Woolen Mills activists seek planning role
As Charlottesville updates its Comprehensive Plan to guide future land use decisions, members of the Woolen Mills neighborhood are hoping they can persuade the city to ensure industrial parcels are redeveloped in a way that does not threaten their quality of life.
“It just seems like the best use of this critical piece of land needs to be studied carefully,” said Bill Emory, a Woolen Mills resident who has been advocating for neighborhood protection for years.
The Woolen Mills neighborhood takes its name from a textiles factory that opened in the mid-1850s near the confluence of Moores Creek and the Rivanna River. The factory closed in 1962. One year later, the city annexed the neighborhood.
“Five years in advance of its 1963 annexation, inappropriate industrial zoning was overlaid on the residential Woolen Mills Village,” wrote Victoria Dunham, the former president of the Woolen Mills Neighborhood Association, in a January letter to the city Planning Commission.
The southwest corner of the neighborhood has been zoned for industrial uses and currently carries the M-I designation.
“The M-I district is established to allow areas for light industrial uses that have a minimum of environmental pollution in the form of traffic, noise, odors, smoke and fumes, fire and explosion hazard, glare and heat and vibration,” reads the city’s zoning code.
On a zoning map, the industrial properties in Woolen Mills are colored gray, and properties along Market Street are shaded yellow because only single-family homes are allowed to be there.
“Essentially, you’ve got a neighborhood where front yards are residential and back yards are M-I,” Emory said. “Currently in M-1 zoning, you could build an 85-feet building, there’s minimal setback, and you can run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
A restaurant called the Black Market Moto Saloon has applied for a special-use permit to present live music at the establishment. The saloon, located at the corner of Carlton Avenue and Market Street, is on land zoned M-I. The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the matter on Sept. 11.
As part of the Comprehensive Plan review, city staff have given a special focus to the future of Woolen Mills.
“We have been working to get information on future land use for the area, including insights on where residents and business owners see things going or would like to see things go,” said Missy Creasy, the city’s planning manager.
The city’s neighborhood services department held two focus groups earlier this summer to get input from the Woolen Mills area about future land use decisions. Two separate meetings were held — one for residents and one with business owners.
“[The focus groups are] an opportunity to reach out to groups who don’t always participate and to tackle some of the pending land use issues,” Creasy added. “One of the main things is to get resolution to the Woolen Mills land use concern.”
The meetings were not open to the public, but Charlottesville Tomorrow obtained a summary of the meetings. Residents were asked what “challenges are presented by having industrial and residential zoning in proximity to one another.”
“With rezoning/reuse, we start to worry about encroachment like what is taking place in downtown Belmont, arguments about noise and parking, extension of commercial zoning another block,” said one unidentified resident.
Other concerns included lighting, noise and traffic that emanates from an industrial park that is just over city limits on Broadway Avenue in Albemarle County.
“The county’s industrial park is land-locked and all the traffic that accesses that goes through city neighborhoods, and that’s something we’ve been dealing with for many years,” Emory said.
The neighborhood association’s letter requested that the city change all of the industrial zoning to residential zoning.
Earlier this week, members of the Planning Commission said they likely would not support that option, but did indicate they would be interested in revising the definition of industrial as it pertains to zoning.
Emory said another solution would be to introduce form-based zoning so that future industrial buildings are required to be of the same scale as the neighborhood.
“The zoning code could be rewritten so that the forms of the industrial buildings were sort of like houses so the impacts on residents living next to the industrial experience are not profound,” Emory said.
Much of the future direction of the neighborhood will depend on the redevelopment of land on which the Harry A. Wright automobile parts yard is located.
“We have had conversations with the Wrights about the future of their property,” said Chris Engel, the city’s director of economic development. “Given its size and location, it represents a unique opportunity in the city. Currently, they have a series of leases in place that prevent any comprehensive redevelopment.”
Engel said it is important for cities to keep a certain percentage of land classified with industrial zoning.
“Currently, the city has only 3 percent of its land in an industrial classification,” Engel said.
Emory said the future of Woolen Mills should be looked at from a bigger perspective.
“So you have Monticello as the area’s main tourism driver, and you have this beautiful river,” Emory said. “What do you put at the base of that? Do you put industry or do you put something with a little bit finer grain, some sort of community amenity that people enjoy?”