May 3, 2021: A tour of the CODE building; Pantops group briefed on Housing Albemarle plan in advance of public hearing
In today’s reader-supported public service announcement, the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards is getting ready for a series of fall classes for new volunteers. The Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards increase public awareness of the value of trees in all environments, rural and urban.
The Fall 2021 class will involve a combination of online training sessions and field activities with a maximum of 32 students to facilitate the best field training possible. The registration period opens on June 15 and slots will fill quickly! With a 15-week duration beginning August 7th and ending November 13th, the online classes will precede the field activities held on every other Saturday at various locations in the Charlottesville area. Learn more at charlottesvilleareatreestewards.org.
On today’s installment:
The Pantops Community Advisory Committee got a review last week on the update of Albemarle’s affordable housing plan
A quick tour of the CODE Building under construction in Downtown Charlottesville
Charlottesville Parks and Recreation announces further easing of pandemic shutdowns
Charlottesville Police are investigating four shooting incidents that took place over the weekend, including an incident in Westhaven at which the filming of a rap video on a playground was interrupted by gunfire. One person went to the hospital with a gunshot wound. That’s according to a press release from Charlottesville Police, which also detailed incidents on Longwood Drive, 12th Street NW and Swanson Drive. (press release)
The Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Department has unveiled the further easing of restrictions, including the opening of the Charlottesville City Market to in-person attendance on May 15. That’s with COVID protocols in place, including wearing masks and temperature checks before admittance.
Carver Recreation Center and Key Recreation Center will open on May 17 and the Tonsler Recreation Center will open May 24. The Spray Grounds at Belmont Park, Forest Hills Park, Greenleaf Park, and Tonsler Park will open on May 29. Crow Indoor Pool and Washington Park Pool will also reopen on May 29.
Except for Tonsler, attendees must make reservations in advance at www.webtrac.charlottesville.gov or by telephoning the facility.
The Smith Aquatic and Fitness Center will not open until August 1 given ongoing repairs to the internal ventilation system. There is no time set for the outdoor Onesty Family Aquatic Center, which will remain closed due to staff constraints. Visit the city’s website for more information.
At production time today, a rock slide has closed U.S. 250 on Afton Mountain, and the Virginia Department of Transportation is advising people to use I-64 as an alternative through tomorrow.
“Personnel from the Virginia Department of Transportation are on the scene assessing the extent of the slide and how to remove the material from the road and ensure the slope is stabilized,” reads a release.
No one was injured in the rock slide.
On Tuesday, May 4, the Albemarle Planning Commission will take up the Housing Albemarle plan, which is intended to update the county’s policies to encourage the production and sustaining of affordable places for people to live. Stacy Pethia, the county’s housing coordinator, has been making the rounds of the county’s Community Advisory Committees and spoke to the Pantops group on April 26.
“Our current affordable housing policy was updated in 2004, and that became Chapter 9 of the Comprehensive Plan and the policy itself is an appendix to the current comp plan,” Pethia said. “In July 2019, the Albemarle Planning Commission passed a resolution of intent to update the current housing policy.”
The Planning Commission had a work session in March and their public hearing will be held on Tuesday, May 4. Much of the work is built off of a regional housing needs assessment conducted in 2019 by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. The work is based on four conclusions from that study.
“One is that our population is going to continue to grow,” Pethia said. “It’s currently projected to grow by about 27 percent over the next twenty years so we will need to find housing and make sure we have appropriate housing stock for that increased population.”
The current policy expands the number of policy objectives from five to 12, and has 39 recommended strategies. These include ideas to increase the overall number of houses in Albemarle, preserving existing affordable options, expanding community engagement opportunities about housing, and more.
“Really addressing fair housing and community equity throughout the county,” Pethia said. “Housing for the homeless and special populations, and then how we can fit all of this together to support sustainable communities.”
