Monday, January 24, 2011

Ridge-Cherry development: Green vs Affordable

Charlottesville, Va. – The proposed William Taylor Plaza will likely change again with yet another rezoning.

In the latest proposal, some environmental standards may be sacrificed if the previous 30% becomes 100% affordable housing. The project would have 80 housing units instead of 50, EarthCraft instead of LEED certification, 120,000 square feet instead of 80,00 to 100,000,

The changes are requested by William Park, who developed Treesdale Park on Rio Road between Towne Lane and Stonehenge Road, an Affordable Multifamily Rental Community, where ground has recently been broken. Albemarle Housing Improvement Program (AHIP) is also involved with Treesdale. (See below for links.)

The next final public hearing is February 8.

Antoinette Roades update January 22, 2011


This message updates my alert of 28 December 2010 vis-a-vis what's afoot for the almost 3-acre Ridge-Cherry property. In October 2009, City Council approved a Southern Development project (William Taylor Plaza) for the site. A year earlier, CC had agreed to sell SD two City-owned parcels on Ridge Street without which the subsequently approved WTP could not be built.

Now, however, as the result of an extraordinary act of bait-and-switch that will also constitute a bailout for Southern Development, City Council is poised to approve a radically different project for the site under the pretence of making "changes to the [WTP] PUD" -- a profoundly dishonest maneuver.

Indeed, it would appear that the goal of the "changes" requested is to convert WTP into something very like "Treesdale Park (Affordable Multifamily Rental Community)," a project developed by William Park in concert with AHIP (a nonprofit housing agency in Albemarle County) for which ground was recently broken on Rio Road. And City Council is poised to do that after offering the public exactly one opportunity for comment -- a Joint Public Hearing with Planning Commission at PC's 8 February regular meeting.


I sent my 28 December alert because Neighborhood Development Services had issued notice on 21 December that CC and PC would hold a Joint Public Hearing on WTP changes on 11 January 2011. That hearing would be the only opportunity for any public comment. In that alert, I reported that subsequent inquiry had revealed that approval of the Rezoning Petition to be heard on 11 January would subject the property and the neighborhood to significantly greater impact than the NDS-issued notice had implied.

Indeed, inquiry had revealed that SD, which had begun advertising the Ridge-Cherry property for sale (at $2.3 million) immediately after securing approval for the WTP plan, had (after relisting at $1.8 million) found a buyer in William Park of Pinnacle Construction and Bluestone Land, et al., and that Park intended a project that would be notably larger while also being held to a lowered environmental standard.

On 4 January, I learned that the Joint Public Hearing was being deferred from the 11 January Planning Commission agenda to the 8 February PC agenda because William Park was "interested in additional changes" (quoth an NDS staff member). Yesterday, I was able to review his revised and expanded requests.

Note: Backup documents attached herewith are:
~~copy of my 28 December alert
~~Train &Partners plan approved in 2009
~~Fugleberg Koch plan submitted last month
~~detail of City Tax Map 29 showing relevant parcels
~~spreadsheet of zoning amendment sought by William Park


The combined "changes” – wich in fact constitute a new project – now include:
~~a project area of 120,000 square feet, rather than 80,000-100,000 square feet (an increase of 20-50 percent)
~~a project inventory of 80 residential units rather than 50 residential units (an increase of 60 percent and a factor that would certainly increase the project's vehicular traffic at what is already one of the City's most burdened intersections)
~~a project placement that would intrude more deeply into the fragile site's most fragile zone
~~a tree-preservation requirement that would allow more latitude for tree removal
~~a building-standard requirement that would apply Earthcraft Certification guidelines rather than the more demanding LEED Certification guidelines
~~a project that would include the two City-owned parcels contracted to SD (but not closed on or paid for by SD) without making the contract-required cash payment of $253,000 (Instead, "affordable housing" units would substitute for cash payment and, presumably, no cash whatsoever would change hands.)


In seeking to purchase the two project-critical City-owned parcels and secure approval for WTP, SD made much of the WTP project's alleged "green" aspects – aspects that would in no way mitigate the cutting of dozens of mature trees, the gouging of a critical slope, the piping of a stream, the destruction of a natural rain garden, etc.

In approving the sale and WTP, both City Councilors and Planning Commissioners made much of those "green" aspects – precisely the effect SD had sought. In seeking to reduce the project's purportedly "green" aspects, William Park is making much of "affordable housing" aspects seeking to likewise sway Councilors and Commissioners easily.

For some time, "affordable housing" has been the abracadabra phrase that has won for in-City developers anything they have demanded. That's been true despite the fact that the financial formula used to determine what "affordable" means has allowed unit prices upwards of $300,000 – affordable to some undoubtedly, but far beyond the reach of many others. And the process has also been susceptible to abuses as when buyers of "affordable" units have quickly flipped them for profit and as developers have bought the "affordable" units in their projects and turned them into personal income property.

