City to purchase downtown land for surface parking 

Charlottesville City Council has authorized the city’s economic development director to purchase 921 E. Jefferson Street for $1.6 million. Here’s Chris Engel. (read the staff report)

“This parcel is four tenths of an acre and is currently used as a 39-space surface parking lot,” Engel said. “Staff recommends purchase as it puts the city in control of an asset that will help with current and future parking capacity issues.” 

Engel said one reason is to help satisfy the terms of an agreement between Albemarle and Charlottesville related to parking for the joint General District Court that will be built downtown. 

“Most of that agreement spoke to the creation of a new parking structure that the city was to undertake as part of its agreement with the county,” Engel said. “That project was ultimately canceled as you know last year about this time.” 

Engel said the agreement allows the city options to provide spaces at either the existing 7th Street surface lot or at Market Street Parking Garage, both owned by city government. He said either would displace existing parkers and this lot would be a replacement.

The lot in question. (Credit: Charlottesville GIS)

Engel said volume in the Market Street Parking Garage is not at pre-pandemic levels but the city is currently on a waiting list for new monthly pass holders at that structure. If the county chooses 100 spaces at the Market Street garage, Engel said that would crowd out the ability of people to park there on a transient basis. 

“So you’d in some way be jeopardizing the health of the surrounding business community that relies on those spaces for activity,” Engel said. 

Engel said this purchase would also make up for the loss of 50 spaces that used to be underneath the Belmont Bridge but won’t be coming back when that project is complete. He said the city will also eventually lose a parking lot with 61 spaces for employees at a site on Levy Avenue owned by the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. 

“If we were to add 39 spots we would still have a net loss of parking spaces in and around the downtown area,” Engel said. 

The current owner of the property is Gewinn Investors III, a firm that bought the land in 1985 for $175,000. The land is currently assessed at $953,000 and the sales price would be over 73 percent above the assessment. 

In January 2017, the city paid $2.85 million to purchase the corner lot at Market Street and 9th Street for a new parking garage. That transaction was 40.55 percent above assessment at the time. 

Councilor Michael Payne said the city was wrong to have entered into the agreement with the county, but he said they should be given the 100 spaces in Market Street Garage. 

“Quite frankly depending on how that’s implemented I don’t think that’s the end of the world but my understanding is that a majority of Council does not agree with that sentiment,” Payne said. 

However, he said he could support the purchase of this space if it meant keeping the two structures the city owns at the corner lot. 

“If purchasing this resolves the courts agreement in place of building a 10-million plus and tearing down Lucky 7 and Guadalajara to build a surface lot, it potentially makes sense to me,” Payne said. 

Engel said he could make no guarantees, but purchasing this lot would delay that outcome. 

Councilor Brian Pinkston said during his time in office to date, parking has proven to be controversial. 

“If you talk with folks at the Downtown Mall, they’re like ‘we absolutely need more parking’ and if you talk with other constituencies, they’re like ‘no, you’ve got plenty of parking,’” Pinkston said. 

Pinkston said he relies on staff to provide recommendations about occupancy and utilization rates. 

“Grabbing these 39 spaces for lack of a better term and taking advantage of this opportunity to acquire these 39 spaces basically is insurance against future possibilities,” Pinkston said. . 

Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook said the property would be ready to go for the city’s parking needs for now. That would allow more time to watch trends and collect data on actual usage of the new courts. 

“Five years from now we decide we don’t in fact need those parking places, I think we will probably have profited from the wait,” Snook said. 

The vote was 4-1 with Payne  against.

There is no overall parking plan for the City of Charlottesville, or for Albemarle County. The University of Virginia has a Parking and Transportation Master Plan from 2019 which seeks to manage parking demand. In June, the University of Virginia’s Building and Grounds Committee approved a plan to move forward with a 1,000 space parking garage with a $54 million budget but with no location determined. (UVA committee briefed on new capital projects, June 4, 2022)

The current rewrite of the zoning code also provides another opportunity related to parking. The Zoning Diagnostics and Approach Report calls for the reduction of parking requirements in addition to allowing greater residential density throughout the city. Visit the Cville Plans Together website to learn more.

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 July 7, 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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