The developer managing the renovation of Charlottesville’s Jefferson School is seeking to rezone the property to accommodate a cafe.
Project manager L.J. Lopez, who works for Stonehaus, said that during discussions with potential tenants, project organizers have sought to incorporate a food establishment in the former all-black school.
“A for-profit restaurant is not necessarily the reason why we’re seeking the rezoning,” Lopez said. “We’re not seeking the rezoning in an effort to go after Applebee’s. But it will be a tenant that [fulfills] the mission.”
Stonehaus was brought on to manage the project, which will turn the building into the Jefferson School City Center, last year. In refurbishing the school, members of the Jefferson School Community Partnership have sought tenants that are mainly educational in nature or service-based.
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Talks have gone on for years to restore the building, turning it into a community gathering place that would preserve the school’s history and provide a range of services for area residents. Examples of potential uses listed on the project’s Web site include language schools, a bookstore, an art gallery, an artist workspace, a clinic, adoption services and an employment agency.
Lopez said the project is expected to cost roughly $17 million, and it will be funded with a combination of city money, tax credits and private funding.
The Jefferson School was built in 1926, adjacent to the old Jefferson Graded Elementary School that was constructed in 1894. The newer building functioned as an all-black high school until 1951, when it was converted into an elementary.
The school was closed 13 years later. It then was primarily used as classroom and office space, as well as for housing preschool and Piedmont Virginia Community College programs. The school shuttered its doors for good in 2002.
Those involved with the redevelopment project have still not divulged prospective candidates, with the exception of the school’s two future anchors — the 9,368-square-foot African-American Heritage Center and a refurbished Carver Recreation Center, which will measure 20,979 square feet, according to the project’s Web site.
Lopez said there are no other definite tenants yet, as no leases have been signed, so he could not say which organization wants to have a cafe.
“I think it would be a good fit for it,” said former Councilor Julian Taliaferro, who is a member of the Jefferson School partnership. “I don’t think it would be out of character.”
Taliaferro added that in the partnership’s discussions, it has also talked about possibly having culinary training. Of the potential food establishment, Taliaferro said it would be nice to have one so food could be served during events and programs.
“We want to have something that’ll attract people there, too,” he said.
City planner Nick Rogers said the city, in its initial assessment, thought that a proposal to change the land’s zoning from the least-intensive commercial zone to the next one in the city’s sequence would be most appropriate. Rogers said a B-2 zoning classification would allow for the cafe to be built, but, “it wouldn’t bring the same land-use intensity to the parcel as would a rezoning to downtown, which is adjacent, or the West Main Street north zone, which is also adjacent to the south.”
The latter two zones allow for large maximum-allowable heights, up to 101 feet by special-use permit. A B-2 classification, though, would allow for a 45-foot maximum.
Rogers said there were no building augmentations or height increases proposed as part of the school project.
Lopez said construction is anticipated to begin this fall, and completing it and the site work would take roughly 12 months.
A community update meeting on the project will take place at 6:30 p.m. April 29 in the Jefferson School auditorium.