The new plan also amends and expands the county’s definition of affordable housing to include sub-definitions such as workforce housing. Currently the definition of “affordable” is set at anything below 80 percent of the area median. Under that term, housing costs should make up no more than 30 percent of a family’s yearly income.
“The new policy recommends redefining affordable housing so that when it is renter-occupied housing, that those units would be available to households with incomes of 60 percent or less,” Pethia said.
But what about units for sale?
“For owner-occupied housing those units would still be available to households at the 80 percent AMI category or less,” Pethia said. “And we would set the maximum for-sale price at 65 percent of the federal HOME program one-unit purchase price limit for existing housing, it’s a really long title. As of today that maximum sales price would be under $200,000.”
The maximum is now much higher at $243,750, which is out of reach for many households. Pethia said the median sales price in the county is $405,000.
“So this I think will open the door to home-ownership to a lot of different families that have not been able to react it,” Pethia said.
In the new plan, Albemarle would adopt a new affordable dwelling unit ordinance to replace the current system where rezonings or special use permits trigger the developer to designate fifteen percent of the total number of units as below-market to households with incomes less than 80 percent of the AMI.
“With an affordable dwelling unit ordinance, that would become mandatory so the developers would have to provide a percentage of affordable housing with rezonings and special use permits,” Pethis said. “The policy proposes increasing that percentage from 15 to 20 percent.”
Developers would still have the ability to make a payment in lieu of providing the housing. Pethia also said that the county would have the right of first refusal to purchase those units when they are ready for sale.
“We could purchase up to one-third of those right off the bat,” Pethia said.
A current issue with the home-ownership system is that proffered for-sale units required to be below-market only have a 90-day eligibility window, after which they can be sold on the open market.
“Right now we have a very difficult time getting proffered for-sale units purchased as affordable units,” Pethia said. “And finally an affordable dwelling unit ordinance would allow the county to set affordability periods and control the resale price.”
Other planks in the plan include exploring county land that could be used to develop below-market housing for public employees, incentives and fee reductions for developers who limit their profit, and more.
The Albemarle Planning Commission’s public hearing is the second scheduled on the agenda. Read the latest version of the plan before you watch. Or, watch the Pantops meeting on the county’s YouTube page.
You’re listening to Charlottesville Community Engagement and time for another subscriber-supported public service announcement. It’s becoming more and more safe to go out and check out live music. If you’re interested in going out and hearing people who have been waiting to get out and play, check out the Charlottesville Jazz Society and their running list of events! The Charlottesville Jazz Society is dedicated to the promotion, preservation and perpetuation of all jazz, and that the best thing you can do now is to go check out some music. Check out the event listing on their website!
The following segment is best heard as an audio piece. This is a podcast as well, after all!
Finally today, last week, the developers of the new CODE Building on the eastern end of the Charlottesville Downtown Mall opened up for a preview for the press. The name of the structure at 240 West Main Street stands for Center of Developing Entrepreneurs.
“So, we have not done an on-site tour for those of you that have come before, we’ve met at the Omni,” said Andrew Boninti of CSH Development, the firm overseeing the site’s development.
“This time it’s so cool to get on the site. Hourigan Construction team is with us.”
The site of the former Main Street Arena was purchased by a firm associated with Jaffray Woodriff in March 2017 for $5.7 million. That building was razed and construction on a triangular replacement is nearing completion.
One of the main features of the new building will be the CODEBASE co-working space, which will be managed by Rob Archer. He leads the group of hard-hat wearing media into the building.
“So we’ve just walked into the main entrance right here,” Archer said. “We come through the vestibule area and we are here in what we like to call the hotel lobby.”
The walls are made of concrete and nothing has been furnished yet. But Archer holds up a picture depicting neatly-arranged couches and coffee tables. This will be a public space which leads both to the small working spaces as well as the offices on the upper floors. Fred Wolf of the firm Wolf Ackerman explains the purpose of the lobby.
