Alfredo Martinez wasn’t sure when the day would come.
He’s lived in the Southwood Mobile Home Park for 15 years and Habitat for Humanity’s planned redevelopment of the property seemed like a distant dream.
“A long time has passed since we first heard about this project that would bring better and safer houses for the families that live here,” said Martinez, whose words were translated by Jordan Lindbeck. “Today, we can say thank you God, thank you Habitat and thank you everyone who has worked in some way to make this dream a reality.”
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville held a groundbreaking and ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday to kick off the first phase of the redevelopment.
Habitat bought the property off Old Lynchburg Road near Fifth Street Extended in 2007, and it plans to redevelop the site into a 700- to 800-unit mixed-income, mixed-use development. Habitat expects to do the project without displacing any of the current residents.
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The redevelopment project has been led by residents, who are working together on design and plans.
Gov. Ralph Northam, who spoke through a pre-recorded message, praised residents’ involvement.
“Your role in this revitalization effort is paramount to building a community that reflects your vision and your values,” he said. “Your efforts will continue to serve as an outstanding example of how community involvement is vital to any redevelopment project.”
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors approved a rezoning request for the first phase of redevelopment in August 2019. The rezoning covered 34 acres of vacant land and allowed for up to 450 residential units and 50,000 square feet of non-residential space.
Last year, the board also approved an agreement with Habitat for the redevelopment of the site that could give the organization $3.2 million if certain milestones are met.
Officials started Friday with a groundbreaking at what will be the intersection of the existing Hickory Street and New Horizons Boulevard.
The Rev. Cass Bailey, who led a prayer before the event, praised the “wonderful projects” that were built “on a foundation of thankfulness.”
Lourdes Vazquez, who has been a resident of Southwood for more than 11 years, thanked all who took part in the planning process.
“Today, we can say that dreams can come true when working as a team,” she said.
Erik Johnston, director of the Virginia Department of Housing and Urban Development, lauded the project as a “model best practice.”
“Transformation can happen when it starts with residents working together with different partners to expand affordable housing,” he said.
Ahead of the groundbreaking, Dan Rosensweig, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville, said due to COVID-19, Habitat has moved its community engagement online.
“It was a little bit of a logistical challenge, helping people get access to the internet, helping people get access to computers,” he said. “But we did that in pretty short order and have been doing weekly Zoom calls with the resident planners and have kept the engineering work and the site plan approvals moving.”
Rosensweig said Habitat is on schedule and expects to see buildings going up in the first village in late spring or early summer. Of the 75 homes in that village, between 46 and 49 of the units will be affordable.
The first village will have condos, townhomes and single-family attached and detached homes.
The second village will have approximately 50 units, and around half or more will be for current Southwood families.
“We’re looking at in the first phase — and these things are subject to change a little bit as you go through the final engineering process and the site planning process — a total of about 340 units, of those, 214, give or take, are going to be affordable at different levels of affordability and 126 will be market rate homes,” Rosensweig said.
Albemarle County Supervisor Donna Price, who was not on the board when it approved the rezoning, said she was initially concerned about displacement of residents.
“But it looks to me like it’s going to work,” she said on Thursday.
She said she still has a little apprehension as to what, when it’s completely built out, changes will be felt by the community with an increase in the number of people in the area.
“It’ll be interesting as we see, for the future, what the community looks like,” Price said. “I hope that the community doesn’t lose a major part of its identity.”