Mar 24 • 16M

March 24, 2022: Councilors appear supportive of 28-unit Grove Street rezoning, but want more info on affordability

Plus: Two people ask questions at Seminole Square redevelopment review meeting

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Regular updates of what's happening in local and regional government in and around Charlottesville, Virginia from an award-winning journalist with nearly thirty years of experience.
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After today, the year 2022 will be 22.7 percent complete, a statistic that appears both appropriate and confounding. This is the 353rd edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement, a program that only contains a fraction of the stories that I would like to be telling, but efforts to increase efficiency are on an upward trajectory. I’m your host, Sean Tubbs. 

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On today’s program:

  • Charlottesville City Council appears poised to approve a 28 unit apartment complex on a cul-de-sac in Fifeville

  • Governor Glenn Youngkin summons the General Assembly to return to Richmond on April 4 to complete a budget 

  • The Charlottesville Human Rights Commission holds a town hall meeting tonight

  • And the Great Eastern Management Company offers the public a chance to weigh in on a plan to redevelop Seminole Square Shopping Center to add 352 apartments

First shout-out goes to a March 29 event happening at Morven

In today’s first subscriber supported shout-out, the Morven Summer Institute at Morven Farm wants you to know about a seminar coming up on March 29. How are UVA students, faculty, and community partners collaborating to tell the stories of Morven? Researcher Scot French has spent over ten years studying Morven’s history and will provide glimpses into a course he’ll be teaching this summer on Recovering the Stories of Morven’s Enslaved and Descendant Communities.  The March 29 event is a chance for the public to get a preview of the four week course. If you’re interested, visit morven.virginia.edu to fill out an interest form. 

Governor Youngkin calls special session to resolve Virginia’s budget

The Virginia General Assembly adjourned earlier this month without completing work on a budget. They also left several bills pending. Now the head of the executive branch has called them back to Richmond to complete the work early next month.

“I, Glenn Youngkin, Governor of Virginia, do hereby summon the members of the Senate and the House of Delegates, constituting the General Assembly of Virginia, to meet in Special Session commencing the 4th day of April, two thousand and twenty-two for the purpose of the completion of the 2023-2024 biennial budget.

In a statement, Youngkin said he wants the budget to include a tax cut, but also an increase in spending on education, law enforcement, and the behavioral health system. 

Youngkin also wants the General Assembly to pass legislation that would suspend Virginia’s 26-cent gas tax for three months. Graham Moomaw reported in the Virginia Mercury last week that that could cost $437 million in transportation funding. 

The Legislative Information System lists 48 bills still pending, including the budget bill. A total of 166 bills were carried over to the 2023

Youngkin has signed 31 bills into law including one that makes switchblade knives legal again. Other blackjacks such as throwing stars remain illegal. Another approved bill will change the process by which “accommodations intermediaries” pay their transient occupancy taxes, though guidelines won’t be published by the Department of Taxation until August 1, 2022. 

The text of the proclamation invoking a special session of the Virginia General Assembly for April 4

Human Rights Commission Town Hall tonight

The nine-member body appointed by City Council to “provide citywide leadership and guidance in the area of civil and human rights” wants you to consider attending a meeting tonight. City Councilor Michael Payne made this announcement at Monday’s Council meeting.

“The Human Rights Commission would like to hear from the public on Emergency Housing Access and the quality of affordable, public, and subsidized housing,” Payne said. 

That will take the form of a virtual town hall meeting to be held tonight at 7 p.m. They’ll be working off of a community survey that got 128 responses. The top two responses are the subject of the meeting, where people will have up to three minutes to discuss. Learn more in a press release

City Council adopted an affordable housing plan on March 1, 2021 as the first step in the Cville Plans Together initiative. The three major themes in the plan are a commitment to spend $10 million each year on affordable housing programs, reforming the governance for how that funding is allocated, and to adopt reforms to encourage more housing all across the city. (read the plan)

The Affordable Housing Plan adopted by Council on March 1, 2021 commits Charlottesville to encouraging the construction of more housing throughout the city. Have you read it?

