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Pushback over expansion sends Dairy Market developer back to drawing board

Five years ago, when he first won approval for Dairy Central, an ambitious mixed-used redevelopment facing Grady and Preston avenues, developer Chris Henry was congratulated for meeting the objectives of Charlottesville’s comprehensive and affordable housing plans. Over the past few weeks, however, Henry said he has learned the project’s neighbors don’t believe the project and its planned expansion are meeting those objectives at all.

So he said his team will regroup and reconfigure.

“The look of the project will change based on the feedback we’ve been getting,” Henry told the Daily Progress.

Henry’s pivot comes after a contentious confab, one that his Stony Point Development Group arranged at Old Trinity Church, a house of worship-turned-meeting space and part of the original Dairy Central redevelopment. There on July 25, his team set up oversize renderings showing upscale, seven-story apartment buildings. To some of those in attendance, Henry’s dreams for the space were nightmarish.

“We’re going through a modern-day Vinegar Hill,” said Rosia Parker as she clutched one of the renderings. “We can’t even barely afford to eat at the Dairy Market, let alone to live.”

Parker took center stage to express concern that a development team with no Black women on its three-person staff released images showing murals of Black women on a proposed building.

“That’s an oversight, and we should remove it,” said the developer.

“What were you even thinking?” asked Parker. “We can’t live in there, but you’ve got us as a mural in new modern-day Vinegar Hill gentrification.”

Now widely viewed as a tragic mistake in the annals of urban planning, Vinegar Hill was one of hundreds of American neighborhoods bought or seized from their owners and bulldozed in the 1960s using federal funds under the banner of so-called “slum” clearance. Many such “urban renewal” tracts, including Charlottesville’s historically Black Vinegar Hill, sat empty for decades before redevelopment.

By contrast, within three years of a green light from City Hall, the developers of Dairy Central built 180 residences, renovated a former milk-bottling plant into a food hall with space for 17 local food and beverage businesses and created 50,000 square feet of office space, including an entire floor for the nonprofit Virginia Humanities. No residences were taken.

Prior to its redevelopment, the site housed a catering company, an Irish pub and a battery shop, but the lion’s share of the Dairy Central property was a used car lot and an array of wholesale warehouse spaces surrounded by rusted chain-link fence.

Five years ago, the redevelopment was predicted to boost city sales, meals and other taxes emanating from the site more than 11-fold: from $130,000 to $1.5 million annually. While efforts to verify tax receipts hit a privacy roadblock at City Hall, the publicly accessible property value of the first two phases has leapt from $5 million to over $52 million.

But whether these job and housing opportunities are trickling into the surrounding 10th & Page neighborhood was the subject of some debate on July 25. In economics, an increase in the supply of something, such as apartments, should create downward pressure on prices. At Old Trinity, several people suggested the exact opposite was happening.

“That is just raising up taxes for the ones already struggling to pay their taxes,” said Parker.

Zyahna Bryant, a recent University of Virginia graduate best known for her successful petition to remove the city’s Confederate monuments, said she grew up in 10th & Page and agreed with Parker that rising property values will push out long-term residents.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s really centering us,” said Bryant.

Also at the meeting was her grandmother, Vizena Howard, who raised questions about where construction workers building more than 400 new apartments would park and about the fate of Preston Suds, a laundromat with a nearly two-decade track record of providing access to clothes-washing machines for car-free neighbors.

“They’re going to have to walk all the way to Hydraulic Road,” said Howard. “Are you going to give them bus fare?”

The other possible displacements on the 4.4 acres eyed for the expansion are several retail businesses that have, by their own admission, received year-plus warnings that their leases were expiring. A donation-based, nonprofit consignment shop called Twice is Nice has already announced that it will move to the redeveloping IGA grocery site on Cherry Avenue.

One incident hanging over the recent community meeting was a possible overreaction to the youthful warm-weather pastime of pool-hopping. On April 27, according to emails obtained by The Daily Progress, a property manager bolstered security and urged residents to call police after some “neighborhood kids” reportedly slipped uninvited into the swimming pool designed for the residents of the 10th and Dairy apartments.

“Maybe we should do a community takeover pool day,” mused Bryant.

“You’d have all of us in handcuffs,” said her grandmother. “That would be really nice.”

“I don’t think that would be very nice,” Henry replied.

One topic that occupied at least 15 minutes of the meeting was the recent exit of a Black-owned soul food stall in the food hall. Some saw the recent demise of Angelic’s Kitchen after two years as a failure of the Dairy Market, or at least an indicator that it isn’t sufficiently attuned to the historically Black 10th & Page.

Owner Angelic Jenkins was the first entrepreneur to sign a lease at the Dairy Market, but said the sales there never matched her food truck business.

“There was not enough business coming in to support the rent and payroll,” Jenkins told the Daily Progress. “The business just wasn’t there.”

Since leaving the food hall in February, she has said she plans to refocus on her food truck operations.

Former neighborhood President Rebecca Wells said there’s something of a demographic mismatch, and she contrasted a discount grocer and an upscale restaurant.

“The people in the community shop at Reid’s,” Wells told The Daily Progress. “They don’t shop at Citizen Burger.”

Reid’s is not in the proposed path of the Dairy Central expansion.

After the July 25 meeting, Henry said he did agree to one of Bryant’s requests: that he allocate some funding for someone who could convene further neighborhood discussions about shaping the project.

“We are reviewing proposals for someone who would be paid,” said the developer. “We wouldn’t expect someone to do this work for free.”

Meanwhile, posters have started appearing in the neighborhood surrounding Dairy Central touting an upcoming Thursday meeting of a new group called Respect the Neighbors Cville.

“Say no to the Dairy Market expansion!!!” reads one such flyer taped to a utility pole on 10th Street just outside the Dairy Market food hall.

Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook said that because the project’s developer hasn’t submitted its proposal to city staff that he doesn’t expect City Council to have anything to consider this year.

“I’ve been getting a lot of emails saying, ‘How could you possibly be considering this?’” Snook told the Daily Progress. “We haven’t actually received anything, and to say we are considering anything would be wrong.”

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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