Meanwhile, as William Park dangles formula-defined "affordable housing" as bait, the City is awash in truly affordable housing and especially in cheap condos – a situation experts foresee lasting far into the future. Indeed, no less than an official of Piedmont Housing Alliance told Councilors at a recent meeting that the City now had abundant "affordable" rentals.


In sum, what is being sought by William Park via the Rezoning Petition to be heard before the public for the first and last time on 8 February is not a few changes to SD's much opposed but approved anyway WTP project. The Park plan has a different size, a different shape, a different position on site, different standards, different impacts, a different design in the Ridge Street design control district, and a different developer. Therefore, it is a different project.

N.B. On the way to approving the sale of City property to SD and the WTP project, Councilors made much of involving "the neighborhood." A number of meetings – presentations, discussions, etc. – were scheduled and opinions solicited. Nothing of the sort has been done for this very different project. Instead, it is being advanced very fast and very far below public radar.

I question whether Mr. Park even has legal standing to bring his petition, given that his declared status is "Contract Purchaser" of City parcels contracted to SD but never actually purchased by SD. Whether he has such standing or not, however, for City Councilors and Planning Commissioners to address this as mere "changes" (the word NDS uses over and over) of an existing plan is nothing short of dishonest.


William Taylor Plaza was the culmination of a process that began in 1999 as the now infamous housing bubble was beginning to balloon. Its specific plan was introduced in 2007 when that bubble was fully inflated. It is in every respect a perfect example of the wretched excess that characterized that destructive and now completely discredited artificial boom. There is good reason that Messrs. Silverman, Cadgene, and Kuttner abandoned a very similar plan for the nearby Ix property. There is equally good reason that Bill Atwood – saying "Fundamentally, the world has changed...” – radically scaled back his similar Waterhouse project on nearby Water Street. And a number of other large projects have also been downscaled or cancelled entirely

David Neuman, U.Va. chief architect and non-voting member of Planning Commission, described WTP in 2009 as essentially "City-sponsored." That was true. Given today's market and forecasts for the foreseeable future, there is every reason that WTP should now be dying a natural death rather than being reinvented by City intervention that can benefit no one other than City Councilors' very good friends at Southern Development. As a neighbor simply put it, "This is nothing but a bailout for SD." Yes, a bailout that would return SD more than $1.7 million on an initial investment of $90,000, the price SD's creator Dr. Charles Hurt paid for five Ridge-Cherry parcels in 1999.

Note: City Council is currently on track to approve in February the sale to SD of an already under-assessed City-owned parcel on Elliott Avenue for a further discounted price. (The 8,268 square-foot, prominently-located, and sidewalk-served City parcel, assessed at $50,000, will be sold to Councilors' very good friends at SD for only $40,000. For comparison, my 6,000 square-foot parcel two blocks away on a sidewalk-challenged side street is assessed at $60,300.)


If any of this troubles you -- the potential impact, the process by which it is being effected, ad inf. – please let City Council and Planning Commission know that both via e-mails and at the Joint Public Hearing now scheduled for 8 February.

Please note that there is long history of Councilors and Commissioners coming to such hearings with minds made up – and that's been especially evident when Southern Development has been involved. Consequently, stating your position in advance may have more weight than just speaking at the hearing, the primary value of which is often educating the public.



Many of you will have followed the long running water-supply debate and noted its most recent dramatic turn. If the position taken this week by three City Councilors is indeed determinate, the extraordinarily valuable Ragged Mountain Natural Area will be stripped of tens of thousands of trees as its rugged topography is destroyed to build a massive dam and reservoir.

It has always been difficult for people not closely acquainted with the Ridge-Cherry property to understand why those who have fought for its retention as a natural asset believe as strongly as they do. Even in a slow-moving vehicle, its almost 3 acres flash by in seconds and that quick glance, which inevitably captures invasive bamboo and pervasive litter, can suggest that it is of little value. But it has great value.


In fact, the Ridge-Cherry property is in many respects a miniature of Ragged Mountain, with which it shares geological origin. It is a steep-sided wooded ravine bisected by a creek created by a natural spring that was once a deed-cited feature near the intersection of Oak Street and 4th Street N.W.

In more recent times, the declivity formed by the creek has been pressed into use as a storm drain site. That channel now carries massive amounts of polluted runoff into the heart of the property -- a highly efficient rain garden -- from which, after most runoff is absorbed, small residue leaves as a clear trickle. (This creek feeds a creek that feeds Moores Creek, the cleanup and protection of which is a declared priority of both concerned citizen groups and public agencies. Therefore, it is – as former Planning Commissioner Bill Emory noted in '09 – an integral part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.)

