Fifeville project raises questions about infill

The recent rejection of a Fifeville development by the City Planning Commission highlights ambiguities about the urban planning concept of infill, which focuses development on filling vacant city lots rather than building outwards on undeveloped land. Mark Saunders, who is developing 1000 and 1002 Grove St. with V.G. Sullivan, thinks the rejection concerns more than their specific planned unit development (PUD). “The real story isn’t about us but about the larger trend against infill development in the city,” says Saunders in an e-mail.
    Their site plan fits much of the residential infill ideal: It modestly increases density, is within walking distance of UVA, and offers concessions to affordable housing and sustainable design. Yet the planning commission rejected the proposal 4-2 on July 11 (developers will take the project to City Council for final say).
    So is the City, which has historically encouraged infill, changing its tune? No, says Neighborhood Deveopment Services Director Jim Tolbert.  “There’s still a recognition that’s the way we need to go to develop.”
    City Council, however, recently approved changes to infill PUD permits in order to be more explicit about what and where the City wants infill development. The changes now restrict the permits to an area that surrounds Downtown.
    Previously, “virtually every parcel in the city was possible for a PUD rezoning,” says Planning Commissioner Bill Lucy, whose day job is as planning professor at UVA. “Because there was no boundary, it raised the level of anxiety of infill.”
    Lucy notes that, while residents generally couch concerns about higher density projects in terms of traffic and parking, they are often really afraid of what projects might come next. The zoning changes should help reduce that anxiety. “It’s an attempt to reduce uncertainty and thereby increase the clarity for developers,” says Lucy.
    There are still questionable areas, however, and Fifeville is prominent among them. Though the area between Cherry Avenue and Main Street is included in the infill area, increased density threatens to excessively alter the neighborhood, says Lucy, who voted against the Grove Street development. “So much [development] has occurred there, it’s time for a pause to focus on the corridors.”