Charlottesville City Council held a work session yesterday on how to cover the costs of sidewalk improvements for Stribling Avenue to support a 170 unit development on about 12 acres of undeveloped land. James Freas is the director of the city’s Neighborhood Development Services department.
“So, as many as you know, there’s a [Planned Unit Development] proposed for 240 Stribling Avenue,” Freas said. “The proposed project includes a mix of apartments, townhouses, two-family units.”
When the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Policy Board next meets, there will be a new person representing the Virginia Department of Transportation. Sean Nelson will become the new district engineer for VDOT’s Culpeper District, which spans nine counties.
“I am honored to return to Culpeper District as the district engineer and look forward to working with our talented teams and valued community partners,” Nelson is quoted in a September 30 press release. “I was born and raised in Louisa and am now raising my family there. I am proud to come home and am committed to making a difference in this region.”
Will the city be able to build the infrastructure residents to allow for a more dense development on Stribling Avenue? At their meeting on September 14, 2021, the Charlottesville Planning Commission pondered this question and a public-private partnership could be worked out to cover the costs that a cash-strapped city cannot afford.
Southern Development seeks a rezoning to Planned Unit Development to build up to 170 units on about 12 acres of wooded land. That came after a directive at an earlier work session for the firm to increase the units in the development.
“The Planning Commission told us very clearly that you wanted to see something less dense and more suburban,” said Charlie Armstrong, vice president at Southern Development.
The Rivanna River serves as the boundary between eastern Charlottesville and the Pantops area of Albemarle County. To the north is the Pen Park within Charlottesville, and the river meanders south to the Sentara Martha Jefferson complex. What steps can be taken to connect the waterway to the built environment?
The area has been studied for many years, and the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission has been working on a study intended to unify future planning and implementation efforts. Nick Morrison is a planner with the TJPDC who updated the Charlottesville Planning Commission at their meeting on August 10. (TJPDC page on the plan)
“The goal of this phase of this planning project was to develop a vision and an action plan for that urban section of the corridor,” Morrison said.
There’s an age-old question in land use. Which comes first? The development, or the infrastructure? Should developments be limited in size if all of the pieces aren’t yet in place to support additional residents?
The topic came up during Council’s consideration on August 2 on the rezoning of 1206 Carlton Avenue which will allow development of an eight-unit apartment complex on a currently empty lot in Belmont. The project also requires a special use permit. City planner Matt Alfele represented city staff.
“The applicant is also requesting side setbacks be modified from 13 feet to 8 feet,” Alfele said. “The application materials indicate the height of the building would be approximately 40 feet but no greater than the R-3 allotted 45 feet.”
In 2007, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville purchased the Southwood Mobile Home Park in Albemarle County’s southern growth area for $7 million. Since then, the nonprofit agency has served as landlord of the site which currently has about 1,500 residents in 341 mobile homes. Since then, Habitat has been planning to redevelop it on a bigger scale that at the 16-unit Sunrise Trailer Court on Carlton Road. Megan Nedostup is a planner with Albemarle County.
“In 2016, the county partnered with Habitat through a Board resolution and then for fiscal year 2017 through fiscal year 2019, the Board of Supervisors included in their strategic plan initiative revitalizing urban neighborhoods,” Nedostup said.
In 2018, the Board agreed to contribute $675,000 to assist Habitat prepare its rezoning application for the first phase. In 2019, Habitat, the Board of Supervisors, and Albemarle Economic Development Authority entered into a performance agreement through which Albemarle would provide up to $1.8 million to help fund construction of affordable housing as well as $1.4 million in property tax rebates. Supervisors approved the first rezoning from R-2 to Neighborhood Model Development that year as well. (performance agreement)
“Four hundred and fifty maximum units were approved in this phase one,” Nedostup said. “The units included a mixture of residential townhomes, multifamily, single family, duplexes and a maximum of 50,000 square feet of non-residential was permitted under the code of development.”
Construction of several blocks is underway and at various stages of the review process. Some of the first units to go through the site plan are the ones being constructed by Piedmont Housing Alliance using Low Income Housing Tax Credits in Blocks 11 and 12. In all, Piedmont Housing is seeking to build 121 rental units in Southwood Apartments.
Blocks nine, 10, and the rest of 11 are mostly market-rate townhomes on the future New Horizon Drive to be built by Atlantic Builders
“There are 16 affordable townhomes,” Nedostup said.
Village One consists of Blocks 5, 6, and 8, with parts of Blocks 3 and 4. There are a wide range of unit types in this area. An illustrative plan depicts what developer is building what units and where. In all, 287 units are planned so far, with planning to get underway on Village 2 in the future.
