What does the future hold? We examine what has happened in Charlottesville’s past and present to make some zany predictions about what could occur years down the road. But you know what they say: Fact is stranger than fiction.
Developing our future
Growth is always an issue in both Charlottesville and Albemarle County, and there’s no reason to think that will change in the future. Those already here want things to stay the way they are—while newcomers continue to flock to our beautiful burg.
Albemarle County has incorporated the preservation of the county’s rural character into its comprehensive plan by funneling development into designated growth areas such as Crozet, Pantops and U.S. 29 North.
Charlottesville flirted with high-density development in 2003 during the tenure of then-UVA architecture professor/mayor Maurice Cox. However, once the first nine-story buildings actually were built (ahem, The Flats), citizens decided they didn’t want density quite that…dense, at least on West Main.
So what does Charlottesville of the future look like?
West Main is one of the oldest thoroughfares in the commonwealth, dating back to the 18th century when it was known as Three Notch’d Road. By the early 19th century, it was the muddy lane connecting Mr. Jefferson’s new U to the town of Charlottesville. The 20th century saw it dotted with gas stations, car dealerships and auto repair shops in the style now known as mid-century. In the early 21st century, the battle raged about what West Main would look like going forward. Would it keep its mid-century charm with the remnants of 19th-century Vinegar Hill, or would it become canyon-like with nine-story hotels and condos? Would it become even more bike- and pedestrian-friendly, with the 66-foot-wide street redeveloped into a boulevard?
C-VILLE predicts: The Downtown Mall is so successful that it seems only logical to turn West Main into a pedestrian and bike mall, a notion retailers and auto service centers fight. The compromise: no on-street parking and a city requirement that the hotels lining West Main build giant parking structures to handle at least twice their occupancy rates. And a fleet of golf carts will shuttle less-ambulatory citizens to West Main’s restaurants and shopping.
Cherry Avenue now is best known for its Salvation Army Thrift Store and being a backed-up commute option to Jefferson Park Avenue.
C-VILLE predicts: With its proximity to downtown, those deserted storefronts are ripe for redevelopment, especially with a hotel going up on the corner of Ridge Street. And when Trader Joe’s takes over the old IGA space, Cherry Avenue becomes the new West Main.
Strategic Investment Area
Charlottesville’s boldest plan for the future is to take 330 privately owned acres south of the Downtown Mall between Ridge and Avon streets—where some of the city’s poorest residents live—and redevelop it while avoiding the pitfalls of the Vinegar Hill urban renewal of the ’60s. The plan calls for retaining low-income housing while encouraging market and work-force residences, investment in innovative business and upgrading existing infrastructure for safe and walkable/bikable streets.
C-VILLE predicts: The 17-acre Ix complex becomes the centerpiece of the SIA because of its size and its private ownership by the innovative Kuttners, which make it much more nimble than the other large tracts owned by Piedmont Housing and the Charlottesville Housing Development Authority. The area gets its first park and first grocery, and people flock to the mixed-use housing on the property with its close proximity to the Downtown Mall. Following city investment in sidewalks and bike lanes, Ix Center becomes the Belmont of the 2030s.
Oh, the Places we’ll grow
The area east of Charlottesville has been Albemarle’s least successful growth area, where instead of the new urbanism, it looks more like the old suburbanism, with all the disadvantages of growth—traffic—and none of the benefits of density. In 2015, residents pleaded for a pedestrian bridge just to be able to safely cross multi-lane U.S. 250 to the Pantops Shopping Center. The perpetually strapped county added the bridge to its good-ideas-we-can’t-afford list.
C-VILLE predicts: Even if Amazon takes over the retail world, we’re always going to need car lots, and that will continue to be Pantops’ ace in the hole. Future Pantops residents won’t be getting rid of their cars anytime soon.
Crozet convened its first master plan advisory council in 2002, and for years to those involved it looked like a lot of talk and no money for implementation. But slowly, in the intervening years, Old Trail turned from a big field into a small-lot community with a walkable commercial area—although residents still have to get in their cars to go to the grocery store. The Crozet streetscape, after being torn up seemingly for forever, finally was complete, as was the long-delayed library. Jarman’s Gap was widened and is safe for walking and biking. And the subdivisions that sprouted around the small village prevented the sprawl that otherwise would stretch along U.S. 250 as a blight upon the road’s rural vistas.
