Residents in a development that neighbors Southwood Mobile Home Park are objecting to the proposed first phase of redevelopment of the site.
Ahead of a recent Albemarle County Planning Commission work session on the proposed rezoning, the Mosby Mountain Community Association sent a letter to commissioners and the Board of Supervisors to state their concerns.
“Mosby Mountain supports the overall objectives of the Southwood redevelopment project as an innovative, not-for-profit endeavor for the benefit of our neighbors who reside in the Southwood community,” the letter said. “We object, however, to rezoning that benefits for-profit development by third parties unrelated to Southwood and that is to the detriment of surrounding property owners and residents.”
Habitat bought the Southwood property off Old Lynchburg Road, near Fifth Street Extended, in 2007, and it plans to redevelop the site into a 700- to 800-unit mixed-income, mixed-use development. The work is expected to be done without displacing any of the current residents.
On Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors will vote on a performance agreement with Habitat for Southwood that could give $3.2 million in contributions and tax rebates to Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville for the redevelopment of Southwood once certain milestones are met.
The first phase of the site is zoned R-2 residential and Neighborhood Model District, and the proposed rezoning would change it to a new Neighborhood Model District. This type of zoning is required to have a code of development.
The letter says that residents recently learned that Habitat plans to sell some of the parcels to for-profit developers, and that meetings with Southwood representatives “revealed intentions for far higher development intensity than we could have imagined.”
Dan Rosensweig, local Habitat president and CEO, said Habitat has done nine mixed-income developments and they typically have to build the affordable housing first and then try to sell the other existing outparcels as market-rate lots to market-rate builders.
“In this case, the opportunity zone designation is stimulating market investment in the project at the early stages, which is actually really critical because closing on those lot sales will allow us to have the funding necessary to produce all of the affordable pads and homes,” he said.
Opportunity zones are areas that are part of a federal tax incentive program that encourages investments in low-income urban and rural communities.
In Albemarle’s Southern and Western Urban Neighborhoods Master Plan, which is part of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, the property is shown on the future land use map as urban density residential, which recommends density of between six and 34 units per acre, and some parks and green systems. The maximum gross density proposed for the first phase of the redevelopment is about 13 units per acre and a net density of approximately 19 units per acre.
The Comprehensive Plan is the county’s guiding document for its long-term vision for land use and resource protection and includes master plans for the designated development areas of the county. County staff and the Board of Supervisors look to the Comprehensive Plan as part of the rezoning process.
As currently proposed, the most intense uses would be along Hickory Street and a new proposed road near the entrance of the development, with the idea of providing space for Southwood residents, as well as others, to open businesses. The Master Plan says that a center, a retail and/or a services area should be provided for the neighborhood in that area.
“Such urban development characteristics would be incompatible with the semi rural character of surrounding neighborhoods and the adjacent state park,” the letter says.
At least seven Mosby Mountain residents sent their own messages to board members between May 30 and June 4, according to emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, and many requested that the board and commission reject or reconsider the proposed rezoning.
Many said the proposed four-story buildings near Old Lynchburg Road “would be to the detriment of surrounding property owners and residents,” and they were worried about traffic.
Supervisors Liz Palmer and Rick Randolph, as well as Commissioners Karen Firehock and Pam Riley, who represent the Samual Miller and Scottsville districts, respectively, replied to emails, saying they also had concerns.
The supervisors and commissioners also received emails supporting the development from 10 community members, including a letter from 10 of the Southwood resident planners.
“We know that this development will bring changes to our area of town, and to the Old Lynchburg Road corridor, and we believe those changes will be positive,” the resident planners said in the letter. “Development here by market-rate builders is not only an important part of making this project financially possible, but it will bring new housing opportunities and new commercial opportunities to our neighborhood that will benefit everyone.”
Some of the neighbors’ concerns, as well as concerns from appointed officials, were discussed at the June 4 work session.
One of the main questions asked of commissioners was about the maximum building height. County staff recommended that the height should be limited to four stories or 50 feet, whichever is less, and commissioners generally agreed, but they wanted more information.
“I think we’re being asked to give you input with inadequate information,” Riley said.
Commissioner Jennie More said the character of the area is rural in nature and close to the end of the development area, but she understands the need for the center in the area.
“I find my reaction to it ... is it is quite dense for something on the edge of the growth area,” she said.
Riley asked what is being done to preserve the social and cultural fabric of this community in a redevelopment project of this scale.
“Some of the concerns that some of us were afraid to speak to is a concern of what will happen to the people who live there now and what kind of community will they be asked to live in, and .. is it going to be even a comparable community culturally [to what] there is now?” she asked.
Rosensweig said any feedback is good feedback.
“We want to make sure the project moves forward first and foremost in a way that is advantageous to the residents who live there and is welcome and accommodating of new people and that it fits in nicely with the overall Comprehensive Plan of the county,” he said.
Habitat is making changes ahead of the Planning Commission’s public hearing, Rosensweig said, which is scheduled for July 23.
“We’ve heard the concerns, we’ve been responsive, we think, all along, and we’re prepared to double down on that sense of partnership with the surrounding community by making further concessions in terms of height and setbacks,” he said.