At 501 Cherry Avenue in Fifeville, on the site of the old Estes IGA Foodliner, something unusual is happening.

Unusual not only for Charlottesville, but for development projects across the United States. A neighborhood association asked to have a major say in what a developer put on its site. And the developer said yes.

The Fifeville Neighborhood Association, Woodard Properties and Piedmont Housing Alliance worked together to propose a new development and ultimately signed a type of contract called a community benefits agreement (CBA) memorandum of understanding. This type of agreement is so rare, just a handful are signed in the U.S. each year, said attorney Julian Gross, one of the nation's foremost experts on community benefits agreements.

This is so unusual in part because developers of projects like 501 Cherry Ave. are not required to meet the needs of neighboring residents. So an agreement like this, where residents are actually involved in the planning process, is something that community members rarely have. Especially those in historically low-income areas facing gentrification pressures that displace longtime residents, like Fifeville.

In this instance, Woodard Properties' decision to engage in this process dramatically changed the purpose and scope of the development it intended to build. Instead of building apartments that cater to wealthier folks, as it originally planned, the proposed project serves the longtime and low income residents around it.

“If they didn't have that agreement, I feel like Woodard would just be like, ‘Okay, we'll just sell it to the highest bidder,' or, ‘We're going to build something there that's going to make us money,' that doesn't cater to the people in this neighborhood,” said Neisha Allen, who grew up in Fifeville.

All three parties involved in the MOU have said they are pleased with the outcome. So, with the agreement an apparent success (at least so far), it might be easy to conclude that this should become standard development practice in Charlottesville. Right? That's unlikely, said Gross and others familiar with these types of contracts. Though, there are a few circumstances where it could.

Community benefits agreements offer neighborhoods power, and developers accountability

Community benefits agreements, sometimes also called memorandums of understanding, aren’t all that new, said Gross.

He has more than 20 years of experience negotiating them — in 2001, he helped negotiate the Staples/L.A. Live CBA for the neighborhood surrounding a massive, multi-billion dollar sports and entertainment stadium complex for teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, in downtown L.A.

That agreement “set the precedent for what is considered a successful CBA,” according to All In Cities, an organization advocating for community empowerment.

Since the developer, Anschutz Entertainment Group, stood to make billions of dollars in profits from the complex, more than 20 neighborhood organizations got together to ask the developer for a few things for their own community.

They negotiated for at least $150 million in community benefits commitments for a range of issues, including hiring folks from the neighborhood to work at the complex and paying them a living wage; investments in affordable housing, in public parks and open spaces.

The neighborhood got those benefits, and the developer got community support for its complex. The city gave the project the OK, and ground broke on the L.A. Live complex in 2005.

It's difficult to summarize the effects that agreement has had on that community so far, said Gross.

“It's hard to know what to compare it to,” he said. “I think none of these projects, and none of these CBAs, should be held accountable for the overall economic development or cultural development, or lack thereof, for an entire neighborhood. That's too much to pin on the CBA, or even the project.”

Instead, it's better to ask what would have happened if there was no CBA, Gross said. Would there be no project, because there was no public support for it? Is that better or worse than having a project with a CBA? Better or worse than a project without a CBA?

Each agreement is different.

“But the principle behind CBAs and the values that they reflect, are definitely more broadly applicable,” Gross said.

Those values include: transparency about what the project offers the public; true community representation and involvement in creating the project; and accountability (as in, can the agreement be legally enforced).

“Those values, I think, are adaptable to almost any project, in any situation,” said Gross.

Now, Charlottesville is not Los Angeles, and the 501 Cherry Avenue proposal is not a massive sports and entertainment stadium. But the values that Gross talked about are present in the agreement the Fifeville Neighborhood Association negotiated with Woodard Properties and Piedmont Housing Alliance.

And it was the neighborhood association's idea.

Fifeville had an active and informed neighborhood association.

By the time Woodard Properties bought the 501 Cherry Ave. property for $3.5 million in August 2022, it had an existing relationship with the Fifeville Neighborhood Association. The two worked together on the Fifeville Trail restoration project in 2022.

But the Fifeville Neighborhood Association established itself as a strong voice in its community even before that.

