A series of high profile rezonings continue to make their way through Charlottesville’s existing land use approval process. On November 14, the Planning Commission voted to recommend that the City Council approve as many as 540 units at Verve Charlottesville and several hundred more at 2117 Ivy Road.
In between there was consideration of a much smaller rezoning, but one that would have a big impact on Lankford Avenue, a key street in south central Charlottesville. (staff report)
“That is a rezoning from R-1S to R-3,” said Planning Commission Chair Hosea Mitchell. “If this development is approved, it’s going to allow for about 48 units to be built in this space. It is also accompanied by affordable housing proffers.”
The project also requires a special use permit and a critical slopes waiver. On November 14, Civil Engineer Justin Shimp began his presentation by asking for a deferral so that the project could be resubmitted. But he added an editorial comment about the Development Code.
“It is much, much better than the one we have, the proposed ordinance, increasing density in a variety of places,” Shimp said. “My entire career now, I’ve essentially fought against density restrictions everywhere I go.”
Shimp said density restrictions increase the cost of housing. Even in the new zoning code, he said he would like to see density increased on some properties designated Residential-A and this project is in one of those areas.
“However, where I think I went wrong was bringing in a three-story building onto the Lankford Avenue Streetscape and upon looking at it and reading the staff’s comments and really going out to the site and walking around a bunch more, I want to amend that to keep the two houses in the front, keep the two historic structure, and then build in the back,” Shimp said.
Shimp said there are six households in those two historic structures, and said the change would prevent their displacement. One structure would have to be removed to make way for a road entrance, and the net unit count would likely drop to 44.
Shimp also wanted to delay for ten years the requirement to provide affordable units on site, arguing that without a subsidy the project would have to pay for itself first.
“The simple math of that is that to build this project, getting it off the ground is the most difficult part,” Shimp said. “Once you get past ten years and you’ve paid down your debt you can refinance it and then you can make that work.”
Commissioner Phil d’Oronzio said the math may make sense to the developer, but not to the city’s stated goals to provide more affordable housing.
“The question is that this is future money for the city and for the developer that we’re talking about ten years hence,” d’Oronzio said. “And I’m not sure if the math maths or if there’s a way sort of to engineer that in a way that’s either equitable, sensible, or even possible.”
Shimp’s new idea had the favor of Planning Commissioner Rory Stolzenberg, but he was skeptical the project could come back before the new Development Code is adopted.
“Are you betting that they’re not going to pass the new zoning ordinance any time soon and so you’ll have time for that?” Stolzenberg asked. “If they’re going to pass it in December like they plan and you get a Planning Commission public hearing in December, you’re not going to get a vote in time.”
Shimp said the project was delayed while investigations took place to see if there was a historic cemetery on the property. He said that proved inconclusive and if they have to apply for a rezoning under the new zoning, they will.
“If it comes down to it and the ordinance is passed and if it said ‘we’re cutting it off on this day and you’re not approved’ I think we would simply amend this to like an R-X,” Shimp said. “There will be a zoning district under the new ordinance that would adopt the same project.”
Stolzenberg suggested that may also take an amendment to the Future Land Use Map in the Comprehensive Plan because of the General Residential designation. He noted that anything under the new zoning would not allow deviation from the policy requiring ten percent of units be affordable from day one.
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