Planning Commission recommends denial of conversion of apartments to hotel use

In the other matter, developer Bill Chapman sought permission to convert an apartment complex on 14th Street into a hotel. Here’s city planner Dannan O’Connell. 

“The subject property is currently developed with a 21-unit multifamily condominium use and the applicant wishes to renovate the existing building to accommodate a 19-unit hotel with one residential apartment,” O’Connell said. 

The structure was originally built as a hotel in 1964 but converted to apartment use some time later. 

Tonight’s consideration by Council comes just over a year after the city adopted an Affordable Housing Plan that seeks to increase the number of units and nearly six months after a new Comprehensive Plan was adopted.

“The proposed redevelopment does meet some of the 2021 Comprehensive Plan’s goals regarding sustainable reuse of existing buildings, protecting the existing identity of city neighborhoods, and retaining successful businesses and jobs,” O’Connell said. “The proposed change of use would also result in a reduction of available rental housing within the city and this area. However, the existing apartment use is non-conforming in nature and located in an area of dense residential apartments geared towards short-term student housing.”

Current conditions at the Alcove Apartments. Look them up on!

Much of the discussion at the Planning Commission was whether the residential units should be removed from circulation. Commissioner Rory Stolzenberg noted that the units rented at what would appear to be what’s known as “naturally occurring affordable housing.”

“The studio rents for $770 a month and that includes utilities,” Stolzenberg said. “And then I go look at what that is in terms of [Area Median Income] and it’s right at the 45 percent AMI range for a one-person household.” 

O’Connell said the application made clear that none of those units were participating in a subsidized program requiring the rents to be that low. 

“The reason these units are affordable is because they are older and so people can afford to live in them,” said Planning Commissioner Liz Russell. 

Developer Bill Chapman said the conversion would be similar to what he and his business partners did at the Oakhurst Circle and Inn project at the corner of Jefferson Park Avenue and Jefferson Park Avenue.

“My partners and I own nine buildings over here on the south side of UVA in the Oakhurst Gildersleeve Historic District and some of them are apartments and some are private homes and some are hotel rooms,” Chapman said.

And here’s how it might look as a hotel once more

Chapman said he thought the end result of the renovations of those buildings has made some of those streets better than they been. He said he wants to do the same at 207 14th Street.

“The block just down the hill from this property on 14th Street is one of the dirtiest blocks in the whole city in terms of trash and we’re going to transform that a little bit because being in the hospitality business it needs to look good,” Chapman said. 

Chapman said the apartments are run down and cheap because they are old hotel rooms. He is a contract purchaser, and does not currently own them. He said financing their renovation as an apartment would result in much higher rents. 

“This property was built as a motel and I think it’s best operated as a hotel especially since it needs this new life brought to it,” Chapman said. “Now, could it go for a few more years as an apartment building? Yeah. Could it go for 20 more years as an apartment building. No.”

Russell said she did not think the people living in the apartment were necessarily students. 

“We have to remember that not just students live in the area around the University but it seems like a pretty great proximity to the UVA Health System,” Russell said. “So many people can’t live in this community let alone proximate to UVA. 

Russell said she would vote to recommend denial because she housing is more important than hotel rooms. 

Commissioner Karim Habbab also could not support it.

“This is currently exactly the missing middle housing that we are trying to develop in the city and given our affordable housing issue, I cannot see how this would help with that,” Habbab said. 

The Commission voted 4-2 to recommend denial. Now it’s up to Council to make a decision. 

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 May 2, 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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