Council balks at $850K cost for Stribling sidewalks

Charlottesville City Council held a work session yesterday on how to cover the costs of sidewalk improvements for Stribling Avenue to support a 170 unit development on about 12 acres of undeveloped land. James Freas is the director of the city’s Neighborhood Development Services department. 

“So, as many as you know, there’s a [Planned Unit Development] proposed for 240 Stribling Avenue,” Freas said. “The proposed project includes a mix of apartments, townhouses, two-family units.”

Freas said Southern Development will proffer 15 percent of the units to be affordable or for-sale to 60 percent of the area median income. That means rent or the mortgage would be capped at 30 percent of those household’s monthly budget. 

“A critical issue and consideration of whether to rezone this property or not is the status of the sidewalk of Stribling Avenue itself,” Freas said. “Stribling Avenue does not currently have any sidewalks on it. It sees a fair amount of traffic and is a relatively narrow street as it exists today.”

Existing conditions on Stribling Avenue (Credit: City of Charlottesville)

Southern Development has also offered to pay up to $2 million to cover the costs of building the sidewalk and worked with the economic development office to come up with an agreement on how to be paid back through using the incremental tax revenue that would be generated by the increased value of the property after development. 

In September, city engineer Jack Dawson said the cost estimate would be slightly higher. The work session was intended to provide an analysis of the estimate, but not a finalized estimate for many reasons. (Dawson’s analysis)

“This has not gone through community engagement and stakeholder meetings which can add significantly to a project as you may be aware,” Dawson said. “And then projects of this type are not insignificant undertakings nor are they cookie cutter in design typology or execution. A sidewalk is not just a sidewalk.”

Dawson described how additional right of way would need to be purchased by the city, how the drainage system would need to be built, and how many on-street parking spaces and trees would need to be removed. All of that adds up. 

“The original cost amount was $1.2 million with a 25 percent contingency of $1.5 million,” Dawson said. “And then after I did the analysis, I adjusted all of those things and it went to $2.4 million almost with a 20 percent contingency bringing it to $2.8 million.”

The scope of the project does not include upgrades to Stribling’s intersection with Jefferson Park Avenue Extended. Upgrading the pedestrian crossing there would be a separate project that Dawson said is being undertaken by the city using existing funds. 

Vice Mayor Sena Magill asked if Stribling could be turned into a one-way road that would connect back to Fontaine Avenue along land in Albemarle County. Dawson said that would be tough and expensive. 

Outgoing City Manager Chip Boyles did not attend the virtual Council meeting, so it was up to Deputy City Manager Sam Sanders to sum up the button line.

“Where we are is that we’re looking at the moment an $850,000 gap based on what the proffer that we have received is and what we have come up with our estimate,” Sanders said. “We have 170 units that are being proposed by the developer with 15 percent, so 25 units being offered up for rental for 10 years and ownership for 30 years at 60 percent of AMI.”

Sanders asked Council if that investment would be worth it to achieve that level of affordability.

“Because of the stresses that we face with the decisions that we have to make regarding schools and all of the various priorities that we have, that’s a tall order of coming up with that $850,000,” Sanders said. 

Councilor Michael Payne was not sure the return on investment was worth it. 

“It seems realistically like that $850,000 just is not really feasible in terms of being ahead of other priorities,” Payne said. 

Payne said investing in Piedmont Housing and other entities would be a better use of funds. 

Councilor Lloyd Snook said he favored the use of incremental tax financing for projects, but also said the $850,000 was too much for the city to cover at this time. 

The rezoning application will return to the Planning Commission at a later date. 

(This article originally appeared in the October 19 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement). Please consider a contribution through Patreon to help sustain this work!)

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