The Commission voted 4-2 to deny approval of rezoning of the project

The City Planning Commission has voted 4-2 to recommend denial of an application to rezone the northwest corner of the intersection of Ridge-McIntire and West Main Street. Some of the commissioners felt the developers’ proffers did not go far enough to address affordable housing and sewer capacity.

The Cathford Group has purchased three properties along the corner, and plans to build a mixed-use building on 1.09 acres of land that’s currently zoned in the “West Main North” classification. That would limit by-right development four stories and 21 housing units. Rezoning to Downtown Corridor would allow for a density of 87 housing units and a total building height of 101 feet.

The proposed building will be a mixed-use structure encompassing over 47,000 square feet. At least 18,000 square feet will be contained in four retail spaces on the first floor. Residential units will be in a six-story tower rising above West Main.

Earlier this year, an advisory committee consisting of members of the Board of Architectural Review and the Planning Commission recommended changing the zoning of that corner to Downtown Corridor.

According to the staff report, the development would likely yield 79 units, 4 retail shops, with over 180 parking spaces built underneath. The developer offered proffers to limit the traffic access points to 4th Street and McIntire Road, to provide streetscape improvements, and to designate two units as “affordable.” The two properties on West Main Street were built in the middle of the last century, at a time when the West Main Corridor was zoned under a series of business classifications. In the 2003 city-wide zoning map adjustments, the lots were designated as West Main North Mixed Use Corridor.

The West Main Corridor designation was established in 2003 to provide for “low-intensity mixed-use development” along the corridor. But City Planner Ebony Walden writes in the staff report that the property “has conditions that are distinctly different from the rest of the North Main Corridor” and called the lot a gateway to downtown. The space “commands a larger more prominent building than current West Main North zoning allows.”

“The residential and retails uses will increase the pedestrian traffic in this area, generate 18-hour activity on West Main Street and provide a good transition to the Downtown Mall.”

The applicant proposes any improvements would be consistent with the West Main Street Open Space and Streetscape Schematics Plan adopted by City Council in 2004. The costs are estimated at being greater than $200,000.

Before the Public Hearing, City Planner Ebony Walden passed out a more detailed amendment to the affordable housing proffer. The developer is willing to pay a $200,000 donation to the Piedmont Housing Alliance to assist in the purchases of affordable units in the building.

Commissioner Mike Farruggio asked if it was appropriate for the proffer to be specified to go to one agency, and also asked how the sum of $200,000 compared to the city’s goal of designating 15 percent of all new units considered “affordable.”

Developer Bob Englander said the choice of going with the Piedmont Housing Alliance is because PHA has a track record in the community.

“I was initially concerned about cash proffers in general because once they get out of our hands and into someone else’s hands, we don’t know what happens with those,” Englander said. “We can talk long and hard about which [organization] is the best and the brightest, but we felt we needed to make a decision.”

Faruggio remained concerned that only 2.5 percent of the units would be classified as affordable. “2.5 percent is 12.5 less than what we shoot for,” he said.

“If we were to provide 15 percent of the units as affordable in this particular location, then we could not afford to do the deal,” said Englander. “We have given what we feel comfortable and is the maximum that we can do.”

City Councilor Dave Norris said the City recently considered one project that had 21 percent of its units designated as affordable, and that the County is writing a new proffer policy which requests 15 percent of units in new developments be deemed “affordable.” Given such expectations by local governments, Norris asked Englander how he arrived at his figures. Englander responded that his plan would serve the community by making the corner more pedestrian-friendly. “We have now brought eighty families downtown that heretofore would have been driving downtown, so we think we have lessened the traffic on the roads.”

While a preliminary assessment of sewer capacity has been conducted by the developer, the staff report suggested that additional analysis be conducted by the applicant. Walden responded additional studies have to be done to make sure that the sewer system can absorb a quadrupling the density at the space. “There is currently an eight-inch line there, and the engineer for the applicant assessed that given the increased flow you would need an eight-inch line, which is currently there,” she said.

“We should be certain that the infrastructure of our city supports any increased density,” said Commissioner Hosea Mitchell. Englander pointed out that there is a 10-inch sewer line that runs along 4th Street, and that there is more than enough capacity to accommodate the sewer and storm water at the project site.

Albemarle County resident Paul Grady told the Commission that the intersection at Ridge-McIntire/West Main Street has never worked effectively.

“It’s always occurred to me that that location would be a perfect location for a roundabout,” he said.

Norris wanted to know if that was still feasible. Ebony Walden responded that a traffic study has been requested as part of the site plan is required because of the extra trips that will be generated by the development. Commissioner Jon Fink said the city would have to do something to maintain the level of service at the intersection.

During the public meeting, former City Council candidate Jennifer McKeever asked the Commission to consider the traffic impacts, especially on a very congested 4th Street. “Traffic has to be one of our utmost concerns at this particular site,” she said.

Commissioner Bill Lucy says he supports the development, but also wondered if the shifting housing market would support the increased housing units. Fink said the application has come a long way, and that it would lead to other high-density developments along the West Main and Downtown corridors.

Commissioner Farruggio said he agrees with the development, but had questions whether the proffers adequately offset extra infrastructure needs that may be required when the density is quadrupled. He said he was happy with the $200,000 in proffers for streetscape improvements, but was not sure if the developer had gone far enough in terms of affordable housing.

Commissioner Mitchell called it a slick project, but he said it would be irresponsible of the commission to approve without more details on sewer capacity and traffic impacts.

Commissioner Michael Osteen was concerned that the project did not specifically outline how it would implement green building practices, and also thought the affordable housing proffers did not go far enough, given the density increase at the site. “There should be more of a commitment to our community’s problem of affordable housing.”

Commissioner Farruggio recommended a motion to deny approval, which carried 4-2. Commissioners Mitchell, Osteen, Pearson and Faruggio voted to deny approval. Commissioners Lucy and Fink approved the project. Commissioner Cheri Lewis did not attend the meeting.