C-VILLE predicts: The redevelopment of the Barnes Lumber site is the game-changer for Crozet and the best neighborhood model in Albemarle, thanks largely to Frank Stoner, who redeveloped the Jefferson School. Residents actually live above office and retail, and walk to the Mudhouse for coffee and to Great Valu for shopping, thanks to a pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks. With the Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop, some are calling the county’s scenic yet funky village “the new Downtown Mall.”
Seminole Trail became Charlottesville’s Main Street of the latter 20th century, geared toward the automobile. The area has been in a chronic struggle to move through-traffic without the bypass desired by Lynchburg and Danville. And while the county’s zoning has kept it from becoming a commercial eyesore like our neighbors on U.S. 29 to the south, it’s also contributed to commercially awkward spaces, like The Shops at Stonefield.
C-VILLE predicts: With the completion of Hillsdale and Berkmar connector roads, the underpass at Rio and an overpass at Hydraulic, through-traffic flows much better. However, that doesn’t appease Lynchburg, which is still clamoring for a bypass 20 years after the Western Bypass was officially killed, and local residents still continue to avoid it if at all possible.
Charlottesville’s median household income of $44,601 between 2009 and 2013 was well below the state median household income of $63,907, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The higher-than-the-state median housing cost of $293,000 and 27.5 percent of city residents living below the poverty rate prove that Charlottesville is an expensive place to live and wages don’t come close to making it affordable. Albemarle’s numbers tell the same story: Even more expensive housing at $319,200 with a median household income of $67,725.
C-VILLE predicts: In 2036, Charlottesville remains a desirable place to live—for the rich. Its unaffordability creates a boom in Buckingham County, where the median home price was an almost-affordable $128,800 earlier in the 21st century.
In 1982, Albemarle signed a deal with the devil, in this case, Charlottesville, promising to pay it 10 cents of its property tax rate—currently at 81.9 cents per $100 of assessed value—if Charlottesville stopped annexing county land, which the General Assembly declared a moratorium on in 1987. Between 1983 and 2010, Albemarle has paid nearly $161 million to Charlottesville, and ponied up nearly $16 million in 2016 alone, according to Charlottesville Tomorrow.
C-VILLE predicts: Although Charlottesville reaps a windfall every year from Albemarle, both budget-strapped entities realize their dollars could go a lot further if they consolidated schools, police, fire departments and redundant local governments. The result? A new municipality called Charlbemarle.
To discourage driving into town—although for many commuters from surrounding communities, there is no other option to get to work—by 2016 Charlottesville has calibrated all its stoplights so that motorists have to stop at every signal, or at least it seems that way.
C-VILLE predicts: An environmentally committed City Council finally realizes that cars spewing carbon monoxide idling at lights with no other traffic in sight is not the most sound policy, and that the ensuing road rage of citizens constitutes a very real safety concern. Council orders city traffic engineers to calibrate those darn lights to make traffic flow.
Future of downtown
Is there living room?
A well-established community already thrives in downtown Charlottesville. You can buy the essentials at Reid’s Super-Save or Market Street Market. Several salons and barbershops exist to style you, some of the best eateries in town are there, and a buffet of live theaters, movie theaters and music venues aim to feed your soul.
But will downtown Charlottesville soon face the issue of too many people and too few homes?
Realtor Jim Duncan, who has sold downtown homes for more than a decade, says the market has remained surprisingly consistent.
“A lot of people are just happy where they are,” he says, adding that while there are currently enough homes downtown, there is a historically low inventory of homes for sale in the area.
He says as the city’s population grows, and more people are looking to buy homes in neighborhoods such as Woolen Mills, Belmont and Ridge Street, it won’t be long before there are no homes left to buy.
The solution? Building up.
Duncan says the future of Charlottesville could follow the “aspirational trend” of cities such as New York and San Francisco with taller buildings and fewer cars. One of those taller buildings will be Market Plaza on Water Street, with a nine-story retail/office/residential building alongside the open-air City Market. Occupancy is expected in April 2018.
C-VILLE predicts: Oliver Kuttner’s micro apartments around the Glass Building inspire a tiny-housing boom in Charlottesville. Not only do apartments downtown start getting smaller and smaller to accommodate an influx of residents (one resident boasts living in a 150-square-foot IKEA-inspired room), but a local developer buys 50 acres of land in the county and builds a tiny-house community of 1,000 freestanding homes.
Where will we park?
