By

Sean Tubbs



Dexter Auction

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The

Charlottesville City Council

is poised to select

Habitat for Humanity

and

Southern Development

to develop 3.5 acres near the city’s Oakwood Cemetery.
“If this is done right, we can send a message about the development principles we want,” Councilor

Kathy Galvin

said.





A conceptual drawing of the Habitat/Southern plan. Elliot Avenue is on the right hand side of the image (Source: City of Charlottesville)

The land is undeveloped because the city has used the site as a landfill.

“It has been used as a site to receive construction debris for a number of years,” said

Jim Tolbert

, the city’s director of neighborhood development services. “We’ve had soil borings done and there is at least 20 feet of [debris].”
The city held a design charette in early 2011 to solicit ideas on how to develop the property, which is a 10-minute walk from downtown.
“The consensus of that discussion was that the future development should be of a scale that related to existing development, should respect the cemetery, but should be at a density appropriate for a prime downtown walkable location,” Tolbert said.
Last October, the city issued a request for proposals to develop the property.
One was from a team consisting of Habitat for Humanity and

Southern Development

and another was from a team consisting of Milestone Development, the

Piedmont Housing Alliance

and the

Jefferson Area Board for Aging

.
The Habitat/Southern team offered to pay $10 for the property, but also has agreed to pay for the entire cost to clean up the site. They propose to build 47 residential units with 20 percent of the houses designated as affordable.
The Milestone team offered to pay $550,000 for the site, but would deduct the costs of cleanup from the price. The team also sought a $500,000 loan from the city to cover any other mitigating costs.
The cost to clean up the site is unknown, but Tolbert said staff estimated it would cost more than $550,000.
Tolbert said staff recommended the Habitat/Southern proposal because they would partner with the

Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority

and Region Ten. He added the proposal would involve less financial risk to the city.
Former City Councilor

Blake Caravati

owns land adjacent to the property and urged the council to consider the Milestone proposal, of which he was a development partner.
“Our plan calls for up to 80 units,” Caravati said. “So the [additional] tax revenue will easily ameliorate any problems that happen up front with the clean-up.”
Former

City Council

candidate

Brevy Cannon

, also an adjacent property owner involved with the Milestone proposal, urged the council to go against staff’s recommendation.
“It’s an important decision for one of the last big pieces of property in Charlottesville,” Cannon said. “We do think our proposal did a better job of creating connections with downtown network of roads.”
Cannon said Southern Development had already played a large role in the development of central Charlottesville and that another company should get the opportunity. Southern built Burnett Commons across the street and also has plans to develop the

William Taylor Plaza

proposal at the corner of

Cherry Avenue

and

Ridge Street

.

Dan Rosensweig

, executive director of the local Habitat for Humanity, said

Southern Development

would assume all the financial risks involved with the project.
“We’re not going to ask for a dime of [city funding],” Rosensweig said.
Galvin, a practicing architect, said she supported the Habitat/Southern proposal because she said it fit better with the landscape.
Councilor

Dede Smith

said she would have liked to have seen a full presentation from both proposals, but leaned toward the Habitat/Southern proposal because it would build fewer units in the city.
“There’s a limit to density, so I hate to see every little green space packed as densely as possible,” Smith said.
However, Smith said she wanted assurances that the units designated as affordable would go to current city residents.
“Because this is a city asset being given away, I think we have some right to insist that city residents are served,” Smith said.
A majority of councilors agreed to allow staff to enter into contract negotiations with the Habitat/Southern team. A final vote on the matter will be taken at the council’s next meeting on May 7.

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