Divided Planning Commission approves seven-story building on Jefferson Park Avenue
A divided Charlottesville Planning Commission voted 4-3 on May 10 to recommend that City Council approve a special use permit for additional height and density for a seven-story U-shaped building at 2005 Jefferson Park Avenue. They’ve also recommended reducing parking requirements by 22 percent over what would otherwise be required.
“The [special use permit] is required to accommodate a development being proposed for 119-units of multifamily dwellings within one building with underground parking,” said city planner Matt Alfele.
This project was filed after the city adopted a new Comprehensive Plan and Future Land Use Map created as part of the Charlottesville Plans Together initiative, which is still underway. There are currently 17 units across multiple structures across the property.
“The Future Plan Use Map, the Comprehensive Plan that we went through, is increasing density and increasing density in certain areas of the city, and this area of the city is one that is looking to increase density and to increase density at especially this scale is going to create a big building,” Alfele said.
The developer would pay $500,000 into the city’s affordable housing fund rather than provide required affordable units on-site or at another location nearby. They’ll build 125 parking spaces in an underground garage with access on Washington Avenue. Residents would not be eligible to park on that street or Observatory due to restricted parking.
The building would be seven stories taller from JPA and would be five stories tall at the back.
“The biggest concern I think staff had was the rear elevation, the five story building going down into the mainly single-family, two-family neighborhood,” Allele said.
This request comes after City Council adopted a new Comprehensive Plan with a Future Land Use Map that encourages more residential density, but before the new zoning rules have been written.
“Do you happen to know and can you remind me what in our Future Land Use map, what this area is designated as, and what the by-right height would be in that corridor?” asked City Councilor Michael Payne.
“This is Urban Mixed Use Corridor and the height is five stories or up to eight at key intersections,” Alfele said. “This is one of the areas where our Comprehensive Plan land use conflicts with our current zoning because our Comprehensive land use map is anticipating our zoning changing. The Future Land Use Map measures in stories and not feet.”
Under the existing zoning, the structure could be 35 feet tall without a permit. This is one of the areas that will be clarified in the zoning rewrite. The term “key intersection” is also currently not defined.
Payne pointed out the Comprehensive Plan seeks to encourage more units that would be rented to people below market.
“The framework that we’ve adopted for that is that if we’re going above the by-right height, the reason we’re doing that is to have an inclusionary zoning program that’s going to required affordable housing as part of that,” Payne said.
Payne also suggested $500,000 as an affordable housing contribution would not go far.
“I know it’s their choice and we don’t have any control over it but I would just note for the record that we got an affordable housing report that included data on the total subsidy needed to construct a new affordable unit, and I can’t remember the exact number but I know in Virginia that total subsidy to build one new unit could be around $300,000,” Payne said.
Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook noted that there had been a lot of concerns during the Future Land Use Map from other neighborhoods such as North Downtown, but he had not heard much from the JPA neighborhood at that time.
“The one area where it seemed clear that everyone was willing to agree we should have increased density was along JPA yet there was no basically no public discussion of that fact,” Snook said.
Until the rezoning is finalized, individual applications like this are the forum for how the city will look in the future.
The project will need a certificate of appropriateness from the Entrance Corridor Review Board, which is also the Planning Commission. They’ll get to influence the design.
The developer said the area was already predominantly occupied by renters, and that this level of density is served by transit.
“We are one block away in each direction from the trolley stops,” said Erin Hannegan with Mitchell + Matthews Architects and Planners.
Hannegan acknowledged the Future Land Use Map designation of Urban Mixed Use Corridor and said this project meets the goals of the Comprehensive Plan.
“The further definition is ‘higher intensity mixed-use development’ for this area and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do,” Hannegan said. “A higher intensity development. Mixed use is not allowed under the R-3 mixed-use currently designated.”
Hannegan acknowledged that the new building would be out of scale with what is currently there, but anticipated the future conditions of JPA.
“This building might be taller than its current neighbors but it won’t be out of character with the future implementation of the Comprehensive Plan and the implementation of the vision that’s been in the works for over 20 years for this particular neighborhood,” Hannegan said.
At the public hearing, Nina Barnes of the Jefferson Park Avenue Neighborhood Association said the Comprehensive Plan compels Council and the Planning Commission to take adverse effects into account when considering a special use permit.
“Adverse impacts may include traffic or parking congestion, undue density and population, and massing and scale,” Barnes said. “This project has adverse effects in all of these ways.”
Barnes said the seven-story building would block the sun from existing one and two story buildings.
Ellen Contini-Morava said the staff reports seemed to be in favor of the developer, and noted the gap between an adopted Comprehensive Plan and older zoning. She said this undermines the spirit of the Cville Plans Together Initiative.
“This application treats the rezoning that’s proposed in the Future Land Use Map as if it were already in place,” Contini-Morava said. “This application not only aims to short-circuit the rezoning process but even requests a height that is two stories higher than the five stories suggested in the Future Land Use Map for the JPA corridor.”
Fifeville resident Matthew Gillikin spoke for the group Livable Cville, which is not a registered entity with the State Corporation Commission but is active in promoting higher density in the community. Gillikin said the answer to affordability in Charlottesville is more housing.