In 2008, the city sold a piece of land on the corner of Ridge Street and Cherry Avenue to a developer. Fifeville residents were under the impression that it would become more housing. But a few years later, in 2015, the developer announced its plans to build a hotel in addition to some apartments.

An areal view shoes a largely vacant lot next to a city street. The lot is surrounded by trees and a few houses and larger buildings with rolling hills in the background.
TheMarriott Fairfield Inn & Suites is visible in the upper right corner of the photo. It is one block from Woodard Properties' proposed new development. Sanjay Suchak/Dexter Auction

“The neighborhood was not happy,” said Matt Alfele, a city planner who oversees projects proposed for the Fifeville neighborhood.

Marcia Johnson, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1993, said she had no idea it was even happening until construction started. And her home is just one block away.

More about Fifeville

“That really sparked the neighborhood to try to have something in place that would help reflect the neighborhood and the neighborhood's vision for development, really, along the Cherry Avenue corridor,” said Alfele.

The neighborhood association asked the city for help. So, city planners worked with them to create the Cherry Avenue Small Area Plan. City Council adopted it in early 2021, officially making it part of the city's Comprehensive Plan.

The small area plan focuses on the unique wants and needs of the neighborhood, as laid out by the residents themselves. Some of those are big-picture things, like wanting to be a neighborhood that fosters local businesses, that respects existing residents and the neighborhood's history. Others are more detailed, like wanting more bleachers for the basketball courts at Tonsler Park. Some are seemingly at odds, like wanting more low-cost housing but no tall buildings, said Alfele.

Now when a developer wants to do a project in that area that requires a rezoning or a special use permit, it must comply with the small area plan. That's what Woodard Properties had to do for its 501 Cherry project.

Because Woodard Properties and the Fifeville Neighborhood Association had an existing relationship, both asked the other to collaborate on the project.

Woodard Properties CEO Anthony Woodard knew right away that he wanted to try to put a grocery store on the site. In the creation of the Cherry Avenue Small Area Plan, residents cited a grocery store as a priority for the neighborhood. Fifeville had one, Estes IGA Foodliner, for generations, but it closed in 2002, and longtime residents said they missed having access to fresh food that they could afford.

Woodard also wanted to help out the Music Resource Center. Currently located on Ridge Street just on the edge of Fifeville, the youth music nonprofit needs a new home — the building it's in right now is for sale.

Twice is Nice, a local nonprofit whose sales of secondhand items benefits seniors, heard about that plan and asked if it could rent space there, too. The shop's current storefront, on Preston Avenue, is likely to be torn down and redeveloped, maybe soon.

But, the first plan that Woodard Properties brought to the city, in March 2023, didn't go over so well with the Planning Commission — or with the neighborhood.

With its application, Woodard Properties proposed two structures: a six-story apartment building, and another, separate building with commercial and grocery store space. Altogether, it would contain between 87 and 110 apartments, space for the MRC and Twice is Nice, and the grocery. To meet the city's affordable housing requirement for the housing portion, the developer offered six of those apartments — one more than the minimum — to be rented below market rate.

The Planning Commission liked the proposal, but thought the company could do more on the affordable housing side of things.

So did the neighborhood association.

When Woodard Properties and the Fifeville Neighborhood Association first met to talk about the project, the neighborhood association asked for 100% affordable housing on the site. But that seemed impossible to the developer. The company couldn't figure out how to make it work financially — and if the project is going to lose money, no bank will finance a loan to build it in the first place, said Woodard.

Woodard thought maybe the company could do a 100% affordable apartment building on another of the many sites it owns in the neighborhood.

“But then we started thinking, we don't know what the economy looks like next year, what the market conditions would be,” said Woodard. “We didn't want to make a promise we couldn't keep.”

Similarly, the neighborhood association didn't want to be on the receiving end of a broken promise. And even though it has a certain amount of trust in Woodard, it wanted more than a verbal commitment.

Sarah Malpass, vice president of the Fifeville Neighborhood Association, is also a certified planner through the American Institute of Certified Planners. She suggested the neighborhood association and Woodard Properties create this thing she'd heard about at work: A community benefits agreement.

