The need for affordable housing outweighed the risks of building in a floodplain in the Charlottesville City Council’s approval this week of zoning for a Nassau Street property that would bring lower cost living quarters to the city.
The council on Monday gave unanimous approval to change zoning of 0 Nassau Street to add 10 new apartments to the city’s affordable housing offerings. The rezoning would result in two five-unit buildings on the property.
The development’s status has been up in the air for some time due to concerns from community members about the property’s location on land defined as a floodplain by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
City Council was set to vote on the rezoning in December 2021, but in response to citizen concerns about rezoning the floodplain, City Council delayed the vote and asked staff to provide a presentation addressing the floodplain concerns.
The proposed development was designed by Shimp Engineering, P.C. for owner Franklin Street Land Trust III. Developer Justin Shimp has said the goal is for the units to be affordable and the development is intended to be environmentally sustainable.
The property is in a floodplain of Moore’s Creek, which runs into the Rivanna River. The development would be located in between other duplexes built by Habitat for Humanity and the Thomas Jefferson Community Land Trust.
City Neighborhood Development Services staff say the idea that building in floodplains is inherently risky. Wherever the legally defined floodplain line is, nature is inherently unpredictable and does not always stay within the lines. While there is a great deal of study and science behind the work, there is always a possibility of flood and damage.
“Living [in the floodplain]; there’s some implicit risk with that,” city engineer Jack Dawson said. “More people living there means more risk taken on.”
Dawson said, there are ways to mitigate risk if city engineers and the developers are proactive.
“We need to make sure we communicate the city’s role and expectations to work together as partners,” he said. “[And] make sure that applicants are held accountable and meet an acceptable standard.”
Dawson said the city works in partnership with FEMA to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. This way, Dawson said, FEMA agrees to make flood insurance available and the community agrees to adopt and enforce floodplain management regulations.
Nicole Scro, representative for the owner, said they are pursuing soil certifications before they dig and plan to use materials and building practices to prevent mold development.
“I feel very comfortable about it being safe and about it being a healthy environment for people to live in,” Scro said.
Due to the need for more affordable housing in the city, Neighborhood Development Services staff recommended City Council approve the rezoning, but with proffers in place.
Agreements in the rezoning include limiting building heights to no higher than 35 feet. The design must also not change from what the developers presented to City Council.