Dan Rosensweig is the chief executive officer at Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville.
“We all know that you took a bit of a leap of faith with us when you recommended approval about two years ago,” Rosensweig said. “This is something a little bit different in that it was organized as a block plan which created a framework, a regulatory framework, which created flexibility for cohorts of residents to design the various moments within the new development.”
Rosensweig took the Planning Commission on a video fly-through of these sections, which you can watch as part of the YouTube video. That’s also the best way to get a full sense of where the project is at the moment. (watch)
One small detail, the first floors of each of the buildings that make up Southwood Apartments will be 12 feet high, which Rosensweig said will allow them to serve as commercial at some point in the life cycle of those buildings. Here’s another detail about the architecture of some of the residential units in Village One.
“One of the things that’s very important to us at Habitat and I know that it was important to you all in the rezoning process is that you can’t tell Habitat units from market-rate units so on every block there is a mixture of Habitat homes and market rate homes and we’ve coordinated with the market-rate builders to make sure our architecture matches up,” Rosensweig said.
Rosensweig said that during the rezoning, Habitat agreed to make 15 percent of the housing in the first phase below-market through various interventions to bring down the cost to future residents.
“So that would have been 50 of the 335 total units,” Rosensweig said. “We ended up 207 affordable units out of the 335 or 62 percent. That breakdown is about 80 Habitat units for purchase, six Habitat units for rent, and that will toggle a little bit. Some of the families may rent originally and then purchase the ones that they are renting.”
Piedmont Housing Alliance is building the rest of the subsidized units.
The original plan had been to not move any of the mobile homes during the first phase, but 25 units have had to be moved.
“In the initial phase, we had hoped not to move anybody at all,” Rosensweigh said. “That’s why we developed greenfields at first. We thought we might have to move a few. We’ve had to move a few more than we thought but none of them off-site. Out of an abundance of caution, we’re working with 25 families that are adjacent to the first construction zone that were a little too close for comfort.”
So far, eleven of the 25 trailers have been moved to other sections of the park and others should be moved by September. Rosensweig said Habitat has accumulated many trailers in its 14 years operating the site and was able to provide those in situations where the original structure could not be moved.
As for construction of new units, Habitat’s Chief Construction Officer said the first lots will be turned over to developers sometime this fall. Here’s Andrew Vinisky.
“We anticipate our first five Habitat homes and likely the first four market rate homes to be delivered some time next summer,” Vinisky said.
Work is underway now on the phasing for the rest of the Sunrise development. Attorney Lori Schweller of the firm Williams Mullen said staff has made a recommendation on how to proceed.
“We have been working closely with staff to plan for submittal of phase two and have been advised that an amendment to the existing zoning makes the most sense so we are preparing our concept plan and new code of development and hope to submit that in the fall,” Schweller said.
Commissioner Karen Firehock had several questions related to affordability.
“What percent or total number of the original units that you showed us a couple of years ago were supposed to be occupied by South residents?” Firehock asked. “How many are currently committed to existing residents? I’m trying to understand your success rate.”
“It’s actually going pretty well,” Rosensweig said. “We essentially canvassed the neighborhood and if you recall we’ve had numerous families who have been working toward this for a while so our first application process took place in the spring and we had 25 families step forward. Remember there are 49 homes in the first village, but they’re not all going to get built next year. There’s about 20 to 25 that are going to be get built every year so that was about the right number of families we needed to fill up the first buildings that we’re building.”
Rosensweig said the second application process will begin in August, and he expects all 86 Habitat units in the first phase to be occupied by current Southwood families.
“We can’t force anybody to stay in the neighborhood and so there will be some families who leave and we’re working one on one on a strategy with all of them,” Rosenweig said.
Rosensweig did not have a break down on the annual income for the first cohort of families, Southwood, but said the average AMI for a Habitat family is 32 percent of the area median.
Commissioner Tim Keller went back to the 1,500 people who are believed to be living at Southwood currently. He said with just over 200 affordable units in the first phase so far, that might not be be enough to accommodate all current residents who might want to live there.
“I’m concerned at least that what we’ve seen so far, that there could actually be a net loss [of affordable housing],” Keller said.
Rosensweig said that there is more of Southwood to be developed.
“This is phase one so this is 30 acres out of 123 so there are 207 affordable homes on roughly a fifth of the site,” Rosensweig said. “There is an area four to five times the size of what Phase One is that will accommodate more affordable housing so when we come back for the second phase of rezoning, that’s where the additional density of affordable housing and market rate housing wll be.”
Keller said the numbers of affordable units often appear to be in flux.