Council supportive of rezoning for 28 units on Valley Road Extended

Charlottesville City Council appears willing to support three land use applications to allow 28 units to be built on about two thirds of an acre on a cul-de-sac in Fifeville. Lorven Investments needs a rezoning, a special use permit, and a critical slopes waiver. 

“The development being proposed are for four low-rise apartment buildings with eight one-bedroom units and 20 two-bedroom units for a total of 28 on site,” said city planner Matt Alfele. 

By right, the developer could have gotten three duplexes, but only with a boundary line adjustment. 

“Six houses down there versus 28 when we desperately need housing?” Councilor Sena Magill wondered. “It’s very hard to say no to.”

However, both Magill and City Councilor Michael Payne had questions about the terms of affordability provisions, and the item will come back to Council for a second reading at their next meeting on April 4.

The layout for the 28 units accessible via Valley Road Extended. (Crediit: Shimp Engineering)

The out-ot-town developer has agreed to contribute $48,000 to build pedestrian improvement somewhere off-site, as well as to commit eight of the units to be income-restricted for a period of at least ten years. 

The Planning Commission voted 4-3 earlier this month to recommend approval.

“Traffic, affordability of units, [and] scale of the buildings were the main points of focus from the Commission,” Alfele said. “In addition, members of the community who spoke brought up character of the development as it relates to the surrounding neighborhood, anticipated problems with parking, and the poor condition of Valley Road Extended.” 

Civil engineer Justin Shimp represented the applicant and he said the affordability proffer echoes the city’s housing policy and it is legally binding. 

“There are terms spelled out within on how much the rent will be, and also the rent limitations in both income and on what the rental price is,” Shimp said. 

Shimp said there was no subsidy involved and that the developer will assume the costs of providing the units below market. 

“It depends on what you calculate market rent in the area but I think it’s something like a $250,000 to $300,000 commitment on this project to affordability,” Shimp said. 

One question is how the city will enforce the affordability. The city has been without a housing coordinator since the summer of 2020. 

“Whether or not someone is compliant will need to be determined by the zoning administrator down the road,” said City Attorney Lisa Robertson. “This proffer statement does not obligate the city to pay any money.”

Vice Mayor Juandiego Wade had a question about the length of the affordability period. 

“I mean, ten years, is that typically what we use as the time period?” Wade asked. “It seemed kind of short.” 

Robertson said there is no standard length for Charlottesville, and that in this case the developer was offering the affordability on a voluntary basis above and beyond the minimum requirements of the zoning code. That will change as the zoning code is rewritten to include provisions where this kind of density would be allowed only if units were provided below market. 

“We don’t really have a standardized program yet,” Robertson said. 

Wade also wanted to make sure that University of Virginia students do not end up taking units that he thought should go to low-wealth families.

“Will [federal housing] voucher holders be able to take advantage of this location?” Wade asked.

“Yes,” Shimp responded. “And that’s part of what we were encouraged to look into by the Planning Commission. Part of the units being split is that all eight of them become voucher eligible.” 

Before the discussion, one member of the public argued that the subsidized low rents that would be provided at Grove Street would outweigh any concerns over traffic. 

"With more apartments on that street, the cars will drive slower but I think that's okay," said Joshua Carp said.

Some of the suggestions listed underneath Strategy 1.3 of the Land Use, Urban Form, and Historic & Cultural Preservation. That begins on page 22 of the Comprehensive Plan. (download the plan) 

Councilor Michael Payne noted that this use appeared to be in excess of what’s allowed under the new Future Land Use Map that designates this as General Residential. 

“What justification and where in the project in terms of affordability are we at in terms of justifying going beyond our adopted land use map that did have density increase throughout the city, but had land use designations that we decided on?” Payne asked. 

Shimp said that was up to the City Council to decide. In this case, he said the undeveloped nature of the three lots are a perfect opportunity to add density. 

