Rachel's Haven

Hinton Avenue United Methodist Church wants to rezone its 0.76-acre parcel in Charlottesville's Belmont neighborhood to create Rachel’s Haven, a 15-unit apartment building for people with developmental disabilities.

A revised proposal for an apartment complex for people with disabilities is scheduled to go before the Charlottesville Planning Commission next week.

The commission will hold a public hearing on a controversial rezoning for 750 Hinton Ave. at its meeting Tuesday.

Hinton Avenue Methodist Church is seeking to rezone its parcel from residential to neighborhood commercial corridor to create a 15-unit apartment building known as Rachel’s Haven.

The project takes its name from the late wife of the church’s pastor, the Rev. Robert Lewis. Rachel Lewis, who died in 2016 from breast cancer, ministered to people with developmental disabilities.

The project was supposed to be heard last month, but was pulled off the commission’s agenda so the church could revise part of the application.

Many neighbors have expressed concern over the proposal to city officials and online, citing the zoning changes and possible future commercial uses for the property. Those neighbors have emphasized that their concerns are not with housing for people with developmental disabilities, only with the zoning implications and their potential impact on the neighborhood.

The complex, which would sit alongside the church on a 0.76-acre parcel in the Belmont neighborhood, would have four to six units set aside as independent housing for people with developmental disabilities, according to the church.

The remaining units would be available for rent by the general public.

The units set aside for those with developmental disabilities are not included as part of the conditions, or proffers, of the rezoning. However, the proffer statement says at least four units would be available as affordable housing at 80% of the area’s median income.

The original proposal eliminated some, but not all, commercial uses allowed by the new rezoning, which was a concern of city staff members and neighbors.

The revised proposal eliminates all nonresidential uses other than an educational or daycare facility associated with the church.

“What doesn’t sit well with me is that proffers are not enforced,” said Kimber Hawkey, who lives near the church. “I don’t trust proffers because in my experience, proffers are not enforced.”

Violations of conditions of a rezoning approval are typically only addressed through complaints.

In an interview, Hawkey and Mark Kavit, who lives in the north downtown area, raised concerns about traffic, noise and safety.

Both are concerned about noise from the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems at the complex. Hawkey said parking always has been an issue in the neighborhood as people would rather park for free in Belmont to go downtown.

Hawkey and Kavit said there are many unanswered questions, such as where will trash be collected, how will emergency vehicles access the property and how many people can live in each unit.

“There’s a lot of questions, a lot of confusions and a lack of clarity when we ask questions,” Hawkey said.

Kavit and Hawkey also were dismayed with the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development Services’ process for the proposal. Hawkey said she only recently was officially notified of the rezoning request even though she lives two doors down from the church.

Kavit said the notification process seems to vary wildly throughout the city.

“It’s random. You can’t tell for sure what the policies are,” he said. “There needs to be a lot of changes made with development.”

The revised proposal would institute a 6- to 10-foot setback from the street.

City staff members recommended denying the original proposal for several reasons, some of which are not affected by the revisions.

The parcel’s density of 19.7 units per acre would be higher than the 15 units suggested for the area in the city’s Comprehensive Plan. The plan, which localities must have by law, is meant only to guide, not dictate, land-use decisions.

Staff members also emphasized that when the City Council rezoned 814 Hinton Ave., home to Southern Crescent Galley and Bar, it was seen as an “ideal endpoint” to commercial properties in the area.

Staff members are still creating their report on the revised proposal.

Lewis said the church has worked with neighbors and staff to address concerns.

“I don’t think that all the neighbors’ complaints can be satisfied,” he said. “But we’ve tried to do our best.”

The church is hosting a community meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Kavit thinks the proposal should be postponed.

“My feeling,” he said, “is they need to defer this a little bit until the final details can be worked out and the community can get behind this whole project.”

Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, 605 E. Main St.

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City hall reporter

Nolan Stout is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7274, nstout@dailyprogress.com, or @nstoutDP on Twitter and Facebook.

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