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City meetings flooded by opposition to Dairy Central expansion

A slap in the face.

A dystopian high-rise wasteland.

A repeat of 1967.

These were just a sample of the descriptions used by Charlottesville locals during recent discussion of the proposed expansion of the mixed-use Dairy Central development on Grady Avenue.

There were more people than chairs at Monday’s City Council and Tuesday’s Planning Commission meetings, as more than a hundred people attended the proceedings, many to protest construction of apartment buildings next to the existing Dairy Central complex which includes offices, the Dairy Market food hall and the 10th and Dairy apartments.

The proposed expansion includes four new buildings taking the place of vast parking lots and a collection of single-story commercial buildings including the Preston Suds laundromat, Fifth Season gardening center and nonprofit donation-based boutique Twice Is Nice.

“On the front end it may look absolutely wonderful and beautifying the neighborhood, but what is it doing to the long-term residents that already live there?” Don Gathers asked The Daily Progress on Monday night.

Gathers described the construction as “modern-day gentrification,” saying the building would drive up taxes and make the area unaffordable for long-term residents.

“I don’t have a problem at all with economic development as long as the direct impact that it may play on the community is also taken into consideration,” Gathers said.

The crowds of people who attended Monday’s and Tuesday’s meetings said they fear the historically Black 10th & Page neighborhood where Dairy Central sits is not being factored into Stony Point Development Group’s plans. Many of those residents and their supporters showed up in large numbers to voice displeasure at the proposal.

Gloria Beard has lived in Charlottesville for 50 years. For 29 of them, she has lived in 10th & Page.

“Now I want to know why all these contractors are allowed to come into Charlottesville to build these high-rise apartments that cost an arm and a leg,” Beard asked City Council.

She, like many other residents who attended the meetings, distrust Stony Point and its president, Chris Henry.

“Chris Henry told us at the beginning he was going to set aside affordable apartments for people that didn’t make high salaries. Well he set aside four [units],” she claimed.

“You advertise for people to come to Charlottesville because it’s such a wonderful place to live. For whom?” she asked council, noting the city’s large homeless population, drawing nods and encouragement from the audience.

Later, speaking to The Daily Progress, Beard said she’s retired and relying on social security.

“But these contractors don’t care about that. They’re about making money, and they ain’t worried about the people,” she said.

When Richard Hunt took the podium, he announced he was proud to oppose the Dairy Central expansion. He said the home he lives in today was purchased by his grandparents in 1946.

Upon receiving a flyer about the expansion, he thought to himself, “Oh no, not again. We’ve been through this,” he recalled.

Hunt does not oppose development, he said. But he wants that development to be smart, inclusive and take advantage of the city’s diversity. He referenced the city’s history of racial covenants, which he said stymied the tree canopy in the 10th & Page neighborhood for a long time.

“It’s my understanding that the city is doing something about that,” he told council. “Why then would we turn around and say, ‘Oh yeah, bring in steel and concrete. Seven stories of it. Block out the sun and bring in more high density,’ when what we need, obviously, are trees and green spaces and places for the community to grow.”

“I recommend we think creatively, we think outside the box, and we not just succumb to another big building,” he added.

Gathers had a suggestion of his own. If Stony Point is going to build four buildings, one of them should entirely consist of affordable housing units. A second building should address the city’s homeless population, he told The Daily Progress.

“[Henry] will still make plenty of money off the other two,” he said. “But because of the greed of individuals and of corporations, he certainly won’t do that. It’s always just more, more, more.”

“Unless this council and unless the Planning Commission steps ups and say ‘No,’ there’s nothing that’s going to prevent this particular project and other developers from coming in and doing the same exact thing.”

However council members may have felt about the Dairy Central expansion before, the large and passionate turnouts will likely leave an impression on them going forward.

“I think what became really clear is that regardless of what the objective truth is in the case,” Council Member Brian Pinkston said, “people feel let down and even betrayed after the first project.”

“It doesn’t appear [Henry] was as neighborly as he could have been as he’s presenting this project,” Pinkston said.

Council Member Michael Payne said the dissatisfaction of residents illustrated to him that many don’t believe the city’s current economic development is trickling down to them.

“They see our economic development serving wealthier people coming into the city, and they’re not only not benefiting from it, it’s pushing them out of the city,” Payne said.

One after another, concerned speakers stepped up to the podium and pleaded for City Council to reconsider OK’ing the Dairy Central expansion as currently proposed.

“I hope that when this Dairy Market phase comes to your desk, you all will think deep and hard to vote no on this project, and I am hoping that it will not become a tale of two neighborhoods,” James Bryant told council via Zoom.

“You have long-term residents who were displaced from here, right where we’re standing in the Vinegar Hill area, who were driven out,” Gathers said, referring to the historically Black neighborhood the city set about razing in the spirit of “urban renewal” in 1964 and had fully leveled by 1967. “And now they face that prospect again. Enough is enough. It’s as though this community doesn’t really want Blacks to live here.”

Local advocate Zyahna Bryant organized many of the people who attended the City Council meeting on Monday night.

“I think it’s clear from the neighbors who showed up tonight, who showed up over the past two weeks now, that there is a real distrust for Stony Point Development, for Chris Henry and for the folks who run Dairy Market,” she said.

Does she feel like council hears their message?

“We’ll keep coming if they don’t.”


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