The Charlottesville City Council on Monday voted to deny a special-use permit for a small apartment complex on Monticello Road.
The city’s Planning Commission had recommended approval of the 11-unit complex last month on a narrow vote.
Shimp Engineering was seeking the permit on behalf of Piedmont Realty Holdings III LLC to build the project on a 0.81-acre property. The land is currently a vacant parking lot next to an existing apartment building.
The proposal discussed by the Planning Commission came with five units for people making up to 65% of the area median income. Developer Justin Shimp said during that meeting that the units most likely will be one-bedrooms. According to federal guidelines, fair market rent for a one-bedroom unit in Charlottesville is $1,077, Shimp said.
During Monday’s meeting, several residents spoke against the project, arguing that it would not do enough to address the affordable housing crisis.
Brandon Collins, with the Public Housing Association of Residents, was among them.
“Nobody has a right to that special use — but what they should be doing is either showing that they won’t have an adverse impact, or that they can provide some benefit to the community,” he said. “I think if you look at the past actions of the property owner, you can see that the adverse impact has already occurred and is likely to occur in the future.”
Laura Goldblatt told the council that the proposed apartment complex would not address the issue of affordability in the neighborhood and would exacerbate issues caused by gentrification.
Paraphrasing comments made by a colleague, Goldblatt said, “trickle-down housing simply does not work — it just means you’re growing towards gentrification in the worst meaning of the term. She also said creating affordable housing is not easy, and it requires a commitment.”
Don Gathers also spoke in opposition, referring to the “constant elephant in the room: affordable housing,” and wondering aloud how often developers are denied SUPs.
“At some point, it would just be good to just say no, not all money is good money,” he said. “And if it’s something that’s detrimental, or even if not detrimental but not truly beneficial to the greater good of the community, then I think that it would be an appropriate time to say no.”
Shimp addressed concerns of affordability, which he argued the complex would assist in combatting.
The initial submission was for the complex to be affordable for those with 80% annual median income, but was reduced to 65% of AMI, a number that is consistent with the city’s housing policy, Shimp said.
According to Shimp, the proposal has locked in various changes, including the number of affordable units and the architecture plan.
“What you will find, and I’ve seen in my years working around here in Belmont, is that investors have come along, snatched up single-family houses and converted them into rentals, and that has happened over time because of a lack of available housing,” he said. “The 11 units themselves help with that situation.”
Following about 45 minutes of discussion and questioning, Councilor Michael Payne moved to deny the permit, citing community feedback and the potential for displacement the project could cause.
Councilors Heather Hill and Lloyd Snook voted against the decision to deny the permit but the vote carried with Payne, Sena Magill and Mayor Walker affirming the motion to deny.
Earlier in the meeting, the council was given an update of COVID-19 case numbers and vaccinations.
According to statistics presented by Ryan McKay, with the Blue Ridge Health District, there have been 39 deaths from COVID-19 in Charlottesville and 110 in the broader district. However, in the last several weeks, the number of new positive cases has dropped and the health district believes the surge may be over.
The district is currently in a mixture of phases 1A and 1B and is receiving around 2,850 doses a week from the state. Given the small stream of vaccines and the large number of people who fall into phases 1A and 1B, McKay said it could take a while before vaccines will be available for those who fall into phase 1C.