Divided Planning Commission recommends Grove Street rezoning

There was a slightly different vote this month when the Charlottesville Planning Commission once again recommended approval of a rezoning that would allow 28 units to be built on just under two thirds of an acre on a cul-de-sac in the Fry’s Spring neighborhood. 

In October, the Charlottesville Planning Commission voted 4-2 for the rezoning, a vote at which Commissioner Taneia Dowell was not present. However, Dowell joined Commissioners Hosea Mitchell and Liz Russell in voting against the proposal, which also required a special use permit for additional density and a critical slopes waiver. 

The public hearing for all three had to be held a second time, as city planner Matt Alfele explained at the March 9 Planning Commission meeting.

“In preparing to move the application forward to City Council it was discovered one of the tax map parcel numbers was mistyped in the public ad,” Alfele said. “To ensure accuracy, all three applications have been readvertised and returned to the Planning Commission for action. No information has been changed or been updated in the application materials.”

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As was the case in October, the developer will contribute $48,000 to construct pedestrian improvements in the Fifeville neighborhood and 28 percent of the units will have some affordability provision for at least ten years. Civil Engineer Justin Shimp is working on behalf of property owner Lorven Investments. 

“Twenty-eight percent in total affordable, which is eight units,” Shimp said. “Of those, four of the them, the rent including the utilities is capped at the [U.S. Department of Health] fair market rate.” (learn more from HUD about fair market rent)

The other four would be called at 125 percent of the fair market rate, which is the upper limit for a unit to be eligible to receive housing vouchers. 

The property as seen on March 19, 2022 (Credit: Sean Tubbs)

The Comprehensive Plan designation has changed since the October 2021 review.

“The Comprehensive land use map for this area calls for General Residential which recommends up to 2.5 stories in height, up to three units per lot, or four units if an existing structure remains,” Alfele said. 

This application would have four seven-unit buildings with some three-story and some four-story buildings for what Shimp called a sevenplex that provides bonus density in exchange for providing housing at a below-market price. That’s a basic tenet of the Affordable Housing Plan Council adopted in March 2021. 

“We ended up with buildings that are basically three stories in the front and then kind of three stories but with units in the attic that backfill and have units in the roof system,” said civil engineer Justin Shimp. “So, trying to keep it at that 30 to 35 unit building height.” 

Massing diagrams for the buildings (Credit: Shimp Engineering)

Alfele had recommended denial of the rezoning in part because of the conditions on Valley Road Extended. 

“Valley Road Extended on the east side you have Rock Creek and on the western side you have a fully developed neighborhood with limited sidewalks and with parking,” Alfele said. “Any improvements to Valley Road for pedestrians and foot traffic would be a major undertaking and would remove parking from existing homeowners.” 

Only one community member spoke during the public hearing. Paul Benneche was concerned about the potential for Valley Street Road to handle additional vehicles.

“By my count, I counted the houses on that road currently and this would seem to increase the total number of people on that road by 30 to 40 percent potentially,” Benneche said. “It just seems like that road is already not wide enough. It’s only about one and a half lanes wide.” 

Vice Mayor Juandiego Wade was not on Council when the matter was last before a joint  meeting. In the late 2000’s, Wade worked for Albemarle County as a transportation planner. 

“I’m trying to figure out from my planning days, even back then, $48,000 doesn’t get you much sidewalk,” Wade said, “Or is there a new way to build them cheaper now? What are we getting for $48,000? Why not $40,000 or $50,000? What’s magic about $48,000? Is it a formula or something?”

Shimp said $48,000 did come from the formula that the city uses to calculate what a developer would pay if they got a waiver from having to build a sidewalk in front of their development. In this case, they are also building a sidewalk in front of the new units. 

“The site plan ordinance requires us to build our own sidewalks and then we would offer the money up for some improvement down the road,” Shimp said. “We talked last time about maybe something at the entrance of Valley Road Extended. That would be up to the city. We tried to make the proffer sufficiently vague so it could be used where in that neighborhood it made sense.” 

Commissioner Rory Stolzenberg said he supported the plan because it is an example of what should be built under the General Residential designation across the city. 

“There’s no buildings to demolish on this site so that’s a fourplex by right, and then we have provisions for bonuses at affordable housing,” Stolzeberg said. 

Stolzenberg said there are other thin roads that lead to cul-de-sacs such as Altamont Street in North Downtown. 

“People kind of manage and people walk in the street and then people slow down when they see them,” Stolzenberg said. 

Commissioner Liz Russell had a different interpretation of General Residential. 

“My take on the General Residential category is three units per lot with an additional bonus and we haven’t defined what that bonus is, but presumably it would be another unit,” Russell said. “So we have three parcels here and the max would be four units per parcel, twelve units max. And this is a proposal that proposes  no more than 28.”

After some discussion, the vote was taken again and resulted in a 4 to 3 vote on both the rezoning and the special use permit, but Commissioner Hosea Mitchell did vote for the critical slopes waiver. 

The matter will next go to before City Council on Monday, March 20, 2022. (meeting info)

The original plan pointed to a concept in the city’s 2016 Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan which showed a tunnel underneath the railroad track to what is now the University of Virginia’s Brandon Avenue precinct. The end of Valley Road Extended is only 250 feet away from an access road behind Bond House, one of UVA’s newest residence halls. Valley Circle is a few more steps away. 

However, there are no actual plans for such an underpass. 

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 March 19, 2022 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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