A housing project in Albemarle County geared toward sheltering the chronically homeless took a step forward Tuesday night.
The county Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of a proposed rezoning of a property on U.S. 29 currently occupied by the Red Carpet Inn for approximately 140 affordable apartments between two buildings and a mixed-use office building.
Virginia Supportive Housing, the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless and Piedmont Housing Alliance proposed the project, which would help house local people who are chronically homeless, meaning they’ve been homeless for at least a year continuously and have a disabling condition.
“This is what I get out of bed for as a Planning Commissioner, these kinds of projects that have this kind of community impact,” Commissioner Corey Clayborne said. “The affordable housing, ending homelessness, the redevelopment — the list goes on.”
The commission also recommended approval of a special exception request to allow for one housing type on the property, which is situated just north of Westfield Road.
Some commissioners were concerned about the types of green space in the proposal, the maintenance and adequacy of Premier Circle, which is a private street, and pedestrian access across U.S. 29.
“I don’t think we should hang our hats on trying to get across Route 29,” Commissioner Karen Firehock said. “… I’d be more interested in looking at options for a shuttle that can take people to different places before I would spend money on trying to get across Route 29.”
Currently, the 3.75-acre property is zoned C-1 Commercial, and the organizations are asking for a rezoning to Neighborhood Model Developments, which would allow for a non-residential or mixed-use building fronting U.S. 29 and two multi-family residential buildings on the back of the site.
The future land use plan in the Places 29 Master Plan, which is part of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, shows the area as Office/Research & Development (R & D)/Flex/Light Industrial. Residential is a secondary use of that designation.
The Comprehensive Plan is the county’s guiding document for its long-term vision for land use and resource protection, and includes master plans for the designated development areas of the county. County staff and the Board of Supervisors look to the Comprehensive Plan as part of the rezoning process.
County staff were concerned with Premier Circle being a private street, no adequate pedestrian crossings of U.S. 29 and the lack of amenities provided for children.
An engineer from Timmons Group estimated it would cost at least $500,000 to upgrade the road to public road standards.
“I think that we have to look, in light of what we were just doing last week with our supervisors and the work that so many staff members, community members and we appointed and elected officials have put into thinking about affordable housing, and decide … whether this is a point where the county, because there are other nonprofits besides the housing nonprofits involved in this, are willing to put some dollars in the bucket to make this be the kind of project that we would all like it to be,” Commissioner Tim Keller said.
VSH is proposing a four-story 80-unit building composed of 100% studio apartments for single adults, which would be affordable to those making 50% or less of area median income. PHA is proposing 60 mixed-income one-bedroom and two-bedroom units, which depending on financing would be for those making between 30% and 80% AMI.
Area median income is currently $93,900 per household, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The organizations are planning to pursue Low Income Housing Tax Credits in March for the first building, pending a rezoning request for the site, and construction would begin in 2023. In March 2023, they would pursue a second round of LIHTC money.
Before and during construction, the motel would be used as emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness.
During the public hearing, Anthony Haro, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition For The Homeless, showed a graph with the number of people who are chronically homeless in the area, which went from 76 people in 2012 when The Crossings opened, down to 32 people in 2014.
“We have clear, local evidence that this works, that Virginia Supportive Housing’s project, The Crossings, worked to decrease chronic homelessness by half, which is pretty amazing,” he said. “… Since then it’s really been pretty flat, and so another project has been needed to get us right to the threshold of functionally ending chronic homelessness in Charlottesville.”
Chris Hawk, with Piedmont Environmental Council, said the organization was concerned about Premier Circle being a private road and adequate pedestrian facilities.
“Private roads should be avoided as they could cause significant fiscal impacts to future property owners and residents. Especially with low-income housing being involved, this is a very important point,” he said. “PEC recommends that the county require the interior roads be built to the appropriate standards for incorporation into the public network. If this is not possible due to the 80% concurrence requirement in the road maintenance agreement, PEC recommends denial.”
Charlottesville Area Community Foundation Director of Programs Eboni Bugg said the foundation was “poised to make” a $4.7 million investment in the project. As a county resident, she said she concurred with the comments and some of the concerns made related to the pedestrian crossing.
“However, we do not necessarily feel that this development should bear the full brunt of the pedestrian needs,” she said. “As a resident, I believe that the county can work with these nonprofit entities to ensure that municipal funding and support can be used to support the infrastructure and updates needed to make this a success.”
The Board of Supervisors is tentatively scheduled to hold a public hearing on the project Feb. 21.