Density issue: Big apartments near Little High chafe residents

Neighbors say 124 units at 1011 E. Jefferson St. are too much.
Henningsen & Kestner Neighbors say 124 units at 1011 E. Jefferson St. are too much. Henningsen & Kestner

While official Charlottesville has embraced greater density and infill, some residents aren’t loving it, particularly when the density is happening in their neighborhood.

That’s the case for plans for 124 units in the East Jefferson Apartments between 10th and 11th streets on a site that currently houses doctors offices. Developers are seeking a special permit to up the density from 21 units per acre to 87.

“That’s four times the density it’s zoned for in B-1,” says Little High resident Greg Jackson. “Twenty-one units per acre would be big enough. This proposal goes way too far.”

The application filed with the city has a four-and-a-half story building that’s 45′ tall with a total  283,000 square feet.

“The architects state that the massing shown is by-right,” acknowledges Jackson. “The stickler is the increased density.” And that’s what requires a special use permit.

“The city is set up for this urban experience,” says architect Mark Kestner, whose firm did the design. “We’re asking for the increase in density to allow people to live close to downtown.”

Kestner says the city has enough large, luxury apartments, and that people want smaller one- and two-bedroom units. The apartments will range in size from between 900 and 1,000 square feet to between 1,300 and 1,400 square feet. He did not have estimates available on how much the rentals will cost, but says there will be some affordable units.

The project is being developed by Jefferson Medical Building LLC and Great Eastern Management. An additional 20 limited partnerships “must be kept in confidence,” according to the plans filed with the city.

Some residents are concerned that the architectural firm listed on the application is Atwood, Henningsen & Kestner. Architect Bill Atwood has riled residents in the Starr Hill neighborhood with his plans for the Atlantic on West Main, but he is no longer connected with the firm now known as Henningsen & Kestner.

“I’ve had a lot of calls,” says Atwood. “I will not be able to support any building that goes above the tree line in that neighborhood.” He questions the B-1 zoning, which is a transitional designation between residential and commercial. “This building is huge,” he says. “I think our building on West Main is smaller. I do not support it.”

East Jefferson neighbors are also concerned about traffic. The complex plans project 846 vehicles a day, up from the current average of 720.

“I suspect that the traffic projection is too low,” says Jackson. He says the Little High area gets a lot of cut-through and speeding traffic.

But Kestner thinks there will be less traffic because more people will be walking. “There’s some benefit to being this close to downtown where people can actually walk to work,” he says.

He also notes that his office is in the neighborhood, so his firm will be living with what they design. “We’re excited,” he says. “We’ve been doing this a long time.”

Jackson is not convinced. He bought his house knowing what the zoning was and says B-1 is right for the area. He objects to any increased density, and says this special use permit is unfair to those who live there. “Sometimes a special use permit is appropriate,” he says. “In this case, it’s grossly inappropriate.”

The project goes before the planning commission April 12.