Woodard Properties agreed.

As the two parties worked, Woodard still couldn't figure out how to meet the neighborhood's affordable housing request. During a community engagement meeting, Fifeville residents gave Woodard and the company's director of real estate development, Chris Virgilio an earful, said people who attended.

Some were angry that there wasn't more affordable housing in the project; others said it was too much housing, period. Some thought the project had potential, but asked for tweaks. Others worried about the six-story height and about the traffic about 100 apartments would bring to Cherry Avenue, already a congestion nightmare at rush hour. A few said they didn't want it to happen at all.

Woodard Properties asked local housing nonprofit Piedmont Housing Alliance, an expert in building housing for low-income families, for advice. They wanted to know: Could PHA build a smaller-scale apartment building and make it 100% affordable to low-income households?

Yes, said Piedmont Housing Alliance, by applying for the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program. The nonprofit joined the project, and the agreement, to make it happen.

With an affordable housing expert involved, and the neighborhood's asks clearly defined, Woodard Properties went back to the drawing board and came up with a new — and drastically different — project proposal.

Though the new proposal still had commercial space for community nonprofits and (hopefully) a grocery store, the buildings were smaller. And though the number of apartments was lower, all of them would be available to low-income households.

An architectural rendering shows two buildings on a property. In one of the buildings is labeled a potential grocery store and, above that, apartment residences. The second building is labeled the Music Resource Center and Twice is Nice, with apartments on the upper stories.
The latest rendering of the project from BRW Architects. Currently, the plan is for both buildings to be four stories tall, but lower in the back near residences. There will be apartments on the top two floors of both buildings. Courtesy of BRW Architects

City Council unanimously approved it in September.

The community benefits agreement “played a significant role in my decision to support the project,” said City Councilor Michael Payne, though he was “most compelled” by the affordable housing component. Plus, “it provided clear evidence that the developer had worked with the community to identify what neighbors wanted to see in the project.”

Currently, the plan is to build two new four-story buildings (the current structure, the old Estes IGA, is falling apart and will be torn down). One will house the MRC and Twice is Nice on the ground floor, with apartments above it. The other will have a commercial space intended for a grocery store, also with apartments above it.

Woodard Properties will retain ownership of the grocery store space, but that's it. The company has promised to sell retail condo space to the MRC and Twice is Nice for below-market rate. That way, both organizations can own their own spaces and stay put for a while.

Piedmont Housing Alliance will buy a portion of the land from Woodard Properties and will secure funding for, build, own, and manage the apartment building. The organization intends to build at least 65 apartments, all of them affordable to low-income households at different income levels.

Woodard Properties will still earn money, though less than it would if it had gone ahead with its initial plan. “Much less,” said Anthony Woodard. The company will receive a developer fee to manage and coordinate the project — that's how many nonprofit housing developers operate, but it's unusual for a for-profit developer.

There will be about 100 parking spaces for the entire complex. The planned sidewalk in front of the project will be about 15 — instead of just three — feet wide.

All of these changes happened because of community input.

The 21-page document outlines the relationship between the three parties involved, as well as what each party hopes to see, and pledges to do, to continue their shared vision for this project even after construction ends.

For instance, the neighborhood association said it will create a list of neighborhood residents with certain trade skills and certifications, and the two developers have agreed to hire people from the neighborhood for various jobs whenever possible.

The developers have agreed to prioritize an affordable grocery store, as well as facilities that directly serve Fifeville residents, whether or not Twice is Nice and the Music Resource Center end up buying their spaces. Already, they've hired architects who are working with the neighborhood association and residents on things like the exterior treatment of the buildings — paint colors, landscaping, murals and public art, among others.

People sit at lunch tables in a school cafeteria listening to someone giving a presentation.
BRW Architects held a design meeting with community members at Buford Middle School the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023. Erin O'Hare/Dexter Auction

Not everyone in the neighborhood is on board.

Unsurprisingly, Fifeville residents disagree on the value of the project — and the agreement neighborhood leadership and the developers say will guide it.

