Planners deny, defer two Fifeville projects

Revitalization or gentrification? Whatever you want to call it, the Charlottesville Planning Commission wasn’t approving it at their July 11 meeting, putting the brakes on two projects that would increase density in the Fifeville neighborhood around Cherry Avenue.
    In an uncharacteristically divided decision, the commission voted 4-2 to deny a rezoning request by Mark Saunders and V.G. Sullivan, developers looking to turn 1000 and 1002 Grove St. into six homes.
    Developers brought a plan that earned general approval from the commission and City staff, a plan designed by the Boston-based urban architecture firm Utile (which is also working on Habitat for Humanity’s Sunrise Court project). But the location proved to be the issue, and neighborhood opposition helped lead the commission to deny the rezoning request. City Planner Brian Haluska recommended rejecting the preliminary plan, based on the City’s comprehensive plan to keep the area a single-family residential neighborhood.
    “It would be nice, if it were elsewhere in the city,” said Cheri Lewis, a commissioner who voted against the proposal. “It’s a tough call.”
    After the vote, both Sullivan and Saunders say they will take the current proposal to City Council, which has the final say. “We feel that we had a deeply flawed review process on the City’s side, and we hope that City Council recognizes the substance behind the split vote and is able to see the bigger picture,” says Saunders in an e-mail. Only one resident appeared at the meeting to speak against the plan.
    On another Fifeville project, the commission deferred a vote on a development at 850 Estes St. that would create 27 residential units on the site of three dilapidated houses near Walker Square Condominiums. Commissioners decided unanimously that they needed more information about canopy cover, current site tree count and the dumpster design for the proposed “mixed-use building.”
    The Estes property is an old ghost for City government. Last fall, developers applied for a special use permit that City Council effectively quashed. But the developers created a similar plan that exploits a zoning loophole: By designating a mere 1.9 percent of the building “office space,” developers may rezone the property at a higher density by-right—which means once the developers address current concerns, the commission is legally obligated to approve the plan though it seems intent right now on putting off that inevitability. Demolition permits are already outstanding on the site.