City Manager Rogers to negotiate with Southern Development on Stribling sidewalk agreement
As Charlottesville contemplates a more dense future with more people, how can today’s elected officials ensure the infrastructure is in place before new homes are built?
The fate of Southern Development’s request to rezone undeveloped land in the Fry’s Spring neighborhood depends on if Charlottesville Council is satisfied sidewalks will be built on Stribling Avenue.
“At 12 acres, this is one of the largest undeveloped properties within the city,” said City Planner Matt Aflele.
Southern Development’s plan is to build 170 residential units in a mix of single-family attached, townhomes, and multifamily buildings at a density of 15 dwelling units per acre.
The Planning Commission has voted unanimously to recommend a rezoning and a critical slopes waiver, but only if funds were placed in the capital improvement program for a sidewalk on Stribling Avenue. Southern Development had agreed to loan the city $2.9 million to cover the cost. This would be paid back in the form of real estate tax rebates until the amount is paid off.
At Council’s first reading of the matter on Monday, Interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers said he did not recommend proceeding with the sidewalk for many reasons. For one, the city would need to issue additional bonds and it’s already at capacity.
For another, Rogers said if the city is going to enter into public-private partnerships for infrastructure, there need to be rules first.
“The city does not have in place a policy infrastructure for these kinds of arrangements,” Rogers said. “So that it’s clear to everyone up front and that’s something that we will work on. But at this time there are too many unknown variables.”
However, staff does recommend the rezoning.
“After a lot of considerations we do think that 170 new housing units in that location would be a benefit to the city, and the fact that 26 affordable housing units would be added would be beneficial to our affordable housing program as well.”
Rogers said the city would have to find a way to pay for the sidewalk if the development was to move forward.
“So we would have to go back to the CIP, include this project, find the money for it, and make it happen,” Rogers said.
Jason Halbert is co-president of the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association. They’ve been working on this issue since the idea of the rezoning emerged.
“We as a board never said no, NIMBY, we didn’t take that position,” Halbert said. “We took a position to try to advance what we have always been trying to advance, which is improved safety on Stribling Avenue and the intersection of Stribling and Jefferson Park Avenue.”
Halbert said the development should not occur without infrastructure. He thanked interim Michael C. Rogers for his announcement earlier in the meeting that the process for the capital improvement program would be overhauled.
“If we want to work with developers to get more density in the city and really do this new zoning ordinance in a proper way, the city’s CIP and the infrastructure has to keep pace,” Halbert said. “If it can’t keep pace you’re going to create serious problems on city streets, city intersections, and you’re going to have more and more consternation from neighborhoods.”
City resident Ben Heller asked for the city to ask for $2.9 million in cash from Southern Development rather than the loan. He pointed out the company paid $2 million for the 11 acres of undeveloped land in June 2021.
“With 170 houses there that’s only $12,000 per development entitlement,” Heller said. “In general you are talking about $120,000 per development entitlement in that neighborhood. You could ask the developer for $3 million and they would still be getting a bargain in terms of the price per development entitlement.”
Vice Mayor Juandiego Wade worked for many years as a transportation planner for Albemarle County and is familiar with the road because this area is within in the jurisdictions of a joint planning study known as Southern Area B.
“We had some projects on the county end of this and it was a real gnarly, gnarly road there and i think it prevented some of the county projects from getting done in that area,” Wade said.
Wade said the city has to find a way to build the sidewalk.
Councilor Brian Pinkston said he could not vote for the rezoning until there was a plan in place to guarantee the sidewalks would be built.
“I see why the notion of trying to fund this with a loan was a great idea, kind of a hail mary sort of thing, but I can see why it’s very difficult and problematic on the policy side and the debt management side and not having the policies and procedures in place to govern that,” Pinkston said.
Another issue is lack of funding to upgrade the intersection of Stribling and Jefferson Park Avenue Extended to handle left-hand turns. That concerned Mayor Lloyd Snook as much if not more than the sidewalk.
“That kind of improvement is never going to be made unless we’ve got a project like this,” Snook said. “Now to me the question therefore is how do we end up not having to hold the bag?”
Snook said he was skeptical the city would be able to find the money in the capital improvement program. He said it would be his first preference for Rogers to continue to work on the loan to resolve outstanding questions.
Charlie Armstrong of Southern Development said his company has looked at many options over the past few years, including developing the property by-right.
“And that is 46 or so large single family lots, some of them approaching an acre in size,” Armstrong said. “They would be beautiful but affordable for very view.”
A rezoning to R-2 would yield 64 units.
Armstrong said the agreement was not so much of a loan but a tax increment financing structure.
“It’s another odd version of a loan where we provide the funds and then we provide the funds again to pay ourselves back,” Armstrong said “Those tax revenues from the project don’t exist right now. The project would create them.”
Armstrong said he would be willing to work with the city to move forward on the agreement, but needs to know if there is Council support for the rezoning. Rogers said he would set up a conversation with Armstrong but suggested Council hold first reading on the matter. They did so, and the matter will come back to Council at their next meeting on April 4.
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