Charlottesville Community Engagement
Charlottesville Community Engagement
March 27, 2023: CvilleBioHub gets $100,000 in state grant for CvilleBioLab; Information about two future buildings in Charlottesville
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March 27, 2023: CvilleBioHub gets $100,000 in state grant for CvilleBioLab; Information about two future buildings in Charlottesville

Another look at what's happening in and around Charlottesville

March 27 is apparently National Joe Day, which means that is the day I introduce myself as Sean Joseph Tubbs, the host of Charlottesville Community Engagement. On any given day, there are a lot of things to celebrate, commemorate, and honor and this introduction could cite any one of them. For today’s introduction, I choose National Joe Day to honor my father, Joe Tubbs, though now I suspect he’ll expect payment just for mentioning his name. 

On today’s program:

  • Charlottesville City Council may consider a zoning amendment to allow a mixed-use project on Ivy Road to proceed

  • The Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review took a look at a new hotel proposed for West Main Street

  • The CvilleBioHub has been awarded $100,000 for a new wetlab

First shout-out goes to Camp Albemarle

Today’s first subscriber-supported public service announcement goes out to Camp Albemarle, which has for sixty years been a “wholesome rural, rustic and restful site for youth activities, church groups, civic events and occasional private programs.”

Located on 14 acres on the banks of the Moorman’s River near Free Union, Camp Albemarle continues as a legacy of being a Civilian Conservation Corps project that sought to promote the importance of rural activities. Camp Albemarle seeks support for a plan to winterize the Hamner Lodge, a structure built in 1941 by the CCC and used by every 4th and 5th grade student in Charlottesville and Albemarle for the study of ecology for over 20 years. If this campaign is successful, Camp Albemarle could operate year-round. Consider your support by visiting campalbemarleva.org/donate.

City Council may agree to adjust current zoning for mixed-use project 

On Wednesday, the second draft module for Charlottesville’s new zoning code will be released two weeks later than originally expected. According to the schedule for the Cville Plans Together initiative, a third module will be published in early April and public hearings are expected to follow. There are still a lot of stories yet to be written about how that process will unfold.

But for now, there are still stories to be written about the current zoning code and how it might be amended to allow RMD Properties to construct a multi-story building at the intersection of Ivy Road and Copeley Road. City Council and the Planning Commission took up the matter at their meeting on March 14. 

Dannan O’Connell is a planner with the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development Services.

“Our current code requires [Planned Unit Development] sites to contain two or more acres of land,” O’Connell said. “The proposed amendment would remove this acreage requirement for parcels that are currently zoned Urban Corridor Mixed Use District.” 

From page 375 of the packet for the March 14, 2023 meeting of the Charlottesville Planning Commission (download the packet)

As mentioned, this request was made for one specific parcel at the intersection of Ivy Road and Copeley Road. RMD Holdings wants to build a nine story building there but that can only be accomplished under the existing zoning if the rules are amended. 

O’Connell said the ability to do customized zoning for specific properties has been in the city’s zoning code since 1976 when the Planned Unit Development feature was created with a three acre limit. That was dropped down to no limits in 2001 but a two-acre minimum was added back in July 2006. 

As currently drafted, the new zoning would eliminate the ability to ask the city for a PUD in the future. 

“Any changes made to the current zoning ordinance would be effectively overridden by the new zoning ordinance when it is adopted so this zoning text amendment may therefore be extremely limited in its usefulness to developers as it may only be in effect for several months,” O’Connell said. 

O’Connell said the new zoning would allow for five to eight story mixed- use buildings by-right and that staff felt this request would be redundant. 

Valerie Long of the firm Williams Mullen acknowledged that the request is awkward, but said it is a matter of timing.

“This is not at all an effort to do an end-run or beat the new ordinance,” Long said. “Our client is very excited about the new ordinance and they are designing the project to comply with the new ordinance draft or as much as we have now.” 

