No affordable units for Ridge/Cherry development

William Taylor Plaza, a planned development on the corner of Ridge Street and Cherry Avenue first approved in 2009, has encountered its first sizable hurdle. Last week, the city Planning Commission voted 4-2 to deny Southern Development’s request to amend proffers and a rezoning for the mixed-use development.

William Taylor Plaza, slated for the Cherry Avenue Corridor (pictured), will add an additional 100,000 square feet of mixed-use space to the corner of Ridge and Cherry.

While the original plan was received with open arms for its appropriateness as the main entrance to the Cherry Avenue Corridor, this time around, the scope and scale of the rezoning project fell short. Former Charlottesville Mayor Maurice Cox, a UVA architecture professor, called it an “inferior” site plan. “Now we are looking at something that has lost much of its grace,” he told the commission.

With assistance from Park Properties Management Company, Southern Development, which is owned by Frank Ballif, presented the commission with a proposal that would change the concept from mixed-use to mixed-use/mixed-income, with the addition of affordable housing units.

The company proposed to increase the number of residential units to 80 from 50. It also requested an addition of 20,000 square feet of building space to the 100,000 square feet already approved, and an amendment to a previously approved affordable housing proffer. In the approved proffer, Southern Development agreed to contribute $235,000 to the city’s affordable housing fund. The amendment proposed to replace the monetary contribution with 42 affordable housing rental units within the development. Those affordable units would be for families who make 80 percent or less of the area median income, $68,500.

“We are disappointed with the vote, because we think there is a great need for the mixed-income, mixed-use development,” says Charlie Armstrong, Southern Development’s vice president for land development. “That site is perfect for affordable housing and a mix of housing income levels, because it’s walking distance to Downtown, it’s walking distance to UVA and the hospital, it’s on city bus routes. It’s ideal.”

Dan Rosensweig, executive director of Habitat for Humanity, was one of only two commissioners to support the amended plan. “I haven’t seen too many applications come my way in the three years I have been on the Planning Commission that have satisfied many goals with the comprehensive plan as that one would have,” he said in an interview. The 2007 Comprehensive Plan outlined the need for affordable housing in the city.

Antoinette Roades, a neighborhood resident and vocal opponent of the plan, told commissioners that “this different plan is a giant rental complex to be subsidized by low income tax credit from [the Virginia Housing Development Authority].” Roades says other sites adjacent to the Ridge/Cherry parcels are better suited to accommodate a plan of this magnitude.

“I don’t accept that what was requested was an ‘amendment,’” she tells C-VILLE in an e-mail. “It was, and is, a completely different plan, one [in] which I could detect no positive element whatsoever.”

The placement of affordable units, clustered together and fairly distant from their market-rate counterparts, raised concerns of “economic segregation” for most commissioners. Armstrong, however, disagrees.

“The economic segregation that exists in Charlottesville and in cities all over the country right now is a much larger difference than what we are trying to do with this development,” he says.

“This is people being together in one development with very different income levels across the entire spectrum and only being 100 feet apart,” says Armstrong. “I think it’s bringing people together.” Armstrong says that Southern Development will make a few changes to the layout and the affordable housing language before the plan goes before city officials.

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