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Rivanna flood plain development rejected by Charlottesville City Council

A controversial proposal to build a Rivanna River-hugging apartment complex hit a major obstacle Monday evening when a unanimous Charlottesville City Council voted against it.

The council’s 5-0 vote endorsed the Charlottesville Planning Commission’s recent determination that certain aspects of the so-called circus grounds development contravened the city’s Comprehensive Plan and have therefore voided the developer’s opportunity to connect with public streets.

“The planning commission embraced a procedure that is expressly provided and reached its decision,” city attorney Jacob Stroman told the council shortly before its vote.

The council was acting on an appeal from a lawyer for Seven Development LLC, the contract purchaser of about 23 acres of riverfront land on the city’s eastern edge near such landmarks as High Street and Free Bridge. These tracts played host in the 20th century to traveling carnivals and circuses, but as the proposal’s detractors have pointed out, the land has also played host to overflowing waters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has declared much of the property a “Special Flood Hazard Area,” more commonly called a 100-year-flood zone.

While opposition has focused on concern that building 245 apartments inside the flood plain could harm the ecology and worsen downstream flooding, much of the planning commission’s opposition was based on the stubbed nature of two proposed streets and a proposal to create a public amenity in the form of a parking lot on flood-prone land.

“The public features were deemed approved as of August 1,” reads the first of four written allegations by Valerie W. Long, blasting the planning commission’s Aug. 8 finding as moot since it allegedly came more than 60 days after her client’s submission was filed.

“We continue to contend that once it was submitted to staff that’s when the 60-day window began,” Long told City Council.

“The appeal of the petitioner is not meritorious,” the city attorney fired back inside council chambers.

The simultaneously forceful yet formal language and the fact that the bulk of Monday’s dialogue came from lawyers are clues that this controversy may not be over. Additionally, the contracted seller of most of the land, Wendell Wood, has experience in suing a local government, Albemarle County, after one of his proposals was blocked.

Any appeal of the city council’s action would go to the Charlottesville Circuit Court, according to longtime Charlottesville real estate attorney Cheri Lewis.

“Time frames in Virginia are very important,” Lewis told The Daily Progress. “Vested rights are really important for any applicant.”

Seven Development is led by Edward “Bo” Carrington. Earlier this year, in a manifestation of his eagerness to meet the technical requirements of what has widely been called a by-right proposal, a company he controlled acquired a gateway to High Street.

City records show that a Carrington company paid $685,000 for the property that had long been operating as the Double Horseshoe Saloon. The saloon closed its doors at the end of August.

When contacted the morning after the vote, Long, Carrington’s attorney, declined to comment on possible next steps but said she needed to check with her client.


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