“I don't want to stereotype developers, but I don't trust them,” said Marcia Johnson, whose home on Fifth Street is about as close to the project site as one can get. (Marcia Johnson has no relation to Dorenda Johnson, though they both live in Fifeville.)

“And I don't trust the city, I just don't. I feel like the city has done nothing but lie, lie, lie, lie, lie,” she said. “My family comes from Vinegar Hill. My church came from Vinegar Hill. We had to move from Vinegar Hill. We were displaced. We moved to where the hospital is now, and then we had to move, we were displaced, again.”

She fears it will happen yet again, that, despite all the work she's done to own her home and keep it nice, it will be taken from her in one way or another.

An aerial view of Charlottesville.
In this view, the 501 Cherry site is in the middle foreground of the photo. The Tonsler Park basketball courts are to the left. Many of the tall buildings in the middle background are the UVA Health System, which has grown significantly and contributed to a lot of change in the neighborhood. Sanjay Suchak/Dexter Auction

She also feels as though the city hasn't been forthcoming on various projects, including the Marriott Fairfield Inn & Suites hotel that went in on the corner of Cherry Avenue and Ridge Street — the one said she didn't know was happening until construction started.

I know people need to have a place to live,. There's no such thing as affordable housing in Charlottesville. I'm all for it, and I want people to live affordably, and comfortably, and good. But don't always stick them in apartment buildings.

—Dorenda Johnson, Fifeville

Marcia Johnson doesn't totally trust Piedmont Housing Alliance, either. In the early 2000s, the nonprofit constructed or rehabilitated 31 homes in the 10th & Page neighborhood, where she grew up. Most of the homes — 71% — were sold, using subsidies, to people earning an average of about $29,000 per year, which at the time was 52% of the area median income. The rest of the homes were sold at market rate. Fifty-six percent of the homebuyers were people of color, according to Piedmont Housing Alliance.

A lot of longtime residents weren't happy with it, according to a 2017 story in C-VILLE Weekly. People in the neighborhood were upset because they felt most folks in the neighborhood couldn't afford it, “which was probably true,” John Gaines, a former 10th & Page neighborhood association president, said at the time. The housing nonprofit's leadership has changed since building that particular development.

Johnson bought her home in Fifeville in 1993 and said she'd never be able to afford it now, even though her husband, former Buford Middle School principal Eric Johnson, has a good job at UVA. She questions why every affordable housing project has to be apartments. She wants to know why the 501 Cherry project couldn't include some small homes with yards, or town homes, instead.

(The answer, according to Piedmont Housing Alliance and Woodard Properties, is that an apartment building offers more affordable housing than a few small homes or townhomes. And in order to qualify for government programs that fund affordable housing, they have to promise a certain number of units, and that can only be accomplished on huge pieces of land or with apartment buildings.)

Like Marcia Johnson, Dorenda Johnson, a longtime resident of Prospect Avenue in Fifeville, doesn't trust Woodard Properties or the city. She grew up in a house at the corner of Ridge St. and Cherry Ave.streets — a house that no longer exists. In fact, it was where the Fairfield Inn and 525 Ridge apartments are now. She loved that house, which had a few apartments in it, but she especially loved the yard, where she had a little garden of zinnias.

Dorenda Johnson would like a grocery store, as well as space for the MRC, but doesn't want to see an apartment building or the traffic that would come with it, on Cherry Avenue.

“I know people need to have a place to live,” she said. “There's no such thing as affordable housing in Charlottesville. I'm all for it, and I want people to live affordably, and comfortably, and good. But don't always stick them in apartment buildings.”

However, she does like what Piedmont Housing Alliance has done with some of its projects, including the apartments and townhomes at Kindlewood, formerly Friendship Court.

There's even some distrust among residents and neighborhood association leadership. A few of the folks Dexter Auction spoke with believe that the neighborhood association leadership might have thought differently about the project if it were as close to their homes, as it is to theirs.

Marcia and Dorenda both say the city and developers could earn residents' trust by being transparent and honest. And by genuinely listening and responding to neighbors' concerns, instead of brushing them off.

So far, Marcia has had numerous conversations with Woodard Properties' Virgilio, mainly around the traffic and parking issues she worries the development will bring to her street.