Most of the property in purple is owned by the University of Virginia or the UVA Foundation. RMD Properties wants to developer their property and not sell. (Credit: City of Charlottesville)

City Councilor Michael Payne said he was concerned the project might not comply with the affordability provisions that will be part of the new zoning. Long said RMD Properties plans to meet the city’s requirements, whatever they end up being. The property would be zoned Commercial Mixed Use 8. 

It would take about six months for a PUD application to go back before Planning Commission and the Council if this amendment is granted. Mayor Lloyd Snook said he would prefer not to make the adjustment, but could appreciate what was being requested. 

“Although it kind of does a little violence to my sense of how the ordinance ought to be administered, I don’t think that it’s going to be substantively obnoxious,” Snook said. 

During the public hearing, Peter Gray of the Lewis Mountain neighborhood argued it was an attempt to slip something through the city’s process. 

“There are many specific aspects to the new zoning that would apply to the development that are not contemplated in the current zoning,” Gray said. “Please make them conform fully with the new ordinance, not merely assert that they are trying to comply with what they think it might be.” 

Members of the Planning Commission said they didn’t see any harm in allowing the procedural change to go forward with one saying it could result in an interesting outcome.

“If they think they can do a better job than our zoning code in making a project that fits in with our Comprehensive Plan, I think we should see what they have to offer,” said Carl Schwarz. 

Commissioner Rory Stolzenberg said he was willing to proceed because this is the last privately-owned building on Ivy Road. The University of Virginia is building several major projects as part of the Emmet-Ivy Corridor and their real estate foundation continues to purchase more.

“Many of the others are owned by the UVA Foundation and are likely to be transferred to UVA for development at some later point so we might end up getting a building that is as large as contemplated here or under the new zoning and without getting a dime of tax revenue for it that we could be using to fund our schools and other services,” Stolzenberg said. “To me that is a worthy goal.” 

The Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend the change. Council will need to hold two readings of the ordinance. At that point, RMD Properties will be able to make their request to go through the current rezoning process which will involve public hearings.

Such public hearings would no longer exist under the new zoning. Stay tuned for more stories about that process. 

Second shout-out: Piedmont Master Gardeners seek items for Green Elephant Sale

In today’s second subscriber supported public service announcement:  If you are cleaning out your garage, basement or garden shed as spring approaches, the Piedmont Master Gardeners will gladly take any yard and garden equipment you no longer need.

PMG is now accepting donations of new and used tools, hoses, decorative items, outdoor furniture—virtually anything used to create, maintain and enjoy a garden. These “Green Elephants” will be offered for sale to the public during PMG’s Spring Plant Sale. Donated items may be dropped off at 402 Albemarle Square between 10 a.m. and noon on Tuesdays and Saturdays through the end of April. PMG is not able to accept plastic pots or opened chemicals. To arrange a pickup or for more information, contact the Piedmont Master Gardeners at greenelephant@piedmontmastergardeners.org.

As for that sale? Mark your calendar for Saturday, May 6, at Albemarle Square Shopping Center. 

Charlottesville design panel takes first look at West Main hotel

The Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review has taken a first look at a proposal to build a new hotel on West Main Street. 

“We’re not dealing with a 400 foot long block,” said Jeff Werner, the city’s historic preservation & design planner. “This is a parcel that limits the width of the front.”

West Main Street is within one of the city’s Architectural Design Control Districts which gives the BAR the ability to approve the general design and aesthetics of new construction. That includes the Standard apartment complex that’s next door to 843 West Main Street and just south of the Westhaven public housing complex owned and operated by Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. 

Werner recently met with developers who want to build a hotel on a property that is now mostly a surface parking lot. There was a previous proposal for an office building in 2018 that never came to fruition. 

“My recommendation was that this building, recognizing it is fronting on West Main, that it not turn its back and not present itself as another wall to 10th and Page,” Werner said.

A conceptual rendering for the proposed hotel slated for 843 West Main Street (Credit: Mitchell / Matthews Architects and Planners

Werner added that City Councilor Michael Payne has already submitted comments to that effect. 

The building would be designed and built by Mitchell Matthews, the same firm who designed the Standard apartment complex.  

