Writing in his blog today Charlottesville's Mayor David Brown discusses the challenge of our community's vertical growth.
"A lot of controversy in Charlottesville revolves around development - infill development, increased density, tall buildings. Partly this arises from people wanting to live here, and the market responding to demand; part is due to rising prices making it feasible to build on difficult parcels (many times, in my opinion, parcels that never should have been zoned for development in the first place), and finally because of the zoning ordinance passed 3 years ago (before I joined council), allowing more density"
The recent approval of a nine-story mixed-use complex near Lewis and Clark Square between South Street and Water Street, proposals for several additional tall buildings, and citizen concerns about plans for two downtown parking lots (photos) all have public officials talking about the City's vertical future.
The two parking lots between Water Street and South Street are of particular interest to a group of community members that recently sent a letter to Mayor Brown and City Council [download letter as PDF]. The metered lot, home to the City Market, is owned by the City of Charlottesville. The other parking lot is owned by Charlottesville Parking Corporation which has been trying to sell the property for over a year. I was one of sixteen people that signed the letter to Mayor Brown which begins:
"The purpose of this letter is to open a dialogue with you and other city leadership about the accelerating development of Charlottesville's city center and the Water Street Corridor. We are particularly focused on the City Market site, though our goal is to consider this property in the larger urban context of downtown Charlottesville. We would like to encourage the city to begin an open discussion and launch a proactive process for rendering a shared vision for this critical tract and its surroundings, rather than be in a reactive mode to private development proposals."
You can download the letter to read about the issues we suggest should be considered in a visioning process for this area (Note: Page three of the PDF version is a list of all the residents that signed the letter, in case you can't make out the signatures).
The 2001 Comprehensive Plan describes the City's goals for this area as follows:
Two blocks, bordered by West 2nd Street and East 2nd Street, represent the last large development opportunity in the historic downtown area. The urban design plan here illustrates 1st Street divided to create a public green between the two blocks. The plan calls for the existing structures across South Street and Water Street to complete the edge around this space. Retail uses should line Water Street and 1st Street; with the 1st Street green being an ideal spot for restaurants and cafes. Ideally, these two blocks would develop simultaneously so a shared parking facility under 1st Street could be constructed as part of the whole scheme. If such holistic development is impossible, then development on the western block should still line South Street and partially line West 2nd Street. Architecturally, care should be taken that the development along these blocks does not appear to be monolithic; continuous facades spanning the length of a block should be avoided. The façade and overall structure, or massing should be articulated individually and the details and scale of openings should change along the length of the building.