feet of commercial space on Cherry Avenue and apartment buildings on Ridge Street.

One of the conditions was that 90 percent of parking spaces be inside of a structure. Southern Development is seeking a reduction of that requirement to 60 percent.

“We have a user now for the site who is asking that they be allowed to have some surface parking in addition to what the current zoning allows,” said Charlie Armstrong, the firm’s vice president of development.

“They’re still willing to do the majority of the parking for the site under the buildings and [would] only have 35 surface spaces,” he added. The current plan only allows 13 surface spaces.

In May, the city’s Planning Commission voted 5-0 to recommend denial of the amendment.

Armstrong said some commissioners were opposed to the hotel, but that use is allowed by-right under the zoning.

“That was a sticking point,” Armstrong said.

Smith and Fenwick sided with commissioners.

“To the Planning Commission, this was not the right building in this spot,” Fenwick said. “I just don’t want to substitute my judgment.”

However, the other councilors supported the development moving forward.

“I understand that the Planning Commission voted against it, but the Planning Commission has a relatively narrow list of things they’re concerned about,” Szakos said. “Economic development is not one of them.”

Szakos said the hotel would provide jobs within walking distance of many city residents.

“To leave it undeveloped over something like 22 parking spaces to me sort of kicks the can down the road,” Szakos added. “I think this is going to get developed and I think that [Southern Development] is sensitive to a lot of the things that we want.”

The amendment will include an expansion of an arboretum from 20 percent of the total site to 25 percent.

“The arboretum is the preserved green space in the back of the property that has some large trees that are worth saving,” Armstrong said.

Smith objected to the use of the term.

“I’m a naturalist, and the idea that you’re going to call that an ‘arboretum’ I find offensive,” Smith said.

The two sections of the project likely will be built in phases. Armstrong said if the Cherry Avenue side is built first, the existing trees on Ridge will not be removed until construction is set to begin there.

Smith asked councilors if they would require an archaeological study to determine if the graveyard of Allen Hawkins is present on the site. Hawkins was a brick mason in the 19th century who helped build the University of Virginia.

“That’s an issue that’s come up along the entire course of discussions with this project and it’s not something that needs a proviso in the zoning,” Armstrong said, adding that state law requires construction work to stop if human remains are found.

“We’ve already done a lot of due diligence, as much as we can do without taking down trees,” he said.

Buildings on the site must be LEED-certified and there will be “semi-public” plaza at the corner of Ridge and Cherry.

Southern Development already has paid a cash proffer that went to the city’s affordable housing fund and to supporting upgrades at Tonsler Park.

“I am thrilled that they are underway right now and the proffer money for this project funded over half the cost of those improvements,” Armstrong said.

The project also will have to go before the Board of Architectural Review for a certificate of appropriateness.

Galvin said she looks forward to seeing what else will be in the development.

“I can imagine small startup spaces,” Galvin said. “I’m hearing all over the city that we don’t have enough space for our startup businesses.”