“So the lobby is basically a big mixing bowl for all of the people in the building obviously, that’s why we have this bar that’s going to serve nitro coffee, wine, beer, get a newspaper,” Wolf said. “This could be event space if they have like a reception.”
There will be room for two pop-up restaurants to come and go, as well as a retail space that will face the Downtown Mall.
“The idea is that you can have to bring energy and people, you want to be able to feed them as well,” Archer said.
They’ll also need energy to climb the stairs, which were the only way to climb up the nine stories to the top of the part of the building that faces Water Street. The elevator wasn’t yet installed on the day we took the tour. On the way there, we passed through an 200-person auditorium that can be used for a variety of different purposes. Along the way, I asked Wolf a question.
“Is this the biggest thing you’ve ever worked on?” I asked.
“Yes,” Wolf said.
Being an active construction site, it was far too noisy to conduct interviews, so we’ll get to that in a moment. There’s only one level of parking in the basement. I asked Wolf how many spaces.
“I think we ended up with 74,” Wolf said. They didn’t have to build any spaces given the site’s location in a parking exempt zone.
“The spirit of this building, which had a lot to do about the health of the work environment, the health of the tenants and occupants and the belief there is going to continue to be advances in driverless vehicles, Uber, electric bikes,” Wolf said. “All of these other things instead of parking spaces that parking could become in the next ten or fifteen years kind of an obsolete notion.”
We climbed to the top of the building, passing through spaces that will one day be private offices for tenants. From the top of the Water Street side, you can see the three open rooftops connected to the offices on the Downtown Mall side.
Back down on the ground, I asked Rob Archer to talk about what CODE Base will be like.
“CODE Base Co-Working is really designed to serve business professionals and entrepreneurs do its specifically designed to aid in getting work done so what we always say is that Code Base Co-Working is a space to do your very best work,” Archer said.
“Obviously, this this thing happened and you started building this thing at the beginning of the pandemic, and a lot of people have said, ‘Why should we ever have to go back to work?’ What would you say to that?” I asked.
“So, a really interesting phenomenon has happened in terms of the timing of things,” Archer said. “With the real estate market changing, corporate entities have realized that the lagging asset in terms of change and flexibility is usually real estate. And so now bringing on a model that allows for flexibility, it really is a benefit to the corporate structure. It’s also a benefit to those who are tired of working at home, who need to join community.”
In all there are 38 private offices and another 15,000 square feet of open space to be shared. The rest of the space will be leased to companies. From the top of the building you can see the Apex building under construction to the south, and the 3-Twenty-3 building to the east. You also can’t help but notice the skeleton of the Landmark two blocks away. Does Charlottesville have enough companies that want this much office space? Here’s Andrew Boninti again.
“When we first started before the pandemic, I really felt pretty confident with interest that we had and letters of intent and things of that nature that we would have been 100 percent occupied when we open this September,” Boninti said. “But, everyone pressed paused for a moment and so we’ve been in the pause mode for about 12 months, but I think really with the roll-out with the vaccine we’ve really seen activity starting to pick up. We are in the process of signing several small tenant leases and I feel comfortable saying we’ll be 75 to 80 percent leased when we open. In this environment I feel very good about that.”
“Now, you’ve got a couple of other buildings that are coming online,” I said. “3-Twenty-3, the Apex Building. There’s a lot coming on the market all at once. Does that change things?”
“I think that it does,” Bointi said. “They’re both very good buildings and gives people good choices anyway. Obviously, if you’re a Monopoly player we consider ourselves to be Boardwalk and Park Place, but the other buildings are extremely nice. Apex, which is obviously predominantly taken by Apex, really did not have a lot of space that would be offered to the community and 3-Twenty-3 has been ahead of us so they’ve been signing up tenants at a little quicker pace. I think the real key for leasing here in Charlottesville is can we bring new businesses from out of town? I think what you see is a circulation of moving the same tenants around. We need to see new blood come into the community and that’s what we’re hoping to attract here at CODE but right now our tenants are existing tenants that are in the community already.”