“And the developer is planning to contribute nearly $500,000 to the Charlottesville affordable housing fund as a condition to build,” Gillikin said. “This will fund groups like [Charlottesvile Redevelopment and Housing Authority], LEAP, [Albemarle Housing Improvement Program], [Piedmont Housing Alliance], and Habitat for Humanity in the work to address local housing issues.”
Gillikin said approval of this project would prevent students from moving into local neighborhoods such as Tenth and Page and Fifeville.
These units would have no affordability provisions. For comparisons let’s look at the Standard, another building designed by Mitchell + Matthews Architects. According to their website, the lowest rent for a room in a four-bedroom unit goes for $1,029 a month. Double occupancy in a single bedroom in a three bedroom unit can go for $845 a month. One and two bedroom units in the Standard are sold out.
Pricing is not available online for the Flats at West Village.
The Lark on Main has a one bedroom unit with a study for $1,879 a month. A room in a four bedroom, four bathroom costs $955 a month. Garage parking is an extra $100.
After the public hearing, Commissioner Hosea Mitchell said he supported the project, but did want the massing to be a little more consistent with the rest of the neighborhoods.
“We do need more housing in Charlottesville and we do a bit of relief valve,” Mitchell said. “We need housing in Charlottesville that is closer to UVA so that the housing that is further away from UVA can be used by the rest of our citizenry,” Mitchell said.
Commissioner Taneia Dowell said if the developer is going to additional density based on the future zoning for the property, the spirit of the Affordable Housing Plan must also be honored.
“That’s where I’m really having some heartburn,” Dowell said. “If we’re going to go off future endeavors for this project and this special use permit, then we need to go off future endeavors for everything related to this.”
Commissioner Jody Lahendro said he could not support this level of density in the area and especially with a building with that much massing. He said the Comprehensive Plan also calls for development on Entrance Corridors to be compatible with existing neighborhoods.
“I am not in favor of sacrificing a long term neighborhood for providing student housing for the University,” Lahendro said. “I think the people who have lived here and the single-family homes in this neighborhood deserve… we can’t just pretend that they’re not there.”
Commissioner Rory Stolzenberg said he was reviewing the permit request under existing rules and not looking ahead to the new zoning. Quoting the standards of review, he noted that the Commission must review whether a proposal would be “harmonious with existing patterns of use and development in the neighborhood.”
“But it will shock you guys to learn that harmonious is not actually defined in the code so the question I think before us is whether a five-story building can co-exist near or next to even smaller buildings including detached houses,” Stolzenberg said. “I’d note there’s already a four and a half story building at the head of the street.”
Bill Palmer is with the Office of the Architect at the University of Virginia and sits as a non-voting member of the Planning Commission. He said UVA is not in an era where they are being required by the Commonwealth of Virginia to increase enrollment. According to the UVA office of Institutional Research and Analytics, there was an on-Grounds enrollment in Fall 2021 of 16,793 undergraduates and 6,928 graduate students. (enrollment data)
“If you look at our official projects, they are flat,” Palmer said.
Palmer said UVA is building additional housing on Grounds, including a second new structure in the Brandon Avenue Corridor. He also said the UVA initiative to build up to 1,500 new affordable units in the community includes a site further down from 2005 JPA in Albemarle County at the Piedmont housing site.
“In terms of having affordable housing close in the future, that will be a place where the University is trying to provide something,” Palmer said.
Council will have the final decision, but did not vote during what is their first reading.
Councilor Payne said he was frustrated that the affordability rules of the future are not yet in place.
“This happened with another [special use permit] a few weeks ago where we’re in this strange situation where we’re sort of evaluating the Future Land Use Map and zoning map rewrite in mind, but if we’re using that in our evaluation, that will include our framework of inclusionary zoning and affordable housing overlays which are critical to the success of that plan for affordable housing,” Payne said.
Councilor Brian Pinkston said he is learning toward support because it did provide more housing close to the University of Virginia.
“I’m not able to fully articulate how we square that with point number one which is whether it is harmonious,” Pinkston said. “To some degree I think harmoniousness might be in the eye of the beholder. I will say that in terms of how the design was laid out and that you have seven stories in the front and five stories in the back, I thought there was some care and attention to trying to integrate into the neighborhood.”
Snook also said he had issues with the word “harmonious” and said the traditional form of land use control known as “Euclidean zoning” is not good at dealing with change.
“It doesn’t allow for us to grow gradually from a little bit of density to a little bit more density,” Snook said. “It allows us to say okay, we’re going to rezone the entire block of the entire neighborhood but it doesn’t let us go bit by bit.”
As the Entrance Corridor Review Board, the Planning Commission voted unanimously on a motion to acknowledge there would be an adverse impact, but those impacts can be mitigated through the design process.
As the Planning Commission, they consider a motion made by Stolzenberg to recommend approval. The was 4-3 with Stolzenberg, Mitchell, Habbab, and Commission Chair Lyle Solla-Yates voting in favor. Lahendro joined Dowell and Commissioner Liz Russell in voting no.
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