Charlottesville Council endorses Starr Hill vision

Charlottesville City Council has voted 4 to 1 to endorse the adoption of the Starr Hill Vision Plan
 into the City’s Comprehensive Plan. In November 2018, Council used $500,000 from its Equity Fund to pay the nonprofit New Hill Development Corporation to create a small area plan. Alex Ikefuna is the deputy director of the Neighborhood Development Services department.

“Planning Commission and staff worked together,” Ikefuna said. “Originally it was a small area plan that because of the contents and the efficiencies in the land use it was agreed with the consultant that it would be submitted to the Planning Commission and subsequently to the City Council as a vision plan,” Ikefuna said. 

Yolunda Harrell is with New Hill Development Corporation, which was formed following conversations that began in July 2017 with former Councilors Wes Bellamy and Kathy Galvin. 

“This plan intentionally centers the Black community, not to the exclusion of others, but rather to the intentional inclusion of us,” Harrell said. “This plan specifically looks at opportunities to increase the street-level presence of sustainable, well-capitalized, existing and start-up Black-owned businesses.” 

Harrell said part of the work going forward will involved providing gap money to finance entrepreneurial efforts. From the land use perspective, the idea is to create multiple types of housing so as to cover different affordability ranges. 

“Whether you are a first-time homebuyer, a voucher-holder, or someone looking for the next phase of housing along their financial growth path, in this plan we have demonstrated how those opportunities can and will exist,” Harrell said. 

Harrell said the plan would build off of the work the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center has done to curate local Black history. The Jefferson School received $450,000 from the city’s Strategic Initiatives fund in FY2018 and another $500,000 in FY2019. 

“This plan also speaks to the need for gathering spaces where folks can connect or just simply be,” Harrell said. “Where they can be empowered to congregate and co-create, build and own, and innovate and learn.” 

Harrell said the 10.4 acre City Yard property offers the best chance to create new housing. Currently the city’s public works department is located in the space. City Council agreed to fund a $300,000 environmental remediation plan in FY20. Ikefuna said that money has not yet been spent. 

“While City Yard represents a genuine opportunity for new affordable housing as part of a mixed-use development, Starr Hill’s existing residential neighborhood must be sustained and strengthened,” Harrell said. 

Harrell said the plan offers suggestions on what could happen immediately. 

“Which is, creating housing on Brown Street, thus shoring up and strengthening the integrity of the existing residential neighborhood,” Harrell said. “This can be done while we explore other opportunities in the larger plan.”

Looking west on Brown Street, April 8, 2021 (Credit: Sean Tubbs)

Brown Street runs east-west between Cream Street and 5th Street NW and most of the parcels on the northern side are vacant. The city’s property records indicate there are 14 landowners on the street. In addition to the City Yard, the City of Charlottesville owns a 0.13 acre vacant lot at 609 Brown Street. Harrell suggested these properties could be be subdivided to create between 10 and 46 new residential units, including homeownership opportunities to first-time home buyers.  

As for the greater City Yard, Harrell said the vision could yield many more places to live.

“If we just look for a moment at the proposed vision, our city could gain upwards of 250 additional housing units not to mention the additional office and retail space to support the presence of Main Street, Black-owned businesses which can significantly change the social fabric of our community,” Harrell said. 

SourceNew Hill Development Corporation

The plan also calls for the identification of 50 parking spaces for First Baptist Church on West Main Street, which Harrell said will eventually lose 50 spaces when the Amtrak parking lot is eventually redeveloped. There are no plans for that now, but Harrell said the Starr Hill Vision Plan identified that need for the future. But the main idea is to reconnect the city after decades of fragmentation using new infrastructure.

“There is an important opportunity to restore and strengthen the connections between Starr Hill to a broader network of neighborhoods from Westhaven, 10th and Page, and Rose Hill to the Downtown Mall,” Harrell said. 

Councilor Lloyd Snook said he was interested to come up with a future for the City Yard, but had some concerns about adding this specific vision to the Comprehensive Plan.

“A Comprehensive Plan, it seems to me, needs to be more than just here’s a possibility,” Snook said. “It has to be ‘we’ve made a decision that this is the possibility not just a possibility.’”

Snook said the visioning work was a start, but the city is in the middle of a Comprehensive Plan process through the Cville Plans Together initiative. 

“I’m not sure we’re there yet,” Snook said. “I think you’ve given us a great start for a lot of discussions that we need to be having.”

Harrell said they have met with the Cville Plans Together consultants, Rhodeside & Harwell, and have updated them on the plan.

“They are just waiting for this plan to be adopted so that they can then roll it up into consideration of the overall plan,” Harrell said. “We did make suggestions on what zoning should happen and what ways the land could be used.”  

Ikefuna said the Starr Hill Vision Plan did not have enough land use analysis and the level of detail required for a small area plan.

“However, it has several contents such as housing, economic development, and placemaking part of which is the connectivity concept which Yolunda alluded to in her presentation

For City Yard to be developed, City Council would need to approve a plan to move Public Works elsewhere and there is no estimate for how much that would cost the city. But redevelopment would begin with remediation.

“I don’t think you can reuse that site without remediation,” Ikefuna said. “Maybe the areas around Brown Street could be carved out and developed. It has a good potential for development for housing. But in terms of redevelopment of City Yard, there has to be remediation.” 

Harrell said the vision plan addresses remediation. The plan suggests the city consider enrolling in the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s Voluntary Remediation Program which can lead to grants to pay for clean-up efforts. The plan also lists previous efforts to document contamination at the site and noted that remediation may have a preliminary cost estimate of $3.4 million.

Harrell said that the plan has taken previous studies into consideration and designates commercial uses in areas that might need remediation. 

Council voted unanimously to approve a motion to add the Starr Hill Vision Plan to the appendix of 2013 Comprehensive Plan, the same way that the Cherry Avenue Small Area Plan and the Hydraulic Area Plan were added. (see all approved city plans)

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the April 9, 2021 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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