Left unmolested for a century and a half – and rightly considered unbuildable until the thoroughly irrational decade just passed – the property suffered serious insult after its purchase in 1999 by Dr. Hurt. An enormous bulldozer cleared a swath through it by knocking over large trees and pushing them into piles. The resulting destruction of canopy and disturbance of earth allowed various alien species – bamboo, Ailanthus, briars, brambles – to rush into what had been an almost undergrowth-free forest floor. Nevertheless, an extraordinary array of both flora and fauna remains.

In July 2004, Wintergreen Nature Foundation director Doug Coleman led a tour of the property. That event did more than any other to galvanize opposition to plans subsequently advanced by Southern Development. People saw for themselves that it was quite simply a treasure.


The property's plant stars are a towering, wonderfully healthy, double-trunked sycamore, which City Forester Tim Hughes calculated to have a circumference of more than 9 feet in 2004, and a naturalized grove of rare-hereabout Kentucky coffee trees (Gymnocladus dioica). The coffees are likely descended from trees introduced by the land's early 19th century owner, Alexander Garrett. Garrett was an associate of Thomas Jefferson, who received the tree's seeds from George Rogers Clark in 1783. (For more on these living artifacts, see Peggy Cornett's excellent article on them in the 2009 issue of Magazine of Albemarle County History .) The property also features particularly fine black walnut and tulip poplar specimens. Those are accompanied by mulberry, wild cherry, box elder, dogwood, catalpa, etc. Meanwhile, a couple of big Norway maples stand as reminders that VDOT demolished a number of handsome, hundred-year-old houses on the Ridge Street high ground in the 1970s.

As for critters, sightings have included squirrels, rabbits, groundhogs, possums, raccoons, a fox, bats, and a wide array of birds – from titmice, swallows, chickadees, cardinals, robins, blue jays, mourning doves, mockingbirds, wrens, and crows to a wild turkey, a sharp shinned hawk, and several woodpeckers including pileated.


The property's human fauna have been distinguished as well. The entire block now bounded by Ridge Street, Cherry Avenue, 4th Street S.W., and Oak Street was purchased from Alexander Garrett in 1830 by Allen W. Hawkins. Hawkins had come to Albemarle from Bedford to work as a bricklayer at Mr. Jefferson's new Academical Village and stayed on to build both buildings and builders -- white and black, slave and free. Four houses that can be traced to Hawkins' skilled hands still stand on the block, including his circa 1831 brick-cottage home at 418 Fifth Street S.W. and the landmark Greek Revival residence at 505 Ridge Street. Others stand nearby.

In 1857, Allen Hawkins was buried in a family graveyard on his property. Evidence both documentary and eye-witness points to Parcel 157 on Tax Map 29 as the site of that graveyard, which could contain as many as ten burials. Parcel 157 bore the brunt of the 1999 bulldozer onslaught. It would also bear a large portion of William Taylor Plaza, which William Park seeks to intrude even further.

Again, people, if you care whether such assets are degraded and/or destroyed by a massive project that is also a massive developer bailout please speak up forcefully and soon.

Thank you.


Antoinette W. Roades

Ridge-Cherry development proffers for rezoning again, Jan. 5, 2011 Includes 2 schematics of William Taylor Plaza, 6-page rezoning application, public notice of the Jan. 11 hearing postponed to Feb. 8.

AHIP: Affordable Housing: Treesdale Park “Treesdale Park is a planned 88-unit multifamily community, to be located on East Rio Road in Albemarle County. A mix of two- and three-bedroom units, the new neighborhood will be home to households who earn up to 60 percent of the area median income. (Sixty percent of area median income is about $36,000 for a family of four.)”

Albemarle Planning Commission weighs in on Treesdale, Sep. 1, 2007 “AHIP wants 6.6 acres to be moved from R4 zoning, which would allow 4 units per acre, to Planned Residential District which would allow between 3 and 34 units per acre. "What the applicant is proposing is 90 units," said County Planner Sean Dougherty. The plan is to have three multi-story buildings, with parking underneath. By right without a rezoning, 39 homes could be constructed. “The applicant has proffered to do 15 percent affordability, but that’s in case the developer is not able to get federal tax credits. If they’re able to do it with federal tax credits, it would be more like 100% affordability.”

County Planners approve Treesdale Park affordable housing development on Rio Rd., Nov. 11, 2009 “Because of federal tax credits, all units in the development will be made available for rental to residents who earn below 60 percent of the area median income.”

Affordable Housing Treesdale Park in Charlottesville Breaks Ground Photos of the site.

Albemarle County: AHIP Welcomes Funding for Treesdale Park: First New Affordable Multifamily Rental Community of its Kind in Greater Charlottesville in 15 Years. 11/19/2010


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