Members of the Charlottesville Planning Commission applauded a proposed project to build affordable housing on a local church’s property on Tuesday, which could help the project move forward.
Park Street Christian Church has partnered with the Piedmont Housing Alliance (PHA) to build about 50 affordable apartments for seniors on the church’s property. Bruce Wardell, president of BRW Architects and lead architect for the project, led the presentation, which discussed the scope of the project and addressed concerns raised at a community forum on Aug. 10. The Planning Commission did not take a vote on Tuesday, but provided advice and discussed the vitality of the project proposal.
Colleen Swingle-Titus, Park Street’s pastor, told The Daily Progress earlier this month that she wanted to pursue building affordable housing on the church campus to help community members in need and to be a good steward of the church’s empty land.
“It seems silly for churches to just kind of hoard our gifts rather than share them if we’re supposed to be good stewards,” she said.
The plan is to build two buildings with 50 apartments and 54 parking spaces total. One building would contain 27 two-bedroom units accompanied by 27 parking spaces. The second building would contain 23 total units — three, three-bedroom units, 10 two-bedroom units and 10 one-bedroom units. That building would be accompanied by 27 parking spaces.
The PHA is applying to the city to rezone the property and will lead efforts to finance the venture and receive low-income housing grants. Rental prices have not been determined yet, but all of the apartments will be considered affordable They will pursue tax credit through Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, which accounts for approximately 90% of low-income housing in the United States, but will have to be in line with LITHTC guidelines, which vary.
Wardell said the main concerns he’s heard from the community are increased traffic, adequacy of provided parking and preservation of existing trees, sidewalks and trails on-site. The project team made some changes to the original plan after hearing these concerns in order to avoid critical slopes and limit the number of trees that would have to be removed.
Community members have voiced concerns about parking overflow into the neighboring community of Locust Grove neighborhood. The project has to meet specific parking requirements under zoning laws. PHA Director Sunshine Mathon said the team has evaluated other senior properties that the organization operates in Charlottesville and the surrounding area, such as Carlton Views II and Timberlake Place Apartments to determine an appropriate number of parking spots.
PHA’s informal assessment of the parking needs is around three quarters of a parking spot per apartment.
“However, because we’re in a neighborhood where there is some on-street parking but not a ton, we have to also allow for visitors, jobs and other types of parking, and we don’t have a whole lot of overflow capacity without impacting the neighborhoods significantly,” Mathon said. “We felt like this is the right balance point between keeping parking at a minimum as low as we can but also not overburdening the neighborhood with potential peak flow of visitors and jobs and other uses.”
Members of the Planning Commission asked the project team to consider accessibility for walking and bikes as well as bicycle parking so residents won’t have to own cars.
“You’ve certainly got me thinking about the importance of transit, and an ability to access that … certainly be thinking about the accessibility of the site for those without vehicles,” said commissioner Liz Russell.
Commissioner Rory Stolzenberg asked the project team to consider adding an additional sidewalk to the property to improve pedestrian access.
“Senior communities, increasingly, are bicycle communities,” said commissioner Lyle Solla-Yates. He asked the project team to consider this in their planning and also said it is possible the team could receive bike access related waivers.
The project team will receive comments from city staff through December. In January, the Planning Commission will tentatively hold a hearing to decide whether to rezone the church property. In February, City Council will hold its rezoning hearing. If approved, construction on the project is slated to begin in the summer of 2023.
The timeline is driven by a low-income housing tax credit application process that ends in March 2022.
“The project will not happen without low income housing tax credits,” Mathon said.
Planning Commission chair Hosea Mitchell said the public has four to five months to provide feedback to the commission before they make a recommendation.
Swingle-Titus told The Daily Progress earlier this month that she understands concerns of community members and has taken these into consideration in the planning.
“We all have that sensibility, so I don’t judge folks that are worried about how this might impact their neighborhood. Those are valid concerns, but we’re going to do our best to be good neighbors and also help people that really, really need our help,” she said.
Park Street isn’t the first church to pursue a project like this. In 2019, the City Council unanimously voted to rezone 750 Hinton Ave. from residential to neighborhood commercial so Hinton Avenue Methodist Church could create a 15-unit apartment building. Four to six units will be set aside as independent housing for people with developmental disabilities, according to the church. The Hinton Avenue United Methodist Church also is working with the Piedmont Housing Alliance in applying for low-income tax credits.
Some members of the Planning Commission voiced their excitement for the project as a needed part of the solution to the affordable housing crisis in Charlottesville.
“I’d like to applaud the church. and everyone involved in the project. It seems like a great proposal for exactly the sort of need we have in the community, and it’s great to see you guys coming together and using your land to make this happen,” Stolzenberg said.
“I think that it is very skillful in its design of minimizing the impact of multi-unit larger buildings within a residential district, very nicely preserves the beautiful slopes, the trees and works well with the church … I think this is a fantastic start to the project,” said commissioner Jody Lahendro.
Solla-Yates said he thinks this is a project the community can take pride in.
“Many people have a very negative view of affordable housing, sort of this idea … that it’s a negative for the community, maybe it’s crime, maybe it’s litter. This, at least in concept, strikes me as a different story and I think a more positive one that’s more relevant to the people of the city of Charlottesville,” he said.