The Madison County Planning Commission is considering an ordinance change that would allow for multi-family units to be created on a piece of property zoned R-3 near the Madison Food Lion.
Originally, the 8.3 acre parcel located on Courthouse Mountain Road was thought to be an ideal spot for senior housing. It was rezoned from B-1 Business to R-3 Multi-family residential in February 2009 with conditions, the principal one being the restriction to housing for those 55 and older. However, a detailed study concluded regional demographics would not support an exclusively senior development. In January 2019, the property was rezoned again, this time to amend the conditions and most notably, remove the senior housing restriction.
Now, a new developer is hoping to again change the property to increase the density. Currently, R-3 restricts development to no more than eight townhouses or detached dwelling units in any one grouping and no more than eight dwelling units in any multiple family dwelling except for those housing older persons. In the latter case, dwelling units are capped at 60 units.
Developer Jen Surber of Surber Development and Consulting, a multi-family housing developer, is hoping to develop the site, which is currently owned by Carlyle Weaver, into apartments utilizing Virginia Housing tax credits. Formerly known as VHDA tax credits, the credits are awarded through a competitive application process each spring. Once constructed, rental units within the tax credit program are offered at below market rates to qualifying individuals and families. The rent depends on household income levels and would likely fluctuate somewhere between $310 and $1,165 per month.
In order to make the project financially feasible, Surber has requested an amendment to the R-3 zoning allowing for more units. Ideally, she has said a single apartment building would be constructed with 48 units allowing for additional amenities on the site.
According to county planner Ligon Webb, multi-family housing is something the county has been in need of for some time. In 2018, the U.S. Census estimated ,1385 full-time rental units in Madison County. The rental vacancy at the time was 0.3% indicating a lack of supply. As of Aug. 14, 11 rental properties were listed in Madison County via Zillow with monthly rents of below $1,000 for four of the units and above $1,500 for six of them.
“We know the demand is there,” he said. “As the [zoning] is written, it’s currently a max of eight units per building. It becomes not feasible. [The developer] has approached us to change the footprints of the buildings to increase density and make it more feasible.”
There are a few ways the density could be increased. The commission could opt to amend the R-3 zoning, which would affect other R-3 zoned properties in the county although there aren’t many; or could require Surber to apply for and obtain a special use permit for the project.
Commissioner Pete Elliott said he isn’t a fan of the SUP, stating the ordinance should stand for itself.
“This piece of property is one of the few zoned like this with the water and sewer taps to do this,” he said. “I’m not a fan of an SUP. It’s a bad way to fix an ordinance.”
Commissioner Daniel Crigler agreed, although commissioner Peter Work said the density change would be a big one. However, he did say goal eight of the county’s comprehensive plan focuses on the need for affordable housing.
“My feeling is its so far beyond what’s there, it’s appropriate for an SUP,” Work said.
Commissioner Nan Coppege said before retiring, she had worked hard to get a senior housing development to locate within the county and lots of people were disappointed when that didn’t happen. She said many of the seniors moved to Orange where housing was available. She said perhaps they would move back if something like this was constructed.
Commissioner Fay Utz pointed out that the county also has lots of young, low-income families.
The commission was expected to meet in a worksession to discuss the matter Tuesday after press time.
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