If you build it: Despite pandemic, land use projects moved forward in 2020

City Council agreed in October to contribute $5.5 million in a forgivable loan to support the first phase of the Piedmont Housing Alliance’s redevelopment of Friendship Court, the 150-unit downtown public housing complex that was built in 1978. PC: Grimm + Parker Architects City Council agreed in October to contribute $5.5 million in a forgivable loan to support the first phase of the Piedmont Housing Alliance’s redevelopment of Friendship Court, the 150-unit downtown public housing complex that was built in 1978. PC: Grimm + Parker Architects

In a year where many of us followed guidelines to stay at home, the skies of downtown Charlottesville were marked by cranes building new spaces for the 21st century. In their shadow, projects to provide more affordable units moved through the bureaucratic process required to keep them below-market. Before the clock strikes 2021, let’s look back at some of what happened in 2020.

Public housing

After years of planning and complaints of decay from residents, Charlottesville’s government took steps to renovate the city’s public housing stock. In October, City Council agreed to spend $3 million to help finance the renovation of Crescent Halls and the construction of 62 new units on an athletic field at South First Street. A date for groundbreaking has been postponed several times, but officials with the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority hope it will occur early next year.

At the same meeting, council also agreed to contribute $5.5 million in a forgivable loan to support the first phase of the Piedmont Housing Alliance’s redevelopment of Friendship Court. The 150-unit complex was built in 1978 in an area cleared by urban renewal. The first phase will see up to 106 units built on vacant land along Monticello Avenue and Sixth Street SE. The loan dictates that the new homes must be made affordable to people who earn less than the area median income. As with CRHA, there’s no set date for groundbreaking yet.

Also this year, a firm hired to complete an overhaul of Charlottesville’s Comprehensive Plan unveiled a draft of an affordable housing plan that calls for $10 million a year in city investment in similar projects. The draft also asks “to bring diverse voices from the community into decision making structure of the City and partners it funds.”

As the Comprehensive Plan edit process continues, affordable housing advocates hope to reform the zoning ordinance to make it easier to build more housing units without seeking permission from council. This conversation will spill over to 2021, as work on the Comprehensive Plan continues and as voters prepare to elect or re-elect two members of City Council in November.

Downtown towers

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of square feet for offices and other commercial uses are under construction. The largest is the Center of Developing Entrepreneurs, which is being erected on Water Street on the site of the former Main Street Arena. The triangle-shaped nine-story building will include a public courtyard, retail area, and incubator space intended to grow new businesses. Completion is expected by August 2021.

On Second Street, within sight of the CODE building, a nine-story office building called 3Twenty3 nears completion, despite a crane collapse in early January. The structure is ready for occupancy and tenants include Manchester Capital, CoConstruct, and McGuire Woods.

Not too far behind is the new headquarters for Apex Clean Energy, an eight-story timber-built structure on Garrett Street designed by Charlottesville-based William McDonough + Partners. Ground was broken in October 2019 and the building could be completed by the end of 2021.

Elsewhere in Charlottesville, Albemarle County hired Fentress Architects to design the $45.2 million renovation of the judicial complex in Court Square. The new general district court complex will be shared by both localities. Construction on the court building won’t begin until at least 2022, but the project is already drawing plenty of attention, as the city continues to move forward with the planning process for a parking structure at Market and Ninth streets to support the new facility.

A previous City Council bought the Market Street parcel in January 2017 for $2.85 million, and the current plan is to build a four-level parking structure with 300 spaces and 12,000 square feet of commercial space. Opponents have argued the structure isn’t needed and the city could invest the $10 million price tag in other projects, including affordable housing. The city says the new spaces would provide enough inventory to allow the nearby Market Street Parking Garage to be retired and redeveloped in the decades to come. The hulking parking garage is among the biggest decisions council will need to make as it hashes out a capital budget for next year.

What about Albemarle?

Albemarle County is also working on a new affordable housing plan. The draft calls for zoning changes that would allow for thousands more units to be built compared to the existing rules. This year, however, the county Board of Supervisors has not approved two projects that would have added to that number. In June, concerns about traffic left the board deadlocked on a vote that would have seen 328 units built on 27 acres at the northern end of the John Warner Parkway. In early January, super­visors are expected to take a vote on a rezoning for 130 units to be built near Glenmore. Neighbors cite traffic concerns for their vehement opposition to the project.

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