In the center of the photo, a woman stands on a sidewalk. There is a house to the left of the photo and a narrow street to the right.
Marcia Johnson stands on 5th Street SW, where she's lived since 1993. Her home is one of the closest to the planned development at 501 Cherry. In this photo, Johnson faces Cherry Avenue; West Main Street is in the background behind her. The pink house she's standing next to is a good reference for scale and location in the other photos throughout this story. Erin O'Hare/Dexter Auction

Marcia wants to see the city do more about preventing displacement, too, like broadening its tax relief program to middle class households so that people can stay in their homes.

Neisha Allen, who is 25 years old, is also concerned about displacement. But she thinks this project could help with that.

Allen grew up in Fifeville, living with her grandmother and two siblings in the Greenstone Apartments on Prospect Avenue, behind Tonsler Park. She currently lives in an apartment in Albemarle County, because she can't afford to live in the city, nevermind her own neighborhood.

“I love Fifeville,” said Allen. “I like the sense of community. I could go over there today and still know some of the people who live over there. It's family-oriented, and it's close to a lot of different things.”

She spoke in support of all aspects of the 501 Cherry project because “there's a desperate need for affordable housing, as well as things for the community to have, for kids and older people to do. Around that area, everything is becoming more for UVA students, or people who are not from that neighborhood. It's a prime location, close to the Downtown Mall, close to UVA.”

She feels as though developers have built in Fifeville because the location allows them to build housing that would attract people with more money. “But people who actually work here and live here cannot afford it anymore.”

U.S. Census data analyzed by Dexter Auction backs up what Allen has seen. The data shows that in 2013, Fifeville was economically diverse, with household incomes distributed relatively evenly across the income spectrum. However, more households fell into the lowest income bracket — earning $20,000 or less per year — than any other.

But by 2021, just eight years later, more Fifeville households fell into the highest income bracket — earning $100,000 or more each year — than any other.

Allen noticed that during neighborhood meetings about the project, neighborhood elders were mostly skeptical of the project whereas young people like herself were mostly supportive.

Sakib Ahmed, who bought a home in Fifeville three years ago, is one of those younger folks. He moved to the neighborhood for its sense of community and its location: he can walk to Tonsler Park, to the city's only mosque, and to the halal grocery on West Main Street.

Ahmed, who serves on the city's Board of Zoning Appeals and spoke with Dexter Auction as himself and not as a representative of the board, said he wholeheartedly supports the project because of the housing component. He understands concerns about parking, but said that if he has to park his car a little further away and walk to his house so that more people can afford to live in his neighborhood, so be it.

Tron Jackson, a recent high school graduate who just started work at Raising Cane's on the UVA Corner, co-wrote a letter in support of the project as well.

“I think it's pretty cool that they're actually trying to do something with it. It hasn't been nothing for a few years,” he said of the site.

A young man sits on a park bench, smiling, on a sunny day. 
Tron Jackson is one of the young Fifeville residents who supports the 501 Cherry project. The white building in the background is the old Estes IGA/Kim's Market, which will be torn down to make way for new development. Erin O'Hare/Dexter Auction

Though Jackson is skeptical about the traffic it'll create, and wonders where everyone is going to park, he's excited about the possibility of a grocery store. He has fond memories of going to Estes with his grandma, and thinks a store “could bring the community closer again. You would just know everyone.”

He's excited about the MRC, too, even though he's too old to be a member now. He thinks it's important for neighborhood kids to have that resource — and maybe an arcade, too, he said.

But Jackson's main reason for supporting the project is housing.

“My parents and my aunts talk about this all the time, about the housing being very bad, very expensive around here,” he said, mentioning in the same breath that his mom has worked the same job for 18 years.

“People need housing they can afford,” Jackson said. “It's very harsh around here.”

Allen has experienced some of that harshness herself.

“There shouldn't be people getting homeless, people that are young, freshly graduated high school, homeless out here. It shouldn't be happening. People working two or three jobs and still cannot afford to have an apartment, or have nowhere to go. But I've been there. I was sleeping at different people's houses,” she said. “I'm 25 years old and I just got my own apartment, and it was a struggle to get this.

