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Southwood rezoning hits bumps

The main road is in and open, the first two building permits have been issued and families who will live in the first village are now choosing lots.

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville’s redevelopment of the Southwood Mobile Home Park is moving forward, but while phase one is becoming a reality, the next phase is traveling a bumpier road.

Concerns about school capacity, traffic and parks are keeping Albemarle County planning staff from putting their recommendations behind the second phase of the redevelopment in Southwood Mobile Home Park.

Those concerns will make their way to the Albemarle Planning Commission at its Tuesday public hearing on the rezoning request. In a county staff report made public last week, planning staff wrote that currently the unfavorable factors of the development outweigh the favorable factors associated with this request.

Dan Rosensweig, local Habitat president and CEO, said the county’s concerns aren’t necessarily bad news. The good news, he said, is that “not recommending approval” is different from recommending denial.

“They identified four unfavorable factors which, with a little direction from the Planning Commission, can easily be addressed between a commission vote and the Board of Supervisors hearing,” he said.

County supervisors have the final say in whether the rezoning gets approved.

Habitat for Humanity bought the trailer park property off Old Lynchburg Road near Fifth Street Extended in 2007 with plans to redevelop the more than 120-acre site into a mixed-income, mixed-use development without displacing mobile home park residents.

In 2019, the county approved rezoning for the first phase of the redevelopment project for a maximum of 450 residential units and up to 50,000 square feet of nonresidential buildings on 34 acres of vacant land.

Under the site plans presently approved, 335 homes will ultimately be built in the first phase, including 121 low-income housing tax credit apartments managed by Piedmont Housing Alliance and 86 homes built by Habitat for Southwood residents.

Phase two, which covers about 93 acres, would rezone the property to Neighborhood Model District to provide a minimum of 527 and maximum of 1,000 residential units. A maximum of 60,000 square feet of nonresidential buildings would also be permitted.

In an email to Habitat supporters, the organization said it’s “absolutely essential” that the second phase get rezoned without delay to “allow hundreds of families to move from substandard housing to new homes of their own.”

Habitat encouraged people to email the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, and to speak at the public hearing on Tuesday.

“This delay imperils the production of safe, decent, affordable homes for Southwood residents,” the email said.

One major sticking point for staff is the number of children that could be sent to the existing Mountain View Elementary School when the next phase is built out when that school is currently over capacity.

An expansion of the school is scheduled to open in fall 2023 is designed to accommodate the current student enrollment, not future growth. The school division is looking for a site for a new elementary school to serve the area, and the staff report says that it “ideally requires approximately 20 acres of land.”

Habitat has offered to sell Albemarle County a 5.7-acre parcel for use as a school, child care center or community center with the caveat that the county would relocate residents if redevelopment has not begun in the area.

County staff said they believe nonprofit’s offer “does not provide the minimum standards schools has identified for a new elementary school site.”

Rosensweig said when Habitat previously asked nine years ago about adding a school site in Southwood, an unspecified county staff member and a school board member said they did not want a school there.

In March, after the sale offer was added, Rosensweig said he’s not sure if residents or the county are sold on the idea of a community school in Southwood.

“It’s hard to speak generally for the residents, but by and large, there’s a high degree of satisfaction with Mountain View,” he said. “A lot of people move to the southern neighborhood so they can go to a school that’s essentially a bilingual immersion education experience.”

Rosensweig said they can’t give the land to the county for free, but are offering a discount off market value.

“The reason we sell to market-rate purchasers is that it cross-subsidizes and allows us to build the affordable stuff,” he said. “So either we’re getting rid of affordable housing [property] so we can’t house people or we’re getting rid of the revenue stream that allows us to house people affordably.”

Although phase one of the project is moving forward and moving dirt, it has had its own issues. Shortly after the rezoning was approved in November 2019, Habitat gave the 317 families living at Southwood General Information Notices, which guarantees housing for them in the redevelopment.

“That basically says, you’re here, you have the right to remain, and we’re going to promise housing on-site for you,” Rosensweig said.

Another 17 families who moved in later were issued Move-In Notices, which say they will be required to move out once redevelopment reaches their homes, and are not entitled to replacement affordable homes. Habitat stopped accepting new residents in March 2021.

“We’re going to try to keep them here as long as we possibly can,” Rosensweig said.

Some residents who have reached out to The Daily Progress are concerned that they will not be able to afford housing in the redevelopment based on the prices they have seen and their incomes. They were fearful to speak to the media in-depth and be identified by name, citing possible retribution from Habitat as a landlord and others because they are undocumented.

Brochures at Habitat’s Southwood Design Center show homeownership pricing from $575 a month for a 2-bedroom condo up to $1,530 a month for a single family detached house with 3-4 bedrooms.

“We’ve set a minimum, it’s sort of a sliding scale, but that’s not even the bottom line either,” Rosensweig said. “Because if a family can’t pay that, then we’re going to work with them and they’ll pay whatever they can afford, even if they don’t make any money. That’s our obligation.”

Families with General Information Notices will have housing costs capped at 30% of the family’s income. Families will have to be income certified, he said, and those eligible for the deeper subsidy below the published minimum price will go through a verification process that is more intensive.

Rosensweig said Habitat is looking to hire five new bilingual staff members who will talk with every family in Southwood, similar to what Habitat did in 2012.

“Now that people have a better sense of what we’re building, what prices are and we can provide a little bit more information,” he said. “This isn’t just ‘fill out a form.’ This is sitting down with every family. We hope to complete that by the end of this summer so that the communication will have gone both ways.”

Originally, Habitat was not planning on relocating any families’ trailers in phase one, but 26 families were moved due to construction issues and another 66 families were moved due to septic fields leaking into the redevelopment. There are also septic issues with portions of phase two.

In a presentation to the Albemarle Board of Supervisors last week, Stacy Pethia, the county’s housing policy manager, said Habitat’s estimated costs for the entire project total $154.7 million.

“I do have ongoing concerns about resident retention as this process goes forward, and I look forward to hearing more about that as well,” Supervisor Jim Andrews said after the presentation.


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