Charlottesville Planning Commission: Longwood Drive Development Loses Out, While Conservation Districts Move Forward With Praise

By: Justin West, Charlottesville Field Officer Intern

 

On Tuesday, January 13th, the City of Charlottesville Planning Commission considered a rezoning petition and three ordinance proposals during its Joint Public Hearings.

 

Longwood Drive PUD (click here for staff report PDF)

 

The first, and most heavily discussed, item on the Commissions public hearing docket was a petition to rezone the Longwood Drive area, off Harris Road near 5th Street extended, from R-2 to PUD (Planned Unit Development). The proposed rezoning would allow the applicant, Neighborhood Investments, LLC, to alter the 4.58 acre parcel with 34 existing structures in ways inconsistent with its current R-2 classification. The plan includes the demolition of 16 of the 34 structures and the construction of 43 new townhouse units in their wake and for the remaining 18 structures to be renovated. The planned development would increase the number of units on the site by 27, making the rezoning necessary to allow for reduced lot sizes, dimensions, and configurations which would not be permitted in R-2 zones. All units within the new development would be for sale, replacing the existing rental units on the land.

           

Neighborhood Development Services staff member Brian Haluska presented the report to the commission and recommended its approval, touting the increased density and housing variety present in this development as being consistent with the intent of the city’s Comprehensive Plan and the sentiments valued within City Hall, of structural and economic diversification within neighborhoods.

 

The Commission pushed Haluska and the applicant’s representative on the issue of displacement of the current residents and affordable housing options provided by the developer. Within the petition for rezoning was a proffer for 15% of the units to fall within the “affordable housing” range, to be made available to households with 60% to 80% of the areas median income, intended no doubt to quell any concerns about the displacement of Longwood Drive communities largely lower and middle income residents.

 

As the public came to speak, however, the tenor of conversation changed as residents and property owners from Longwood Drive expressed concerns regarding the impact of the increased density. Many residents bemoaning the current traffic and parking situations in the area seemed wary of the locations capacity to safely accommodate the increased load.

 

These additional criticisms of the plan proved fatal for the development as the Commission members attempted to evaluate the balance between the positives, as they saw them, of higher density, increased economic diversification of the neighborhood, and a much needed improvements to the area against the negatives of displacement, decreased low income housing, and the perceived weaknesses of the plans ability to offset the detrimental effects of increased density. The Commission seemed for a while as if it were teetering on the edge of deferring the petition, but was very vocal, especially Commission member Cheri Lewis, about the need for more specifics and details in the plan as to how it was to offset some of their concerns. The discussion concluded with a William Emory successful movement to deny the petition for rezoning, opposed only by Ms. Lewis and Chairman Jason Pearson.

 

Conservation Districts (click here for staff report PDF)

 

The second most discussed issue of the evening was an ordinance to establish conservation districts. These “CV” Districts as reported by city Preservation and Design Planner Mary Joy Scala are “intended to protect the character and scale of the more modest historical neighborhoods that are facing increased development and tear downs, without imposing excessive requirements on the current residents who may want to remodel their homes”. Tuesday was the second time in time in three months the Planning Commission has seen a proposal for CV Districts, the first time being back on November 11th, 2008 when the Commission moved to defer the request in order to address concerns raised by the Piedmont Housing Alliance.

 

CV Districts could be instituted, if requested, by a neighborhood where the majority of the structures exceeded fifty years in age, and are seen as a less restrictive version of Architectural Design Control Districts. ADC districts are seen as the less flexible of the two as they mandate review of all exterior changes to a structure within the district, while CV Districts require review of new construction and most additions and demolitions, but not rehabilitations.

 

For the most part the Commission seemed very supportive of the proposal with concerns primarily coming from Vice-Chairman Michael Farruggio over its potential burdens on homeowners attempting to expand their homes, and member Dan Rosensweig, among others, over the process in which residents would be informed if their neighborhood were considering this move and how they would be solicited for input. After Ms. Scala assured the Commission that residents would receive notice of public hearings on the move and a parade of neighborhood association members spoke favorably of the ordinance during the public portion of the hearing, also insuring that they would find a democratic way of finding consensus within their neighborhoods about the move to being a CV District, the Commission softened to the proposal and Mr. Farruggio’s movement to approve was confirmed unanimously. In closing nearly every member of the Commission praised the proposal and echoed gratitude for the timeliness and appropriateness of it.

 

Definition of a Bed and Breakfast (click here for staff report PDF)

 

Following their conversation on CV Districts the Commission moved forward to discuss a self initiated alteration to the definition of a Bed and Breakfast. The amended definition would be three tiered and far more detailed than the previous definition which all members agreed was quite inadequate. In an extended discussion that often times spiraled off topic and seemed quite rushed with an audible level of frustration in the room the Commission members settled their disagreements over details of the new definition and approved a motion to accept by Mr. Farruggio with only one dissenting member. The basics of the new definition break Bed and Breakfasts down into three groups, a Bed and Breakfast Homestay containing one to three rooms acceptable in all zones, a Bed and Breakfast containing four to eight rooms acceptable in R-1, R-2 zones, and a Bed and Breakfast Inn containing nine to fifteen rooms acceptable only in commercial and mixed use zones. Other discussed particulars of the definition limit stays to 90 days in any 365 day period, limit deliveries to the establishment to before 6 p.m., allowed Bed and Breakfast Inns to serve more food than just breakfast, and allowed a resident manager to live on premises. In the end all Commission members agreed on the parameters of the definition except for Mr. Rosensweig who believed it remained too restrictive.

 

Affordable Housing (click here for copy of the ZTA)

 

The final matter of business in the over five hour long meeting was the largely clerical approval of Affordable housing legislation signed into law by Governor Tim Kaine in March 2008. The legislation, HB 883, gives the city more authority to require affordable housing in new developments that go through the zoning or special use permit processes.

 

Under this new authority, developments that exceed a 1.0 floor area ratio are required to have 5% of their residential square footage beyond that 1.0 FAR marker to be affordable, meaning they are committed to being affordable to households with 60% or less of the areas median income for a 30 year period. Since this proposal is allowed under enabling legislation from Richmond the Planning Commission was unable to alter the text, a fact that did not prevent unanimous vote on a motion to approve the amendment by Mr. Rosensweig. The Commission members were overwhelmingly positive about their recommendation of approval of this measure to the City Council, although members like Ms. Lewis believed it may not be aggressive enough to combat the increasing need for affordable housing in the area.

 

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