Council supportive of rezoning for 28 units on Valley Road Extended

Charlottesville City Council appears willing to support three land use applications to allow 28 units to be built on about two thirds of an acre on a cul-de-sac in Fifeville. Lorven Investments needs a rezoning, a special use permit, and a critical slopes waiver. 

“The development being proposed are for four low-rise apartment buildings with eight one-bedroom units and 20 two-bedroom units for a total of 28 on site,” said city planner Matt Alfele. 

By right, the developer could have gotten three duplexes, but only with a boundary line adjustment. 

“Six houses down there versus 28 when we desperately need housing?” Councilor Sena Magill wondered. “It’s very hard to say no to.”

However, both Magill and City Councilor Michael Payne had questions about the terms of affordability provisions, and the item will come back to Council for a second reading at their next meeting on April 4.

The layout for the 28 units accessible via Valley Road Extended. (Crediit: Shimp Engineering)

The out-ot-town developer has agreed to contribute $48,000 to build pedestrian improvement somewhere off-site, as well as to commit eight of the units to be income-restricted for a period of at least ten years. 

The Planning Commission voted 4-3 earlier this month to recommend approval.

“Traffic, affordability of units, [and] scale of the buildings were the main points of focus from the Commission,” Alfele said. “In addition, members of the community who spoke brought up character of the development as it relates to the surrounding neighborhood, anticipated problems with parking, and the poor condition of Valley Road Extended.” 

Civil engineer Justin Shimp represented the applicant and he said the affordability proffer echoes the city’s housing policy and it is legally binding. 

“There are terms spelled out within on how much the rent will be, and also the rent limitations in both income and on what the rental price is,” Shimp said. 

Shimp said there was no subsidy involved and that the developer will assume the costs of providing the units below market. 

“It depends on what you calculate market rent in the area but I think it’s something like a $250,000 to $300,000 commitment on this project to affordability,” Shimp said. 

One question is how the city will enforce the affordability. The city has been without a housing coordinator since the summer of 2020. 

“Whether or not someone is compliant will need to be determined by the zoning administrator down the road,” said City Attorney Lisa Robertson. “This proffer statement does not obligate the city to pay any money.”

Vice Mayor Juandiego Wade had a question about the length of the affordability period. 

“I mean, ten years, is that typically what we use as the time period?” Wade asked. “It seemed kind of short.” 

Robertson said there is no standard length for Charlottesville, and that in this case the developer was offering the affordability on a voluntary basis above and beyond the minimum requirements of the zoning code. That will change as the zoning code is rewritten to include provisions where this kind of density would be allowed only if units were provided below market. 

“We don’t really have a standardized program yet,” Robertson said. 

Wade also wanted to make sure that University of Virginia students do not end up taking units that he thought should go to low-wealth families.

“Will [federal housing] voucher holders be able to take advantage of this location?” Wade asked.

“Yes,” Shimp responded. “And that’s part of what we were encouraged to look into by the Planning Commission. Part of the units being split is that all eight of them become voucher eligible.” 

Before the discussion, one member of the public argued that the subsidized low rents that would be provided at Grove Street would outweigh any concerns over traffic. 

“With more apartments on that street, the cars will drive slower but I think that’s okay,” said Joshua Carp said.

Some of the suggestions listed underneath Strategy 1.3 of the Land Use, Urban Form, and Historic & Cultural Preservation. That begins on page 22 of the Comprehensive Plan. (download the plan) 

Councilor Michael Payne noted that this use appeared to be in excess of what’s allowed under the new Future Land Use Map that designates this as General Residential. 

“What justification and where in the project in terms of affordability are we at in terms of justifying going beyond our adopted land use map that did have density increase throughout the city, but had land use designations that we decided on?” Payne asked. 

Shimp said that was up to the City Council to decide. In this case, he said the undeveloped nature of the three lots are a perfect opportunity to add density. 

“This site in particular, there’s not a tree on it,” Shimp said. “There’s a degraded stream we’re going to fix. This is one site that clearing it all and building housing on it is 100 percent improvement for all parties involved.” 

Shimp said the proposal fulfills the spirit of the new Comprehensive Plan. Strategy 1.3 of the Land Use Chapter is to “implement zoning changes needed to support the creation of more housing, including affordable housing opportunities throughout the city.” 

Mayor Lloyd Snook said the city does not have enough money to make major improvements to Valley Road Extended.

“What’s concerning generally is the narrowness of the street or the fact that there’s no street definition on one side,” Snook said. “There is street definition on the other side because there’s a guard rail to keep you from going into the creek.” 

Snook said if Council approves this project, they should expect that neighbors will report issues in the future. He said on balance, he would support the project because of the provision of new houses. 

The item will come back to Council on April 4 for a second reading. There were at least three votes to approve. 

One of the letters of opposition sent to the Charlottesville Planning Commission asking for a denial.

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 24, 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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