In 2012, the city’s office of economic development recorded that more than 1 million visitors parked in a downtown parking garage. As the area continues to grow in popularity and development, and more folks find themselves venturing to the mall, the manager of the Charlottesville Parking Center, Bob Stroh, says parking will become an issue. And sooner than you think.
In just two years, Stroh says the number of lost parking spaces is in the hundreds due to development in the area, including the reconstruction of Belmont Bridge, the building of Market Plaza and potentially futher development of the Landmark Hotel.
“That’s near-term,” Stroh says. “Long-term is worse.”
The city’s 2008 parking study cited 6,000 available parking spaces downtown and called for an additional 1,700 spaces needed due to increased demand. By the 2015 study, only 4,280 spaces were recorded downtown and instead of pushing for more spaces, the study called for learning how to share public and private spots.
“I don’t see any indication that that’s going to happen,” Stroh says, adding that calling for even an extra 1,700 spaces is “very conservative.”
“Now we’re at the point where if somebody wanted to build something downtown,” he says, “they really couldn’t unless they could build parking within the development.” As for the future of parking? It might have to be underground, says Stroh.
C-VILLE predicts: In the future, those living more than a stone’s throw away from the Downtown Mall will fire up their smart cars to drive toward the center of the action. But where will they park? Parking garages will have been demolished to house 20-story apartments and, as for off-street parking—not a chance. You’ll have to motor up to a 10-story parking structure you’re used to seeing in big cities and have your car placed in its designated space by a giant motorized lift.
Chris Engel, the city’s director of economic development, says Charlottesville was ahead of the curve when the Downtown Mall was built 40 years ago. Not only are pedestrian malls becoming more popular across the nation, he says there’s also a notable trend regarding the people targeted to work and live on them.
Charlottesville companies such as WorldStrides, WillowTree and RKG, which employ significant numbers of young professionals, are situated downtown for a reason, he says. It’s hip. It’s cool. National trends show that youngsters want to live where they work and work where they live.
The future of the Downtown Mall, Engel says, could show an increase in professional offices. But don’t worry, if his calculations are correct: Dining, entertainment and specialty retail aren’t going anywhere.
C-VILLE predicts: Lest we forget the empty-nesters who have moved downtown in an effort to eliminate the burden of driving, just 20 years from now, the young and the old will coexist just steps away from a mall lined with offices and specialty shops. It’s safe to say The Needle Lady isn’t going anywhere. And what do we predict will be the wave of future? You can’t have enough ice cream/gelato shops. We all scream for ice cream.
Shop till you drop
The opening of 5th Street Station, projected for late 2016, will tip the balance of shopping in what some say is an already oversaturated retail market. For decades, residents living south and east of town have had to travel up north on U.S. 29 to buy new shoes or school supplies. Okay, they’ll still have to go north to buy shoes, but 5th Street Station’s 465,000 square feet make it almost as large as Barracks Road Shopping Center, and having a Wegmans is a game-changer for local groceries.
C-VILLE predicts: Seminole Square and Albemarle Square, which were nearly ghost shopping centers before 5th Street Station opened, in desperation embrace mixed-use development and became new urbanism hits and actual neighborhood models. Seminole Square, with Kroger as its anchor and close to Whole Foods, is actually walkable for the affordable condos and apartments built on the site. Its bus connections and a neighborhood brewery make it popular for car-less millennials—or whatever the generation is that follows them. Albemarle Square is a tougher sell, but the growing senior population, car-less for different reasons, also embraces being able to go by wheelchair to the grocery, as well as its proximity to the Senior Center.
Despite Amazon obliterating many brick-and-mortar retailers with drone delivery, specialty shops remain because a lot of the time people don’t know what they want until they see it and can touch it. And the need for dry cleaners and convenient groceries, drugstores and hardware stores remains.
Local governments learn something from The Shops at Stonefield and Seminole Square, and decide to stop telling developers how to build shopping centers that look like awkward upscale urbanism.
Again, 2016 was a watershed year for going to the store, with the opening of Wegmans, a grocery chain even more beloved than Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, if such a thing is possible. Wegmans joins Charlottesville’s Giant, three Krogers, two Harris Teeters, five Food Lions and The Fresh Market national chains.
C-VILLE predicts: Wegmans becomes the local mecca for all things food related, and decides to open five more locations in town, becoming the top chain in the area.
But not everyone can afford to shop in the deluxe markets, and two distinct trends emerge. With worsening traffic, shoppers become more fond of being able to pop into neighborhood stores such as Reid’s and Foods of All Nations, and it turns out they also like not having to navigate a massive parking lot or store.