“It seems like each time we have these discussions we’re told there are going to be answers in the future and I just can’t believe you be doing this without having those kind of projections,” Keller said.
Commission Chair Julian Bivins noticed that all of the affordable rental units appeared to be clustered, with the 120+ rentals built by Piedmont Housing Alliance in Block 12 and many of the Habitat clustered in the middle of village one.
“And I’m sort of seeing all of the affordable housing units grouped together which means that people will sort of co-locate,” Bivins said. “When you bring this back for the second time, that will be one of the things I’m going to key off of.”
One of several major transportation projects intended to make Charlottesville an easier place to bike or walk passed a milestone last week. In 2017, the city was awarded $8.6 million in Virginia Department of Transportation Smart Scale funds for a project at the intersection of Barracks Road and Emmet Street. The design public hearing was held on July 7, 2021.
“The purpose of the project is to improve the operational performance of the Barracks Road and Emmet Street intersection while also enhancing bicycle, pedestrian and transit facilities serving the adjacent neighborhoods,” said the narrator of a presentation shown at the virtual meeting. (watch the full presentation)
The work will include a new northbound right-turn lane on Emmet Street, an additional west-bound left-hand turn lane on Barracks Road, upgraded traffic signals, increased medians, and a shared-use path up Barracks Road. Part of the work will involve something called a “pedestrian refuge” to allow slower walkers to cross Emmet Street and take a break.
“The scope of bicycle and pedestrian improvements on Barracks Road were less somewhat less defined which provided an opportunity to involve local citizens in the early planning and decision-making process,” the presentation continued.
One man expressed concern that this plan seemed to have come from nowhere and that it may not actually work.
“This has been a long time question for me about Charlottesville and planning and development,” said Joel Bass. “How do we actually develop in this town without working with [the University of Virginia] and getting feedback from them on their plans?”
Bass said what was needed from westbound Barracks Road was a right-hand lane.
Before we hear from city staff, some background. In 1986, Albemarle, Charlottesville and UVA signed a Three Party Agreement and until 2019 there was a public body known as the Planning and Coordination Council (PACC) where projects and planning were discussed in the open. Since late 2019, a private body called the Land Use and Environmental Planning Committee meets and those events are closed to the public. This LUEPC group last met on June 25, 2021 and there is one page of minutes. (read those minutes)
Back to the Barracks/Emmet project. There is a steering committee that includes a member of the UVA Office of the Architect and those meetings are open to the public. Kyle Kling in Charlottesville’s public works department.
“In our department, we meet quarterly with the University to discuss projects the city is administering as well as projects that the University has throughout their Grounds and during those conversations we always discuss how things will trend during the future and how projects may supplement each other so that coordination is ongoing,” Kling said.
Two other Smart Scale projects are in the planning states to the south on Emmet Street. The Emmet Street Streetscape had its design public hearing in December 2019. The Commonwealth Transportation Board just approved $20.6 million in funding for a second phase of that project that would span between Arlington Boulevard and Barracks Road.
There was some concern at the public hearing about the shared-use path that will travel about a third of a mile up the hill on Barracks Road to Buckingham and Hill Top roads. Gregory Kastner was appreciative to get a dedicated facility, but had a question about how that fits into a larger network.
“As you’re on the bike lane coming up the road, how does that transition to the current sidewalk?” Kastner asked. “With it ending at Hill Top, there’s still a fair bit of up to go where the rider is going to be going pretty slow and it really wouldn’t be a great place to get dumped out on the road.”
Kastner said he hoped the scope of the project extended up to Rugby Road where the hill flattens.
Kling said in the short-term, a sharrow would be painted on the road in the short-term as VDOT has strict rules about extending Smart Scale projects past the boundaries outlined in their initial application.
“I do know that there are some plans in the works on the city’s end to kind of continue bike and pedestrian upgrades further into town along this stretch,” Kling said.
About another two-thirds of a mile up Barracks Road is another Smart Scale project to address the intersection of Preston Avenue and Grady Avenue. That project has also not yet begun.
Next steps for the project include final approval by City Council this summer and completion of the design in the winter of 2022. If all goes according to schedule, construction would begin in the spring of 2023.
The Albemarle Planning Commission will next take up the Crozet Master Plan at a work session on Tuesday, June 22. At the June 9 CAC meeting, committee members and participating residents got a presentation on the implementation of projects intended to bolster Crozet’s urban character. They also had the chance to comment on the plan update to date.
But first, the implementation projects. The master plan is a large overview of the entire area, and further studies are suggested. The draft implementation chapter shows a list of ten potential topics ranging from a Downtown Neighborhood Architectural and Cultural Study to a stream health study for Parrot Branch, a local waterway. Initial feedback has already been submitted and planner Tori Kanellopoulos gave the rundown for how planning projects scored.
