Commission approves Jefferson School rezoning
By Sean Tubbs
When the former Jefferson School opens next year as a community center, there will not be a hotel, a laundry or an auto-repair shop in the site’s future. That’s because the developer has agreed to waive the right to those potential uses as part of the rezoning process.
“It was the will of the Planning Commission that hotel use is inappropriate at the site,” said L.J. Lopez of Stonehaus, the firm working with the Jefferson School Partnership on the former all-black school’s transformation.
The partnership and Stonehaus are seeking rezoning from B-1 to B-2, which does allow for restaurants. A rezoning is required because the Jefferson Area Board for Aging has signed a letter of intent to operate some services in the new building, including a cafe.
The item was deferred from the Charlottesville Planning Commission’s July meeting when representatives of Stonehaus were not willing to give up the right to use the property for certain types of businesses allowed in B-2 zoning. Lopez was willing to do so at the commission’s meeting Tuesday.
Staff also recommended that the City Council initiate a process in which the building might be listed as an “individually protected property.” Such a designation would require the property owner to go before the Board of Architectural Review to request permission for demolition or exterior changes.
Lopez said the status isn’t necessary because the partnership is applying for tax credits related to the school’s status as a historic resource. A condition of the credits is that the property must be unchanged for a period of time.
One commissioner thought that was insufficient.
“I would be more comfortable [with individually protected property status] because if it’s just under the tax credits, it could potentially be demolished after five years,” Commissioner John Santoski said.
However, Lopez said the partnership would not stand in the council’s way.
“While we think [individually protected property status] may be overkill, we’re happy to work with staff towards working towards that goal,” Lopez said.
Commissioner Dan Rosensweig said he was not sure if the step was necessary.
“I’d like to have more dialogue with the property owner to get a sense of their intent,” Rosensweig said.
The commission voted 3-0 to recommend approval. Commissioners Genevieve Keller and Kurt Keesecker recused themselves from the vote as they are both involved with the project. Commissioner Michael Osteen was not present.
The item will next go before the City Council for a public hearing. Ordinarily the council holds a joint public hearing with the Planning Commission but a quorum of councilors was not available.
Other tenants at the redeveloped school will include Piedmont Virginia Community College, the Piedmont Family YMCA and the Literacy Volunteers of Charlottesville-Albemarle. If the council approves the rezoning, construction on the $17 million project could begin this fall.
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