New look: Seminole Square eyes apartments to replace empty retail

Great Eastern Management Company is looking to build about 500 apartments with 40,000 square feet of commercial space at Seminole Square. And the only existing building they’d have to demolish is the former Giant grocery store. Courtesy Great Eastern Management Great Eastern Management Company is looking to build about 500 apartments with 40,000 square feet of commercial space at Seminole Square. And the only existing building they’d have to demolish is the former Giant grocery store. Courtesy Great Eastern Management

A new proposal could turn empty retail space at the Seminole Square shopping center into much-needed housing.

Great Eastern Management Company went before the city’s Planning Commission last week for recommendations before submitting an official application for what construction and development manager David Mitchell says could be as many as 500 one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments.

The developers, which have already built more than a dozen local apartment complexes, shopping centers, and office buildings, are hoping to construct 11 five-story buildings with about 40,000 square feet of new commercial space on the bottom of four of the proposed buildings along Hills-
dale Drive. Mitchell says they also have almost two acres of “mini parks and greenways” within their site.

“We want green space and connectivity elements, and we’re looking for walkability and mixed-use,” says Lisa Green, who currently chairs the Planning Commission. “This provided a lot of those elements.”

And though this project would knock out the shell of the former Giant grocery store, Mitchell says his group shouldn’t have to raze any of the other buildings to build the apartments, which will probably accommodate about 1,000 people.

“We’re in the business of helping our tenants survive, not kicking them out,” says Mitchell, who predicts the project will be a boom for existing businesses. Plans to move the Kroger from Hydraulic Road into the Giant space were put on hold. “This might be better than a grocery store, frankly,” says Mitchell. If another business did get displaced, he says it could move into some of the new commercial space he’s including in the project.

Great Eastern manages the shopping center that spans about a dozen acres, and the new apartment complex could take up approximately half of that space. Mitchell says building it in that area would align with the Hydraulic Small Area Plan, adopted by City Council last year, because it encourages building different housing types around the intersection of Hydraulic Road and Route 29.

“We tried really hard to match that as best we could, and I think that’s one of the reasons the Planning Commission was so supportive of it,” he adds.

Green says her email inbox is “overflowing” when people are unhappy with proposed projects, but so far those subject lines haven’t included anything about Seminole Square.

“These are not high-priced, glamorous condominiums,” she says. “If you think about workforce housing, which is something that we desperately need in this city, this is an opportunity for that person who really likes working at Whole Foods to live close. We’ve got a generation that really wants to do the urban live/walk, and that’s what we’re trying to create.”

Mitchell says he can’t yet put a number on how many of his apartments will meet the city’s definition of affordable housing, which is generally reserved for people who earn less than 80 percent of the city’s median income. And Planning Commission member Rory Stolzenberg, as reported by Charlottesville Tomorrow, warned the project could reduce the percentage of affordable units from the 15 percent goal set by City Council, if it increases the total number of apartments without setting enough aside as affordable.

But Mitchell says his project can only help, as the local demand for a place to live continues to grow. “It can’t not help the current housing crisis.”

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