“The top ranked projects were the Crozet Avenue Shared-Use Path feasibility study, the Three Notch’d Trail feasibility study, and the Route 250 West design guidelines,” Kanellopoulos said. “And then the policy projects were also ranked and the top priority was updating residential zoning designations to allow for more preservation of natural resources.”
Potential capital projects were also ranked. Kanellopoulos said the highest ranking projects are the completion of Eastern Avenue, downtown Crozet intersection improvements, and sidewalk connections.
Let’s hear more about that Three Notch’d Trail.
“Lately there’s been a lot more focus and attention on the potential Three Notch’d Trail which would ideally connect from the Blue Ridge Tunnel along Crozet and over to Charlottesville,” Kanellopoulos said. “A feasibility study would look at this alignment and there are opportunities to partner with [the Virginia Department of Transportation] and the Planning District Commission and trails groups to look at the feasibility study for the alignment.”
Supervisor Ann Mallek said later in the meeting that VDOT planning may not have staff to conduct that feasibility study this year, but community work can be done now to prepare for that work possibly in 2022.
“And the other blessing that goes along with that is 2022 is when [Virginia] is going to take over the rail access right of way from CSX and therefore that increases greatly the possibility that we will be able to have a trail beside the rail,” Mallek said.
Another “catalyst” project now in the implementation chapter is Western Park, which has long been called for in the plan and for which the county received 36 acres in 2010 as part of the Old Trail rezoning. A master plan for that project was created in 2018 that identified three phases. The first is recommended for funding, a decision which would be made by the entire Board of Supervisors during the budget process.
“This phase one would include the access road with parking, a playground, and additional support of infrastructure and utilities,” Kanellopoulos said.
Committee member Sandy Hausman noted the rankings were based on responses from fewer than a hundred people.
“I wonder if anybody feels like this there needs to be a bit more outreach, like a mass mailing to everyone who lives in Crozet,” Hausman said. “It just feels to me that this is a relatively small group of people who tend to be paying attention to this stuff and everybody else will be unpleasantly surprised in a year or two when things start happening.”
Committee member Joe Fore said he wanted to see all three phases of Western Park listed as catalyst projects, meaning they would be prioritized first.
“I think just given the fact that it’s been in the works for so long, that the phases of at least getting started, the land is already there,” Fore said. “I understand it’s expensive but it’s not an Eastern Avenue or Lickinghole Creek bridge expensive.”
Fore also said he would support the creation of a special taxation district to help pay for new infrastructure. The Albemarle Board of Supervisors has previously been briefed on how service districts or a “business improvement district” could be levied in certain areas to fund amenities.
“I looked through currently, and this may be a comment for the full draft, there’s only one mention of service districts in the entire draft and that’s in reference to funding ongoing activities and services at the plaza and downtown,” Fore said. “But I would like to see maybe a little bit more and maybe a full suggestion saying maybe this is something we should explore in Crozet to fund some of these capital projects so we’re not constantly having these be projects are ten years out.”
The Board of Supervisors last had a formal presentation on service districts at their meeting on December 7, 2016. (presentation) (story)
“It’s a pretty broad statute as I read it,” Fore said. “Things like sidewalks, roads, programming, cultural events, economic development, beautification and landscaping. It’s a very broad statute. It seems to me you could raise money for most of the kinds of projects that we’re looking at. When we look at the list of priorities and say, yikes! Where are we going to get all the money for this? Well, rather than say let’s raise taxes on everybody in the county, you might be able to say let’s raise funds specifically from Crozet that would stay in Crozet for some of these projects we want to see in Crozet.”
CAC member David Mitchell is skeptical of the idea and said it would lead to Crozet receiving fewer direct funds from the county.
“Over time we will start to be looked at by the other Supervisors as ‘they have their own money, they can do their own thing’ and you’re going to slowly over time lose your share of the general fund,” Mitchell said.
Supervisor Mallek agreed.
“I would really discourage our citizenry from burdening themselves because I think David is right,” Mallek said. “We need to go to toe to toe, to say, this is a need that’s been on the books.”
Mallek singled out the Eastern Avenue connector road that will provide north-south travel. A major obstacle is the cost of a bridge required to cross Lickinghole Creek.
“We have made all of these zoning changes prior to 2007 that were counting on that bridge and we absolutely have a moral obligation to build it,” Mallek said.
Eastern Avenue is ranked #8 on the county’s transportation priority list and there was an update in May. There’s not yet a full cost estimate on what it will cost, but engineering work is underway.
