Planning Commission recommends approval of permit for larger building at 1709 JPA

If City Council approves a new Development Code later this year, the land use process will be very different. There will no longer be public hearings for special use permits for additional height and density, though they’ll remain for requests to have some commercial uses in residential neighborhoods.

There are still special use permit requests pending and this Tuesday, the Charlottesville Planning Commission held a public hearing for 1709 Jefferson Park Avenue.

“The applicant is making his proposals as part of a request to redevelop the property and replace the existing eight unit multifamily apartment building with a 27-unit multi-family apartment building,” said Matt Alfele, a planner with the City of Charlottesville. 

Under the process that has been in place for decades, that use requires a special use permit for additional height and density as well as reductions in setbacks, as well as a reduction in parking requirements. That requires a public hearing.

The Planning Commission also conducted an initial review of the site in their capacity as the Entrance Corridor Review Board. They recommended to Council that the project would not have an adverse impact on the Fontaine-JPA entrance corridor but not before learning what will be removed from the site. 

“Currently on the site is a four-story brick apartment building built in 1972,” said Jeff Werner, the city’s preservation planner. “The building is set back about 66 feet from JPA. Available records indicate no buildings on this site prior to the existing apartments and there is no historic designation associated with the site or the building.” 

Staff recommended additional screening on the section of the building that faces Montebello Circle in part because major changes are expected in this area in the Future Land Use Map and the Comprehensive Plan. 

“The JPA corridor is anticipated to go through a significant change in the coming years based off the stated intent goals of the plan,” Alfele said. “These goals include more intense mixed use development within five to eight story buildings.” 

Under the city’s existing affordable policies, the developer would need to build three units or pay into the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund. That’s either $122,838.75 or $124,257 depending on if you go with the city’s math or the developer’s math.  

“The owner prefers the fee in lieu to satisfy the affordable housing contribution,” said Kevin Riddle of the firm Mitchell Matthews Architects. “We realize the city is currently reevaluating the fee method and amount as part of a potential new ordinance. However, the draft ordinance is still a work in progress.”

The figures under the new code would be much higher according to the draft affordable housing manual.

Read the manual for more information. It’s available in a link in this story.

However, Riddle did point out there would be no density limits underneath the new zoning and stated there was a proposal to go even higher than what’s allowed under the draft zoning map. 

“The proposal is now that what is called CX-5 in this map would actually go to CX-8,” Riddle said. 

City Councilor Michael Payne went with CX-5 and pointed out that under the new ordinance, the project at 1709 JPA would not have gotten more than five stories without an affordability bonus. He also suggested the project should use the new method for calculating that payment. 

“I understand the situation you are in but for the Planning Commission and Council’s deliberation, I continue to have a lot of heartburn about the Future Land Use Map being a justification for approval but being selective about what is in it in excluding the affordable housing height boud as well as the inclusionary zoning,” Payne said. 

Ellen Contini-Morava of the JPA neighborhood urged the Planning Commission to hold the building at five stories, arguing that the applicant was not fully complying with the intention of the Comprehensive Plan.

“This application is another example of how developers are scrambling to exploit the current special use permit process to add height and density to their projects that go beyond what current zoning would allow by-right without having to include any affordable units which they would have to do if the proposal for inclusionary zoning are implemented,” Contini-Morava said. 

Mo Van de Sompel, a University of Virginia graduate student in economics, urged the Commission to recommend approval. 

“My rent currently takes more than half of my monthly income,” he said. “Charlottesville’s tenants are being choked by a lack of adequate supply and at the end of the day, that’s all it is. Supply and demand.” 

After the public hearing, different Commissioners weighed in. Commissioner Phil d’Oronzio said he was not concerned about a couple additional stories of height given the project’s location. 

“I do tend to agree that density period is going to pull on the affordability issues as one of the speakers said,” d’Oronzio said. “The more units you have closer to the university, the tighter that is and that also tends to relieve pressure elsewhere.” 

d’Oronzio said he was satisfied with the applicant paying into the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund. Commissioner Karim Habbab was not.

“Going with the cash-in-lieu option always gives me heartburn and I would always prefer if the units were built on site,” Habbab said. 

Other Commissioners were fine with the payment in lieu.

“The payment-in-lieu is ideal for this part of the city but I don’t think it’s enough but I’m not sure there’s anything we can do about that,” said Hosea Mitchell. 

The Commission voted unanimously to recommend the special use permit and added a condition for a continuous sidewalk on Jefferson Park Avenue. They also recommended  approval of a critical slopes waiver. 

There is currently one vacancy on the Planning Commission but Council did not make an appointment on Monday. 

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 September 15, 2023 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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