City planners consider two residential in-fill projects
By Sean Tubbs
Monday, September 20, 2010
In 2003, the Charlottesville City Council adopted a zoning code that encouraged more compact residential development within city limits. That vision is being realized as developers seek projects that take advantage of undeveloped land.
The Charlottesville Planning Commission finds itself trying to strike a balance between what a property owner can build by-right and the concerns of existing residents about loss of green space and increased traffic. Two such projects were considered by the commission last week and both illustrate the role that neighborhood involvement plays in whether a development is ultimately approved.
Commissioners granted a special use permit allowing for a developer to slightly increase the density allowed on vacant land in the city’s Cherry Avenue zoning corridor just south of the railroad tracks and within sight of the University of Virginia Medical Center.
By right, the firm Estes Street Partners could build 15 units on the site, but the permit allows construction of 2 more units.
Katerina Krzancic, who lives nearby on Nalle Street, spoke out against the project when it originally came before city planners.
“The applicant originally came forward five years ago with a proposal that I and other neighbors felt was very inappropriate for the neighborhood,” Krzancic said. “It was a very high density project with a lot of concrete and parking.”
On Tuesday, however, Krzancic told commissioners she supported the project because the developer had worked with the city and neighbors to reduce the density and maintain the neighborhood’s character.
“Sometimes we hear about delayed processes and I think this is one where the cooperation among neighbors and applicants over the years has resulted in something that no one quite envisioned in the beginning,” said Commissioner Genevieve Keller.
In contrast, Commissioners told developer Alex Hancock that his request to rezone land in the Fry’s Spring neighborhood would likely be denied unless he took the time to work with his neighbors to improve the project.
Hancock is seeking to rezone 2.5 acres of land at the end of Eton Road, a cul-de-sac just on the edge of city limits. The preliminary plan is to build 9 additional homes on land that is currently wooded.
City Planner Brian Haluska said Hancock could likely squeeze between 5 and 7 units on the site by right, but the exact number would not be known until an engineering plan is performed.
Developers are invited to participate in a preliminary discussion with the planning commission the month before a public hearing on a rezoning is held. Several residents of Eton Road appeared Tuesday to argue against the development.
Anne Lucas said the homes would double traffic on her street, making it unsafe for pedestrians.
“We feel like this project would set a poor precedent for the direction of the city,” Lucas said.
Bill Niebel, another resident of Eton Road, said he was opposed to the development because he thought the land was undevelopable.
“It doesn’t belong and it shouldn’t happen,” Niebuhl said. “No one wants this to happen. You don’t even need to take it into consideration.
However, Hancock already paid the $2,000 fee for the process to begin so the application is proceeding through city hall.
At their meeting, Commissioners were concerned that the conceptual site plan was out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood and told Hancock he should work with his neighbors.
“I would encourage you to be as open to your neighbors as possible given that they’re going to be an integral part of whatever’s going to happen,” Keller said.
Commissioner Michael Osteen, an architect, encouraged Hancock to continue pursuing the rezoning rather than developing on the site by-right.
“There is a great project that could be built from this, but you’ve got a lot of things going against you,” Osteen said.
Haluska said Hancock plans to take his chances and will present his plan to the commission for formal consideration at its October meeting.
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