“This project is currently being evaluated through an alignment study and conceptual design which is funded through the Transportation Leveraging Fund in the [Capital Improvement Program],” reads the update. “The alignment report was presented to the Board in January and the preferred alignment was selected. This project is being considered for a Revenue Sharing Grant application.”
Allie Pesch, the chair of the CAC, said she wanted Eastern Avenue to be the top implementation priority.
“I like seeing Eastern Avenue at the top of that list,” Pesch said. “That is a priority for everyone in our area and just so overdue.”
After this discussion of implementation, county planner Rachel Falkenstein turned the conversation to the working draft of the master plan. The draft that will be reviewed by the Planning Commission at their work session on Tuesday incorporates feedback from the June 9 CAC meeting. (download the draft)
“We still have a couple of steps to go before we get to our public hearings and we’ll continue to accept feedback and make revisions to the chapters and to the content,” Falkenstein said.
A few days after the CAC meeting, the Downtown Crozet Initiative held a public meeting to talk about a 30,000 square foot plaza intended to be located at the former Barnes Lumberyard. The plaza would anchor a mixed-use building and a hotel through a public-private partnership. The idea involves construction of a connector road using revenue-sharing funds from VDOT. That process requires a local match.
Frank Stoner is a principal at Milestone Partners which seeks to redevelop the space. They’re putting up $2 million to serve as that match.
“This project started in 2014,” Stoner said. “We developed this road plan in 2016, 2017. Most of the design elements of the road have been resolved. We felt strongly and I think the community felt strongly and the county felt strongly that the streets had to be appropriate for the small town that is Crozet and not be a highway through the middle of downtown which is kind of where VDOT wanted to go with it.”
In all, VDOT is providing $2.49 million in funds for the road improvements. Milestone is paying $2 million and donating the land for the plaza and roads. The Downtown Crozet Initiative will raise $1.6 million or more to program the plaza. Albemarle County has contributed $1.6 million in cash to the project, and will provide another $1.6 million in rebates through a process known as tax increment financing. (read the June 2019 performance agreement)
Stoner said the idea is to build an urban plaza, not a park.
“And most importantly we wanted this plaza to be the heart not just of the neighborhood but the Crozet community,” Stoner said.
VDOT is contributing $2.5 million and the Downtown Crozet Initiative is seeking to raise over a million in private funds.
“Which will be used to fund essentially the furniture, fixtures and equipment, sculpture, artwork, seating, all of that kind of stuff that goes in the plaza,” Stoner said.
The designs aren’t close to final yet, but Stoner wanted to get feedback from the community. There are also no identified tenants for any of the spaces yet.
“We haven’t really been in the position to take commitments because there have been so many unknowns because of the VDOT plans and then we had some stormwater issues we had to work through and so it has just been one obstacle after another,” Stoner said.
Stoner said if all goes according to plan, construction could get underway next year. To Stoner, success means making sure it’s a place to expand what already makes Crozet Crozet.
“If we can’t create a place that’s affordable for local businesses, then we’re not going to succeed,” Stoner said.
In April 2020, the firm Downtown Strategies unveiled their report on a Downtown Strategic Vision for Crozet. Stoner suggested interested parties might take a look. (take a look)
Nearby there is a separate VDOT project to rebuild the existing Square to add sidewalks and address ongoing stormwater issues. (watch the June 14 presentation)
The University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors met earlier this month. One of the items on the Building and Grounds Committee’s agenda was approval of a master plan for the redevelopment of Ivy Gardens, an apartment complex between Old Ivy Road and Leonard Sandridge Road that was built in the late 1960’s.
University Architect Alice Raucher explained the purpose of creating a master plan.
“It is in general always good to have a plan and physical master planning helps to set priorities to inform future plans,” Raucher said. “It often aligns limited physical resources with often equally limited financial resources and provides the opportunity for broad University and community engagement to create a shared vision.”
Ivy Gardens is made up of 17 acres and has 440 residential units close to North Grounds, Darden, the School of Law, and the Miller Center for Public Affairs, and the Center for Politics.
“In 2016, at the direction of the University, the Foundation purchased Ivy Gardens and although its structures are aging, the property is currently income producing with units that primarily house our graduate students in a low-density, automobile-oriented development,” Raucher said.
The proposed redevelopment plan would increase the number of units to 718 and would add about 46,000 square feet of academic space and 69,500 square feet for commercial uses. The latter would be clustered in a new Town Square that would front onto Old Ivy Road. To the immediate north would be a Residential Commons with different kinds of housing types. In the middle would be a Central Green. A pedestrian bridge would cross Leonard Sandridge Drive, allowing safe passage to Darden and the Law School.