Apartment city: How a wave of new projects is increasing density in Charlottesville

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This building planned for 925 E. Market St. is just one of many apartment complexes under review within the City of Charlottesville. Image: dFB Associates Architects This building planned for 925 E. Market St. is just one of many apartment complexes under review within the City of Charlottesville. Image: dFB Associates Architects

The residential development trend in Charlottesville can be summed up in two words: high density.

There are more than 1,100 apartments either newly opened, under construction, or being planned in the city, and September will be a big month for a number of developments set to go before the City Council or Planning Commission for permits or other approvals.

The glut of multi-family projects might seem like a sudden and recent trend, but it’s actually the result of a deliberate planning policy shift that’s more than a decade old, said Jim Tolbert, head of Charlottesville Neighborhood Development Services. When the city adopted its 2001 Comprehensive Plan, sustainability through density was a top priority, he said, especially around UVA, where the growing student body was causing a short supply of housing and parking.

As a result, the plan prioritized building in the core of the metro area, “where you have the infrastructure already in place and where people can use other modes of transportation instead of single automobile trips,” Tolbert said.

The recession brought a lot of projects still in the earliest planning phases to a halt, but new confidence in a recovering economy has coaxed many of them back to life.

Most of the projects currently underway will cater to students, from the eight-story Plaza on West Main to the 35-unit Oakhurst Apartments off Jefferson Park Avenue. The exception is City Walk, the 301-unit market-rate complex going in at the site of the old Coal Tower near Downtown.

There’s a little more diversity among the projects currently under review, including the residential addition to the planned PACE Center on Carlton Road in Belmont, which will serve retirees.

Reactions from those who will eventually be living in the shadows of the city’s crop of new apartment buildings inevitably include one major concern: traffic. In the case of Meadowbrook Flats, a 73-unit project planned for the corner of Emmet Street and Barracks Road, a more expansive two-building complex was scaled back after pushback from neighbors, and the Planning Commission’s recent approval of a special use permit for a five-story apartment at 925 E. Market St. met with objections from local residents over access and traffic issues.

But Tolbert said more high-density residential construction isn’t a problem—it’s actually the solution to congested city streets. He said it takes a critical concentration of people in an area to make public transportation viable. “Our densities are finally getting to the levels now to support transit,” he said. Yes, new apartment-dwellers will likely come with cars, but residents will likely be using them less.

“Is it better for them to live in town where they can ride a bus or walk, or live five miles out where they have to drive in every day?” said Tolbert. “We made the decision that we want to see more people live in the community, and the only way we want to do that is to have more density.”

What’s coming up? Half a dozen apartment projects currently under review are set to go before city officials for permits or other considerations in the coming weeks.

Meadowbrook Flats

Where: Venable, 1138 Emmet St. N

Who: Property owner Clara Belle Wheeler; Pinnacle Construction.

What: What was initially to be a two-part development that included the replacement of an existing commercial structure with a five-story apartment building was scaled down to a by-right 74-unit residential building next door.

What’s next: The Planning Commission will consider entrance corridor and critical slopes waiver applications in September.

PACE Center Amendment

Where: Belmont, 1335 Carlton Rd.

Who: Riverside Health Systems; UVA Health Systems; Jefferson Area Board for Aging.

What: 102-unit residential addition to a senior care center. A nursing home alternative, the complex will be for individuals 55 and older.

What’s next: The City Council considers a special use permit for the project in September.

925 E. Market St. 

Where: Martha Jefferson

Who: Woodard Properties; CMB Development, LLC; dBF Associates Architects.

What: 57-unit mixed-use building with 18,297 square feet of commercial space.

What’s next: The Planning Commission recently approved a special use permit required for the new building’s increased density, which will go before the City Council for final approval in September.

Beta Apartments

Where: Venable, 418 17th St. NW

Who: Beta Bridge, LLC; CBS Rentals.

What: 11-apartment addition to an existing student housing complex near Lambeth Field.

What’s next: A preliminary site plan conference is scheduled for September 4.

The Standard

Where: 10th and Page, 853 W. Main St.

Who: Landmark Properties, Athens, Georgia; Mitchell Matthews architects and planners.

What: 192-unit student-oriented mixed-use building with 12,000 sq.ft. commercial space.

What’s next: The city’s Board of Architectural Review cleared the existing Republic Plaza for demolition this month, and there will be a preliminary site plan conference on the project September 4.

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