“That's what I was trying to explain for a lot of older people. I get the trust issues between things that happened in the past, like Vinegar Hill. But also, my generation, we don't have the same opportunities,” Allen continued. Previous generations were able to buy homes, or to rent apartments for a smaller portion of their income, if they worked hard. That's not true anymore, she said.

There shouldn't be people getting homeless, people that are young, freshly graduated high school, homeless out here. It shouldn't be happening. People working two or three jobs and still cannot afford to have an apartment, or have nowhere to go. But I've been there. I was sleeping at different people's houses.

—Neisha Allen, who grew up in Fifeville

Allen and Ahmed both appreciated the neighborhood association's facilitating of the community benefits agreement.

“I like it,” said Allen. She feels that if there was no agreement, the project would not be for the people currently living in the neighborhood.

That the development is relevant to the neighborhood is crucial, said Rosa Ayers, who is in her 70s and retired from Charlottesville Public Schools. She and her husband were the first Black family to live on Forest Hills Ave. in Fifeville, where they bought a home in the 1970s.

“The neighborhood is quite different,” Ayers said, and she had mixed feelings about the project. She likes the idea of a grocery store, the MRC, and more housing — as long as they're affordable to the people who actually live in the neighborhood. And yet, “it just seems like a lot for a small space.” When she goes to visit her friend, Marcia Johnson, she struggles to find a place to park.

“That's the changes, and I guess we have to accept them,” Ayers said. “As they say, go with the flow, so, I'm going with the flow.”

Fifeville had a lot going to support a community benefits agreement.

As Charlottesville continues to grow and its landscape continues to evolve, people might wonder whether this type of agreement could become the gold standard for development projects in Charlottesville. The answer is — maybe.

The agreement for the 501 Cherry Avenue project happened because a number of things aligned, and at the right time.

One is that the Cherry Avenue Small Area Plan already existed.

(There are a few other small area plans throughout the city, like at Rio and Hydraulic Roads, and there could be more. The city is looking at doing others in neighborhoods where low-income residents and residents of color are being displaced — like 10th & Page.)

Piedmont Housing Alliance's Sunshine Mathon is convinced that because the Fifeville Neighborhood Association had already been through the small area plan process, it was better equipped to advocate for the neighborhood during the agreement-writing process.

“That's an argument for, in particular the areas that are facing major gentrification pressures, to prioritize small area plan work that's truly rooted in the community,” he said.

Woodard's proposal is the first project of this kind that has come through since the Small Area Plan passed. He thinks the plan influenced how the project has come along so far, but it's still too early in the process to know for sure. A lot of developments change in the design and site planning phase, in part because of the physical limitations of sites themselves, he said.

“I will say, if — and it's a big if — if it's developed as proposed, it should really reflect a lot of the goals of the plan,” Alfele said.

Another reason why this agreement worked out as it did, particularly in the amount of affordable housing it's offering, is because the property is located in a Qualified Census Tract. That means at least 50% of households in that Census tract have incomes below 60% of the Area Median Income , or have a poverty rate of 25% or more, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

A map of the city of Charlottesville with areas highlighted in purple.
This map shows the Qualified Census Tracts for 2023. The 501 Cherry Avenue property is where the blue square is — if it were one block east, it wouldn't qualify for special funding, which would make building affordable housing on the site a lot more difficult. Courtesy of U.S. Office of Housing and Urban Development

“That is a game-changer,” said Piedmont Housing Alliance's Mathon. It allows the nonprofit to apply for a special kind of government funding, called the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC, pronounced lie-tech) 4% Tax Credit program, to help build the housing component of the project. The funding pool they'll be applying to is a little less money than other LIHTC programs, but it's also much less competitive, so they're more likely to get it.

Third, all three parties were willing to participate in the agreement.

“You have to have willing parties,” said Mathon. Willing — and patient — parties. These agreements require huge investments of time and can appear to slow things down, he added.

“Though, I would argue, on the back end, it saves you time from unanticipated conflict, or misunderstandings, or having to backtrack,” he said.

These types of agreements wouldn't make sense on every site in town, because they could slow things down, and prevent needed growth.

