Planning Commission approves permit for an even bigger Plaza on Main Street

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Last week the City Planning Commission approved a special use permit allowing the developers of the Plaza on Main Street to increase the building’s size, but residents of nearby Fifeville are not pleased. Photo: Riverbend Management Last week the City Planning Commission approved a special use permit allowing the developers of the Plaza on Main Street to increase the building’s size, but residents of nearby Fifeville are not pleased. Photo: Riverbend Management

The Plaza on Main Street, an eight-story, 595-bedroom apartment building proposed for the property between the Hampton Inn and Amtrak station, is seen as the final piece of the West Main development puzzle. But while developers, city officials, and the media have been discussing the project’s potential transformation of the stretch between Downtown and UVA, Fifeville residents are concerned about its impact on their neighborhood. At last week’s City Planning Commission meeting, residents asked commissioners to reconsider approving a special use permit that would allow the developers to increase the building’s density, and to take into consideration how the complex would affect neighbors.

After three hours of discussion, the planning commissioners voted 6-1 to approve the special use permit. They voiced some reservations and offered sympathetic caveats, but ultimately decided the project would help West Main reach critical mass and grow economically.

Locally based Riverbend Management and Ambling University Development Group of Georgia are tag-teaming the project. Zoning laws allow a height of 70′ and density of 43 units per acre, and developers requested a special use permit that will allow the building to be 101′ tall with 98 units per acre. The complex will feature units with up to four bedrooms and 12,000′ of “commercial space.” It will be heavily marketed to students, and developers say it will bridge the gap between UVA and the rest of Charlottesville.

Not everybody is convinced that the project will connect the town to the University.

Angie Ciolfi has lived on Nalle Street, directly behind the proposed development, for years. She said she and her neighbors have wanted to see the parcel developed in a way that will invigorate and beautify West Main Street, and in the beginning she wanted to support this project. But she worries that the Plaza will serve as a giant brick barrier instead.

“I just wonder if it is the right fit,” she said.

Ciolfi said she’s concerned about increased traffic and noise, but is especially wary of the club room that “appeared to be public space, but will not be.” Developers promised a certain amount of public space in the building, but the commercial area may only be available to Plaza residents—which means the public space is actually private.

Commissioner Lisa Green said she worries that residents of the Plaza will be isolated from the surrounding area. She was the only one to vote against the permit.

“I don’t want to create another case of exclusivity between UVA, townspeople, and the workforce,” she said.

Commission Chair Genevieve Keller said she has lived across the street from an apartment complex for six years, and “Keep Out” signs and a feeling of separation make it difficult to interact. She said Charlottesville “deserves something special,” and she doesn’t want to see a similar situation with the Plaza.

“I wish she would’ve backed that sentiment with her vote,” said Fifeville resident Catarina Krizancic.

Krizancic said she was disappointed that commissioners seemed to acknowledge what residents were fighting for, but approved the permit anyway.

Residents still have time to voice concern about the project at public meetings; before the issue goes to City Council, the Board of Architectural Review will offer guidance on the design at its November 20 meeting.