Two adaptive reuse projects will move forward after Lynchburg City Council voted Tuesday to approve a request from a developer to increase the number of lofts and decrease the amount of commercial space at a property on Kemper Street and approved a lease agreement with a local farmer to build an organic urban farm on a vacant city-owned lot.

City Council voted 5-1 Tuesday to approve a request from Oliver Kuttner, of M.T.E. Inc., to amend his original site plan at 1415, 1417, 1501 and 1505 Kemper St. to increase the number of lofts from 57 to 111 as well as decrease commercial space by about 40,000 square feet.

City Council members Treney Tweedy, MaryJane Dolan, Beau Wright, Turner Perrow and Sterling Wilder voted to approve the request and Councilman Jeff Helgeson voted against. Councilman Randy Nelson did not attend Tuesday’s meeting.

The Kemper Street properties now are mixed-use with both residential and commercial spaces. Kuttner plans to put a combination of one-, two-, and three-bedroom lofts in the buildings and reduce the size of an auto shop at 1501 Kemper St. to add 10 units to the site.

The studio-style apartments range from 400 square feet to 800 square feet, but Kuttner said some are much larger at 1,600 square feet or 2,000 square feet and some of those will be reduced to make way for new apartments.

Russ Nixon with Nixon Land Surveying — who represented Kuttner during the meeting — said the apartments are targeted for students and other singles who want to live in affordable housing and have easy transit to downtown.

Helgeson said the amendment to the original site plan — approved in 2007 by city council — would double the amount of residential space on the properties, which originally were zoned for industrial use.

“When I look back at 2007, if they said they wanted to change industrial-zoned land to 80% residential, council would have said no,” Helgeson said. “What they asked for was 39% residential. Things have changed and now they are flipping that around to where there only will be 20% commercial and the rest residential.

“Proffers were given to say this wasn’t going to be a bunch of apartments,” he said. “I realize the market has changed, but I don’t think we need a bunch of apartments in the area.”

Perrow disagreed.

“Like Councilman Helgeson, I’m loathe to change industrial zoning to something else,” Perrow said. “But over time you have to recognize that conditions change in neighborhoods and this has become a neighborhood.”

Wright also expressed support for the developer during the meeting.

“I actually think this is a pretty exciting project,” Wright said. “It’s an adaptive reuse of a facility that has been underutilized. It has the potential to be an important part of the revitalization of the Kemper Street corridor.”

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, City Council voted unanimously to approve a three-year agreement with William Layton, of 3 Ridge Organics, to lease a city-owned property on Rutherford Street for use as an experimental organic urban farm.

The three-and-a-half-acre lot at 300 Rutherford St. includes a 3,750-square-foot garage adjacent to Lynchburg Grows, a nonprofit urban farm. Layton said he plans to grow produce inside the abandoned garage and erect new greenhouses at the site.

Layton plans to use his self-devised farming system to grow produce year-round, using very little water and energy and without any chemicals, fertilizers or pesticides.

As part of the three-year lease, Layton agreed to provide 15 to 20 pounds of produce to each of the city’s seven recreation centers every week in lieu of rent. Layton will pay $1,375 per month in rent in the second and third year.

Several city council members expressed support for the urban farm. “This takes an inactive area and turns it into a productive one,” Perrow said. “I think this is going to be a really good thing for Lynchburg.”

Layton on Thursday said he expects to start moving into the space on Rutherford Street as early as next week.

“I’d have moved in the next day if I could have,” Layton said. “I can’t wait to get in there and start growing. I love feeding people.”

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Shannon Keith covers Bedford County for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5530.

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