On the other hand, “there are probably a good number of sites in the city where a partnership agreement like this would be valuable for everybody — the developer, the community, the city,” Mathon said. “And when I say valuable, I say it in terms of relationship building and community visioning. It could be a really powerful tool.”

City Councilor Payne also thinks that this agreement could be something other neighborhoods and developers look to as a model in the future.

“Particularly for larger projects along commercial corridors, I believe MOUs/community benefits agreements that outline what a developer is expected to deliver — including partnerships with affordable housing nonprofits to construct deeply affordable housing — could be a model for what should be necessary for a project to get approved,” he said.

He's not the only Council member happy with the agreement.

“I was delighted to hear that a level of formality was added on to the whole thing,” said Councilor Brian Pinkston. “I think that's wise — for all parties. Sometimes people forget things, if they're not laid out in an MOU.”

City councilors aren't the only city officials paying attention to the agreement. City Manager Sam Sanders is, too.

During a recent public forum about housing and real estate in Charlottesville, Sanders said that agreements like this one, between developers and a neighborhood, could go a long way to preserve the existing culture of a neighborhood. He said he has strongly encouraged the 10th & Page Neighborhood Association and Stony Point Development Group, builders of the Dairy Central complex, to look at the 501 Cherry agreement as Stony Point contemplates a second phase of the project.

In an early community conversation about that project, 10th & Page residents brought up many of the same concerns Fifeville residents have about development in their neighborhood, primarily that it will continue, or even expedite, the displacement of longtime, low-income residents. Like Fifeville, 10th & Page is a majority Black, historically low-income neighborhood that is increasingly becoming more white and wealthy, according to U.S. Census data. And like many Fifeville residents, many 10th & Page residents also don't trust developers based on previous experiences. Sanders thinks a community benefits agreement could help the neighborhood feel like it has more of a say in the conversation.

“That's the example, the model of what needs to happen around the whole city,” Sanders said during the forum. “That any developer that wants to do development in this community, look at what you saw happen on Cherry Avenue.”

At the very least, Carmelita Wood, president of the Fifeville Neighborhood Association, hopes it becomes standard practice in her own neighborhood.

“The neighborhood association believed that the MOU would be an additional piece of the puzzle in helping to stop displacement in Fifeville,” said Wood. “This agreement is a way to capture the neighborhood's vision for our community, to provide community-building, and to hold all parties involved accountable to its commitment to the community.”

She hopes that in the future, the neighborhood will partner with even more businesses and organizations to realize that vision.

In the foreground of the image, a woman stands with her hands clasped at her waist, smiling slightly. Behind her, an empty parking lot and a brick building.
Carmelita Wood, president of the Fifeville Neighborhood Association, stands on the 501 Cherry site. Wood, a lifelong Fifeville resident, is a staunch advocate against displacement. Sanjay Suchak/Dexter Auction

And the vision for 501 Cherry is still just that — a vision.

It's possible that despite putting in the good-faith effort required by the agreement, Woodard Properties will not be able to get a grocery store tenant that could meet the community's need for inexpensive, but still high quality, food. They're still looking for one, and Anthony Woodard said recently that he's calling all around to see if any local grocery chains are interested.

It's possible, though unlikely, that Piedmont Housing Alliance won't be able to fund the apartments. The nonprofit can't apply for the funding until they're further along in the process, specifically after there's site plan approval (which is different from the zoning approval the project already has).

It's possible that they won't be able to hire people from the neighborhood to work on the construction, or the maintenance, of the various buildings. For instance, most insurance companies won't insure a construction project unless everyone on the team has certain certifications.

It's also possible all of these plans could fall apart if something major comes up during the next step, the site planning process. It's possible the project won't happen, and in that case, the agreement could be rescinded by any of the three parties.

Though, neither the residents, the neighborhood association, Piedmont Housing Alliance, nor Woodard Properties want that to happen.

Only time, and effort, will tell.

I'm Dexter Auction's neighborhoods reporter. I’ve never met a stranger and love to listen, so, get in touch with me here. If you’re not already subscribed to our free newsletter, you can do that here, and we’ll let you know when there’s a fresh story for you to read. I’m looking forward to getting to know more of you.