“This is a hotel that will have almost a hundred rooms,” said the firm’s Kevin Riddle. “What we have adjacent to the street is an entry plaza and then going through the reception area we have a courtyard within, so we’re trying to make some for some outside spaces.” 

Riddle said there may be room for a new mural to be on the east side of the building and they would reach out to local artists. 

The project is being pursued by-right under the existing zoning and would not require any special use permits. The draft zoning code would designate the property as Corridor Mixed-Use 5. 

Vehicular access to the site will be via a driveway to the east of the Standard.

“We think it’s important that the paving of the entry drive be something other than asphalt,” Riddle said. “We’re not sure if that will be a scored concrete or what but we think it will be nice for it to have a nice paved quality to it.”

Such decisions about driveways, landscaping, and bus stops might have been guided by the West Main Streetscape, an urban design that cost millions but will not ever be implemented now that Council canceled the project and the millions in Virginia Department of Transportation funding assembled to pay for it. This came up at the end of the discussion. 

“I don’t know if this is still a thing but is the streetscape plan still a thing?” asked BAR Chair Breck Gastinger. “Is it worth asking even how this relates?” 

“It’s completely dead,” said BAR member and Planning Commissioner Carl Schwarz. 

“Can we talk about something else?” said Werner. 

“That have officially removed it,” Schwarz said. “It’s gone.” 

Millions. Millions were spent. Who got the money? Where did it go?  

This was a preliminary discussion and the project will return for a certificate of appropriateness at a later date. 

CvilleBioHub awarded $100,000 for CvilleBioLab

Several technology groups across the Fifth District have been awarded funding from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development’s GO Virginia grant program. GO stands for Growing Opportunities. 

  • Lynchburg Career Acceleration program: A nonprofit called Lynchburg Beacon of Hope has been awarded $540,000 for something called the Career Acceleration Model which is described as “a regional catalyst for the Lynchburg region to create and fill a pipeline of career-seekers that will meet the needs of high-demand traded sector industries.” Beacon of Hope is a partnership between city schools and local business and the idea is to create 112 internships serving 24 businesses. (Region 2)

  • Center of Entrepreneurship: The Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance has been awarded $240,192 for a physical space that “will provide local entrepreneurs with a shared workspace, increased access to capital, business development events, and training and development support, as well as a support services network.” This will create 42 jobs serving 20 businesses. (Region 2)

  • Southside Virginia Community College (SVCC) Expanding GO TEC Pathways: SVCC has been awarded $139,732 to help increase dual enrollment to train people in the mechatronics industry. I will admit I had to look up what “mechatronics” means. The goal is to train 45 students and award over 165 credentials. (Region 3)

  • CvilleBioLab: CvilleBioHub is a nonprofit that seeks to double the size of the biotech industry in the area around Charlottesville by 2030. They were awarded $100,000 to help open a new “wet lab incubator and accelerator that will be available to emerging biotechnology firms in the region.” (Region 9) 

  • Metal Workforce Training Center: The Economic Development Authority for the Town of Bedford was awarded $99,900 for the creation of something called the Regional Metal Workforce Retention Center. This will “refine a public-private business model that encourages corporate participation and facilitates the expansion of the Central Virginia Community College (CVCC) Career Technical Education (CTE) Academy, filling the institutional gap between formal certificate-level training and the specific skills needed by local industries.” (Region 2)

For the full list of awards, visit the DHCD’s website

Reading material:

Ending notes for #514:

If March is filled with madness, what will April bring? This week we will find out and I am hoping it will bring productivity as there is so much to write about. This will be the last week in which I am distracted by a family move, so I cannot say at this moment when the next installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement will come out but I can say that there will be one. 

There has to be because the audience is growing and one in four of you have stepped up to be a paid subscriber. Thank you! The goal is to grow Town Crier Productions into a full-fledged entity of information for the 21st century, and I am grateful for the resources to experiment. I’m even more grateful to Ting for matching the initial payment of every paid Substack subscription!

If you sign up for Ting at this link and enter the promo code COMMUNITY, you’ll get:

  • Free installation

  • A second month for free

  • A $75 gift card to the Downtown Mall

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