After more than four hours of hearing from the public and discussing the project, the second phase of the Southwood Mobile Home Park redevelopment took a big step forward.
Late Tuesday night, the Albemarle County Planning Commission voted 4-2 to recommend approval of rezoning that will allow Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville to build between 527 and 1,000 homes, including housing for approximately 227 Southwood families.
Commission Chair Karen Firehock and Commissioner Julian Bivins cast the ‘no’ votes, citing unresolved issues with the proposal and a lack of time spent hammering out details with county staff.
The staff did not recommend approval.
“I think that Southwood is going to be a tremendous place,” Bivins said. “I also think Southwood is not right, right now, in phase two. I think there are some things that need to be dealt with in phase two.”
Firehock said one of the biggest debates with this project has been whose job is it to provide schools.
“All I can do as a commissioner is say, ‘are we ready for this large development with our school system?’ Right now we’re not, and I don’t see a concrete enough plan in place for us to do that,” she said.
During the public hearing, more than 20 residents of Southwood, Habitat homeowners, people who hope to buy market rate houses in the redevelopment and other community members spoke in support.
Alfredo Martinez, who’s lived in Southwood for about 16 years, said the project will give his family and his neighbors the chance to live in better housing at prices that they can afford.
“I have two sons and they love living here because they have had access to many programs, such as a good soccer program, and better schools,” he said. “It’s important to me that my children have access to these resources so they grow up in a safe and happy environment.”
Southwood resident Martha Doggett, who has lived in the neighborhood for 28 years, said her trailer was built in 1993 and it’s falling apart.
“The roof is leaking and the breaker is not working well — when it rains, the water runs behind the panel box and it’s scary,” she said. “We need these homes; it will be better for everyone.”
Ultimately, the Board of Supervisors will make the final decision, and will hold a public hearing and a vote at a future meeting. A date for the public hearing has not been set.
The commissioners supported four conditions — establish a minimum square footage for non-residential uses; identify funding strategies for infrastructure; clarify that Habitat will complete 100% of the engineering drawings for Hickory Street; and include a sunset clause for the offering of a school site to be amended or extended through discussions with county staff and the school board.
Habitat for Humanity bought the trailer park property off Old Lynchburg Road near Fifth Street Extended in 2007 with plans to redevelop the more than 120-acre site into a mixed-income, mixed-use development without displacing mobile home park residents.
In 2019, the county approved rezoning for the first phase of the project. That zoning allows a maximum of 450 residential units and up to 50,000 square feet of nonresidential buildings on 34 acres of vacant land.
Under the site plans submitted, 335 homes will ultimately be built in the first phase, including 121 low-income housing tax credit apartments managed by Piedmont Housing Alliance and 86 homes built by Habitat for Southwood residents.
Phase two, which covers about 93 acres, would rezone the property to Neighborhood Model District and provide a minimum of 527 and maximum of 1,000 residential units. A maximum of 60,000 square feet of nonresidential buildings would also be permitted.
In phase two, 227 residential units are proposed to be affordable for Southwood families, or at 80% area median income should Southwood residents leave. Space will be reserved until 2023 for at least 60 low-income housing tax credit apartments managed by another organization.
Habitat’s land-related costs alone are $161 million, said Dan Rosensweig, local Habitat president and CEO. He said there is a funding gap of about $19.9 million but federal funding is available for upgrading infrastructure. Those funds cannot be accessed until the rezoning is approved.
“We know it’s a little bit of a rush and we know that there are some things that we still need to work on, but we need this to go forward, otherwise we can’t close that funding gap,” he said.
The first phase was under review for about 16 months and had multiple work sessions, said Rebecca Ragsdale, an Albemarle planning manager.
Stacy Pethia, the county’s housing policy manager, said the county’s finance team did not recommend providing American Rescue Plan Act funding to this project because it needed to be committed and almost fully expended by the end of 2024.
“But we are looking at the infrastructure bill funding,” she said. “We are looking at various types of community development block grant programs that are out there, looking at Virginia brownfields grants. We are looking at ways that we can bring investments to this project.”
Former Planning Commissioner Pam Riley urged the commission during the public hearing to not recommend approval, saying there were some “really, really sticky issues here, and the school impact issue is the critical one.”
“This is an issue that the Planning Commission has discussed for years,” she said. “This has been a building catastrophe. We are so overcapacity [in schools] that it’s not an issue that can be ignored. It does sound like there’s an offer of selling land for a site in the neighborhood in phase two. It would be great if you could give it more time to work this out.”
County staff said they have concerns with school capacity and traffic with the proposed second phase.
Mountain View Elementary School, where Southwood students currently go, is already over capacity. An expansion of the school is scheduled to open in fall 2023 but is designed to accommodate the current student enrollment, not future growth.
Ultimately, the school system wants to build a second school in the Mountain View attendance zone to support the area’s expected growth.
“[The school division is] studying the issue and have indicated that ideally, a comprehensive school site would be 20 acres in size, and that identification of the site and construction is important prior to any additional growth in the Mountain View boundaries,” Ragsdale said.
Habitat has offered to sell Albemarle County a 5.7-acre parcel for use as a school, child care center or community center at a 20% discount. Originally there was a caveat that the county would relocate residents if redevelopment has not begun in the area, but Rosensweig offered that Habitat would relocate those residents. It was unclear if that was added as a condition.
Bivins said this didn’t seem like “an active way or an engaged way” of coming to a solution for the school capacity issues.
“This is too many people to have a tentative solution for schools,” he said.
Lori Schweller, an attorney with Williams Mullen working with Habitat, said it was the commission’s decision regarding “whether you think you want that school or you want this affordable housing.”
“We could give you millions more in proffers … But it would be at the expense of the affordable housing that you’re just not going to get anywhere else,” she said.
Bivins said he thinks they should meet in the middle.
“This is not purely an affordable housing community, so we should be truthful in the fact that there is will be well-developed community of market rate houses,” Bivins said.
Firehock said a problem is that the Planning Commission has no authority or role in funding schools or planning for schools.
“And yet we’re supposed to advise our county on whether development is right to move forward, whether they have done their due diligence to put the infrastructure in place ahead of time, so that our kids don’t have to hear how, ‘I’m sorry that you had to go to school in a trailer for a decade of your childhood,’” she said.