“This site in particular, there’s not a tree on it,” Shimp said. “There’s a degraded stream we’re going to fix. This is one site that clearing it all and building housing on it is 100 percent improvement for all parties involved.” 

Shimp said the proposal fulfills the spirit of the new Comprehensive Plan. Strategy 1.3 of the Land Use Chapter is to “implement zoning changes needed to support the creation of more housing, including affordable housing opportunities throughout the city.” 

Mayor Lloyd Snook said the city does not have enough money to make major improvements to Valley Road Extended.

“What’s concerning generally is the narrowness of the street or the fact that there’s no street definition on one side,” Snook said. “There is street definition on the other side because there’s a guard rail to keep you from going into the creek.” 

Snook said if Council approves this project, they should expect that neighbors will report issues in the future. He said on balance, he would support the project because of the provision of new houses. 

The item will come back to Council on April 4 for a second reading. There were at least three votes to approve. 

One of the letters of opposition sent to the Charlottesville Planning Commission asking for a denial.

Second Shout-out goes to Mulch Madness! 

In today’s second subscriber-supported shout-out, are you ready for Mulch Madness? The Rivanna Solid Waste Authority has a free mulch giveaway through April 16. In between all the big games, the RSWA wants you to get your yard ready for spring. If you have a way to transport mulch, head on over to the Ivy Material Utilization Center between 7:30am and 4:00pm, Monday through Saturday, where you can pick up up to two tons free. Rivanna staff are available to help load, but ask that you bring a covering. Mulch is double ground and derived from vegetative materials brought to Ivy for disposal. That’s Mulch Madness at the Ivy Material Utilization Center. Visit rivanna.org to learn more. 

Great Eastern Management Company presents plans for mixed-use redevelopment of Seminole Square 

Members of the public had the opportunity Wednesday to ask questions of the developers of Seminole Square Shopping Center. The Great Eastern Management Company has submitted plans to convert the former Giant store and other commercial sites. 

“What we have here actually are four individual structures,” said David Mitchell is with GEMC. 

“We’re staying in the existing development area and we’re not going down into any of the slopes or any of the critical areas. We’re staying up on the platform that we built 30 years ago.”

Mitchell said this is a by-right plan and will not require a rezoning or special use permit. 

One structure will be a mixed-use building and the rest will be all residential. Parking would be underneath and Mitchell said the minimum requirements would be met. 

Credit: Henningsen Kestner 

Another commercial building will be built along Hillsdale Drive but Mitchell said there are no identified tenants. 

Planning Commissioner Rory Stolzenberg asked how the project was different from the previous plan. GEMC filed for a rezoning in early 2019 for eleven five story buildings with around 500 residential units. 

“Obviously the building configuration looks a little bit different,” Stolzenberg said. “In particular, what caused the number of units to drop?” 

Mitchell said the reduced number comes down to parking requirements and construction costs.

“When we started to look harder at this after that initial plan you saw three years ago it became obvious to us that these buildings are already going to be five to seven stories with underground parking,” Mitchell said. “To get any more than that… this is not downtown New York. There are limitations on the economics.” 

The units would either be one-bedroom or two bedroom units. Five percent will be affordable under the city’s existing affordable housing policies. 

“It’s not required because this is by-right but we’ve just decided we’ve done it on another project that was a special use permit so it was required,” Mitchell said. “We think we can provide that within the economic structure of the project.” 

Two public streets would be created as part of the project. 

In addition to Stolzenberg, only one other person actually spoke. Peter Krebs of the Piedmont Environmental Council asked questions about connectivity. 

Mitchell said GEMC would like to move forward with the project as soon as possible. The company is also offering an easement for a trail connection to the Meadow Creek stream corridor. 

Talking real estate tomorrow on Real Talk with Keith Smith

It’s been some time since I have appeared on the Real Talk with Keith Smith program, but I will be on tomorrow with Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum. There are multiple ways to watch what will hopefully be an informative conversation. I believe you can watch beginning at 10:15 a.m. tomorrow on Facebook Live and YouTube.

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