Who will live here?
Based on statistics from the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville’s population was expected to increase 10.9 percent from the 2010 census to July 2015—up to 48,210 residents. Albemarle County was expected to see a 6.1 percent boost, to 105,051 residents. The makeup of Charlottesville in 2014 was projected to be: 69.9 percent white, 19.24 percent African-American, 7.15 percent Asian, 4.86 Hispanic and 3.2 percent two or more races. The U.S. Census Bureau 2014 projection states both Charlottesville and Albemarle are 48 percent male, 52 percent female. And the largest age group in Charlottesville is 20 to 24 years old, while Albemarle is 15 to 19 years old.
What about further down the road—2020, 2030, 2040. What will our resident makeup look like?
Investing in the future
A group of prominent Charlottesville CEOs, led by Coran Capshaw, fund a local biotech company that invents a device that allows them to oversee their businesses long into the future.
Eat really local
If Charlottesville had an overarching theme to its restaurants, it would be eat local. Farm-to-table is a common practice, with many chefs and owners searching out the best of area ingredients to offer diners.
C-VILLE predicts: One restaurant takes the concept of eat local to a new extreme, opening a restaurant that features one of Thomas Jefferson’s favorite vegetables—the pea. Pea shoots top pasta, pea greens are sprinkled on steaks, and sweet pea pies become all the rage.
Charlottesville has become a destination wedding spot for couples from all over the country thanks to our perfect pairing of wedding planners and picturesque wineries.
C-VILLE predicts: Piedmont Virginia Community College will offer a two-year Wedding & Wine Expert degree in which you master flower arranging, catering, how to open a winery and event planning. You also become an ordained minister.
University of Virginia
The real estate market surrounding the University of Virginia is known among UVA students for being particularly cutthroat. Students often sign leases for the next year as early as September, and cheap housing is difficult to find. With increases in admissions, new dorms are being built to accommodate incoming freshmen, the most recent of which opened last fall.
According to UVA’s Housing and Residence Life website, prices for on-Grounds housing are projected to increase by about $200 for the 2016-2017 school year. However, the university is also considering plans to expand upperclassmen housing in the future to popular living areas such as Jefferson Park and Brandon avenues.
C-VILLE predicts: By 2025, housing for students will have become so preemptive that first-years will be required to find housing for all four years during summer orientation.
According to College Board, in-state tuition at public four-year institutions has increased by an average of 3.4 percent per year for the past 10 years. That means that by 2025, UVA’s in-state tuition could increase to roughly $20,505. For 2015-16, in-state tuition was $14,678, while out-of-state tuition was $43,974.
C-VILLE predicts: To help students earn extra money for tuition, UVA creates a work/study program for Cav Man and invents as many iterations of the mascot as possible. There’s
Big ’Hoo, Kind-of-Big ’Hoo and Medium-sized ’Hoo. And the Cavalier on horseback becomes a cavalry on horseback with up to 10 mascots (in both Cav Man and horse costumes) taking the field at one game. Team spirit has never been so strong.
Things haven’t looked great for the Cavaliers recently—as evidenced by cumulative statistics this year. In 2015, the Cavs were outscored by opponents 386-304, out-rushed by opponents 1,879-1,737 and received roughly 10 more penalties per yard than other opponents. Last winning season: 2011. Number of consecutive losses to Virginia Tech: 11.
C-VILLE predicts: The future looks bright. Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall didn’t have a single losing season with Brigham Young University, and we predict he won’t have one with Virginia, either. Five years of winning seasons are on the horizon.
Head Coach Tony Bennett, in his seventh season, has led the Cavaliers to two ACC regular season titles, and his team clinched a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament in 2014 for the first time since 1983. Bennett’s paycheck this year was $2.1 million.
C-VILLE predicts: Money is key. The next seven seasons under Bennett will be full of hotly contended ACC titles and NCAA tournament runs, but that kind of success comes with a price tag.
The men’s baseball team is hoping for a repeat of 2015, when it won the NCAA national title series for the first time in the program’s history.
C-VILLE predicts: In 2016, the Cavaliers again clinch the national title and see six players selected in the first 25 picks of the Major League Baseball draft. The consecutive winning streak continues to 2020, and UVA holds the record for most number of consecutive national titles.
This article was updated at 2pm March 15 to reflect the correct name of The Salvation Army Thrift Store on Cherry Avenue.