All but one Charlottesville city councilor — the mayor — voted Monday to approve a special-use permit for a major downtown development project nearly derailed earlier this year when three councilors voted against it.
The approval allows West2nd developer Keith O. Woodard to proceed with the Water Street project featuring residential, retail and office space as well as a plaza to serve as the City Market’s permanent home.
City code and the conditional permit require eight affordable housing units in the building, but Councilor Wes Bellamy and developer representatives say there instead will be 16 affordable housing units built on Harris Street. According to a memorandum of understanding — approved on a separate 4-1 vote, also with Mayor NikuyahWalker dissenting — the city will subsidize the affordable housing units. It is currently unclear how much it will cost the city to do so.
The permit allows Woodard’s building to be up to 10 stories tall and increases the residential density of the development beyond what’s allowed by-right. Developers said the density increase is needed to make the project financially viable after construction was halted last summer due to rising development costs.
Bellamy last week said he participated in negotiations with the developer after Walker, Councilor Heather Hill and he voted against the project in February. Bellamy said he voted it down in an attempt to persuade the developer to include up to 16 affordable housing units in the development. He said he now is supporting the project because of the $950,000 in annual tax revenue West2nd is projected to generate.
“If we have a certain amount of revenue that is coming in for us to be able to complete public housing redevelopment or build more [affordable housing] units, then it’s a win for the city,” Bellamy said. “I know how it feels when individuals call or message me in the middle of the night saying they’ve been desperately trying to find housing. We’re trying to build units. I wholeheartedly support this project and think it’s going to be good for the city.”
The permit’s approval met with applause from members of the business community who came to the meeting Monday to show their support for the project. Several social justice activists who have argued that the new development will further gentrify the downtown area jeered at business leaders and councilors who spoke in favor of the project. The mayor and several dissidents specifically criticized the plan because it will only create 16 new affordable housing after 85 condominiums that cost $400,000 to over $1 million are added to the city’s housing stock.
“You will never get to a place of equity when you have almost 100 units coming in at that price and then, on the other side of town, you’re going to create 16 affordable units,” Walker said. “That’s what we’ve been doing in this town to date, and that’s why people have been pushed out.”
Walker also said she was perturbed to see how city officials and other members of the council appeared to concede too much to the developer. She said felt there didn’t appear to be “a good balance between what government and private developers should do.”
“[Woodard] should make sure his business is profitable, but at the same time, ... the City Council and city management should work for all the people they serve,” Walker said.
Walker also continued to express concern about how the City Market will fit into the design of the project. After asking for development proposals for the city-owned parking lot on Water Street several years ago, the council in 2015 agreed to sell the property to Woodard for $2.4 million. The city asked that the plans make the City Market a central aspect of the development and establish a permanent location for it.
Since agreeing to sell the property, the city has contributed $1.25 million to help relocate utilities around the property underground — which cost a total of $3 million, according to city officials.
Both Walker and Hill previously expressed worry that the newest designs for the development seemed to disregard the market vendors’ needs, but Hill on Monday said she thinks the developer’s team has made some progress. Like Hill, Walker said she spoke with vendors and heard that some of them think the plan is better than nothing, and have come to accept it despite their worries.
“It’s really hard for me to look at this block and think about all the things we can do with it, but at the same time, I feel we need a home for a market that’s in close proximity [to downtown],” Hill said. “It’s frustrating, but I do feel that having a home for these stakeholders was something that bubbled up to the top for me.”
According to the developer, the current design for the market will include space for up to 115 vendors with 22,000 square feet of exterior space and 5,400 square feet of indoor space. A previously approved special-use permit for the project previously had 20,500 square feet for exterior space and 9,500 interior space available for the market. The new plan, however, will include expanded utility services for a “larger number” of vendors.
The project is expected to include 10,000 square feet of retail space, 5,800 square feet of event space, more than 50,000 square feet of office space, approximately 200 parking spaces divided into 102 public spaces; 55 office spaces; and 85 residential spaces.
Construction is expected to begin this summer and is scheduled for completion by summer 2020.