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Friday, Feb. 2, 2024

On Monday, Charlottesville City Council will hear from the public about its plan to buy a $4 million property in Belmont where officials hope to build a new homeless shelter.

The meeting promises to be active. Someone sent out unsigned fliers to residents in the Belmont neighborhood last week warning them that, “City Council votes for more unhoused in Belmont and the Pedestrian mall.”

A closeup of a flier that reads: "Large homeless shelter coming to Belmont, 405 Avon St. & 405 Levy St."

The fliers were a little misleading. The vote is happening Monday night, and even if the Council decides to buy the property the city might not build a homeless shelter on it. Though, to be clear, City Manager Sam Sanders said he hopes the site will include a space for overnight shelter beds, and possibly affordable housing.

“At this moment, that is what I would target,” he told Dexter Auction in January. “We might be able to accomplish year-round permanent shelter beds, which is very intriguing to me.”

If you'd like to make a comment about this project before Council votes, we've included instructions on how to do so in the following report:

A single story brick building with a largely empty parking lot is pictured covered in snow.
Credit: Erin O'Hare/Dexter Auction

City Council will vote Monday on purchasing land in Belmont for possible homeless shelter, affordable housing development

The reason the shelter might not happen, even if Council buys the property, is because the city has no plan for it yet. Officials don't know who would run a shelter, how it would be funded, or how to pay to build it. They don't even know if a shelter is the best use of the space — or if it might be better as exclusively affordable housing, or something else entirely. Sanders said he plans on doing studies to get a better sense of what is needed before proceeding.

But the preliminary idea is to build a shelter of some kind to help manage the city's growing homeless population. Sanders told reporter Erin O'Hare that he recognized the need for additional shelter space last fall when he briefly lifted the city's curfew in Market Street Park. Within days, the park filled with dozens of tents.

Two men surround a park bench covered with canned foods. Around them are multiple tents.

Who are the people camped at Market Street Park? What is the city’s plan?

At that time, Sanders promised the city would make addressing homelessness a priority and announced a plan for doing so. One of the action items in that plan was creating a shelter for unhoused people. Sanders asked Chris Engel of the city’s Office of Economic Development to look at potential sites for such a project. None were quite right, until they discovered the Avon and Levy properties.

This property is basically too good a deal to pass up, Sanders said. The city has the $4 million needed to buy the property in unspent American Rescue Plan money. That's federal taxpayer money that was distributed during the COVID-19 pandemic to mitigate pandemic-related issues and bolster the economy. If the city doesn't spend that money this year, it will lose it.

What's more, acquiring land like this is a tall order in Charlottesville, Mayor Juandiego Wade said during an interview on the In My Humble Opinion talk show Sunday.

“For a city that's 10 square miles, when an opportunity like this comes up, you have to try to take advantage of it,” he said.

Even if it means it'll sit for a while before the city figures out what to do with it.

Three men sit in a sound studio wearing headphones and speaking into microphones.
Credit: Screenshot from IMHO live broadcast

Charlottesville leaders promise to push developers to work with neighborhoods

That comment was part of a much longer conversation on IMHO last weekend. Wade and Sanders spoke for about an hour about multiple issues facing the city, including the city's plan for handling new developments.

That topic is front of mind for many in the city, as Charlottesville passed a new zoning ordinance that allows for greater density. How will officials ensure that the city doesn't fill only with luxury apartment buildings? It's a complex question. But there is room for hope for more affordable housing options, city leaders said. Last year, a Charlottesville developer allowed a neighborhood association to help them design a new building project in the Fifeville neighborhood.

Now, Wade and Sanders say they want that to be the norm.

“To me, it's the blueprint for how to get things done,” Wade said. “They're way ahead, because I feel a high degree of confidence that it's what the people want.”

Have a great weekend, everyone,

Jessie Higgins, managing editor

Credit: Sanjay Suchak/Dexter Auction

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Credit: Mike Kropf/Dexter Auction

Nine Charlottesville residents have sued the city to stop it from implementing its new zoning ordinance

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Credit: Angilee Shah/Dexter Auction

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I'm Dexter Auction's managing editor and health and safety reporter. If there’s something you think we should be investigating, please email me at [email protected]! And you can follow all the work we do by subscribing to our free newsletter! Hablo español, y quiero mantener a la comunidad hispanohablante informada. Si tienes preguntas o información que debo saber, por favor, envíame un correo electrónico a [email protected].