City council disagrees on future of William Taylor Plaza

The Charlottesville City Council is prepared to support a six-month extension for the sale of public land as part of the William Taylor Plaza development. However, two councilors questioned the legality of the sale at Monday’s council meeting.

The council originally approved the mixed-used development, at the corner of Cherry Avenue and Ridge Street, in 2008.

In 2009, the council approved a conceptual plan that called for seven structures and includes 40,000 square feet of commercial and retail space, 40 residential units and more than 100 spaces of underground parking. The site plan made use of two small parcels owned by the city that the developer offered to buy.

Cherry Avenue Investments has asked the city for a one-year extension to close on the property.

City Attorney Craig Brown told the council the original planned use development only allowed for two six-month extensions, and that granting an extension this year would be the third extension.

Brown said his office was inclined to support the third extension because of the weak economy in 2008, but because an extension would be a change in the originally agreed upon PUD, he thought the council should take a vote.

“In fairness to the purchaser, the fall of 2008 was not the ideal time to begin a major mixed-use development given the economic conditions that were going on then,” Brown said.

Councilors Dede Smith and Bob Fenwick voiced opposition, saying they felt if the developer was asking for an extension that was not part of the original PUD, the contract had gone into default.

“The whole process by which the original contract was made quickly fell apart,” Smith said. “Given that the contract expired, even the project is basically not going to happen, now we are looking at a new request to buy land.”

Brown, however, said that because the developer is asking for an extension of the closing date, it is not a new request to purchase land, and would thus not require a supermajority vote.

Smith suggested at least four of five votes would be required by state law.

“Does this open us up at all to a lawsuit that we are selling city land in non-competitive bidding?” Smith asked Brown.

Brown said it is not “legally required” for the city to solicit proposals to develop or purchase city land.

Charlie Armstrong, a vice president of Southern Development and representative of Cherry Avenue Investments, was asked whether six months would be enough time to close given that the developer had asked for a year extension. Armstrong said that while they would prefer a yearlong extension, they would be able to “make it work” in six months.

Armstrong did say that there is no update on potential occupants for William Taylor Plaza.

“It’s taking a little bit longer to close than we would like,” Armstrong said. “It’s really just waiting on a tenant, somebody who wants to occupy the space. It is a big building … It’s not something you build without people to fill it.”

Armstrong also was asked whether they actually intend to build on the property.

“If we can, we would love to,” he said. “It’s a fantastic location to invest for the long term. Whether it’s us or somebody else executing the PUD vision, I would be pleased either way.”

A motion by Smith to refuse the extension failed on a 2-3 vote. A majority of the council agreed to allow the matter to proceed to a second reading on June 16.