A new development proposed in Hogwaller—that fabled southeast corner of the Belmont-Carlton neighborhood—would give residents the opportunity to live and grow their own food on a small urban pasture called Hogwaller Farm.
However, some people have objected to its location. And its name.
Developer Justin Shimp, an engineer, says his idea for the new community comes from his own experience gardening and tending to chickens and goats while growing up in Amherst.
“That opportunity is lost to a lot of people because of how they live and what housing is available,” says Shimp.
He plans to build two multi-story residential buildings with 12 one-bedroom and 18 two-bedroom apartments on his nine-acre Nassau Street site that spans both Charlottesville and Albemarle County. At least two of the units will be dedicated affordable housing, he says, and he’ll save some space for farmland, a greenhouse, and a farmstand.
He says he’s been approached by a group that would like to create a nonprofit, potentially named Hogwaller Community Farm, to run the farm.
“They want to use it as an education space, which I think is a great idea,” says Shimp. “They could have classes there to educate people on how you can be more sustainable in your production and consumption of food.”
As with most developments in town, this one has been met with controversy—mostly centered around building on a floodplain.
Belmont resident Karen Katz says that’s a concern of hers. She also worries about proper stormwater management, and the possibility that the area’s water and soil could already be contaminated by major runoff from the city that flows down to Shimp’s site.
“Imagine the harm and the scandal that would be laid upon us” she says, if the Hogwaller Farm site, where Habitat for Humanity and other developers have built affordable and market-rate housing nearby, “were to be found unsuitable for building.”
Because testing the water and soil isn’t required, Katz says she and a group of concerned citizens have reached an “out of the box” agreement with Shimp to have an independent testing lab examine samples from his site.
And Shimp says he plans to do so before December. The testing will likely be done through the Virginia Cooperative Extension, which uses resources from Virginia Tech and Virginia State University for agricultural research.
The developer specifies that he mostly won’t be building on the floodplain, anyway, because that’s “all farm,” except for a 600-square-foot tractor shed and a “tiny bit” of an apartment building.
Another point of contention has been the project’s use of the word Hogwaller in its name.
“It is clearly offensive to some people who come up from very poor rural backgrounds,” says Katz. “Why insist on a controversial name for your already controversial project?”
She also says it just doesn’t sound good. “Do you want to tell your friends that you live at Hogwaller?”
It has long been believed that this area in Belmont was named after a nearby livestock market, and when Moore’s Creek rises, it creates a muddy pit where the pigs can wallow.
The name has never officially been recognized by the city, but Shimp says he likes its historical significance. “A long time ago, there were literally hogs on the property that I’m going to be farming,” he says.
With an approval already granted from the county, the city’s planning commission will vote on the project in December. If they like it, it’ll go to City Council for final approval early next year.
The developer says there’s a need for this “missing middle housing” all over the city.
Though he hasn’t worked out rental rates yet, Shimp says, “It’s going to be housing that’s new, that’s quality, but that’s not excessively expensive.”
His original application to the county proposed the cultivation of “Hogwaller weed” on the urban farm.
“We thought it would be funny if we proposed a pot farm,” he says. “[But] it was never my intention to do [that].”
It’s illegal to build security fencing on a floodplain, he explains. And, of course, growing recreational marijuana isn’t legal in Virginia.
“Yet,” says Shimp. “I wouldn’t be opposed to it if it could be done.”