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Charlottesville planners offer feedback on land use map proposal

The latest version of a potential future land use plan presented to members of the Charlottesville Planning Commission on Tuesday emphasized additional housing density in some areas.

The plan includes land use categories assigned to properties, which serves as a marker to community members and developers about which kinds of projects the community wants to see on a site.

The future land use map is a part of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which is a guide for local land-use decisions, which was last updated in 2013. The zoning code hasn’t been substantially revised since 2003.

Officials started updating the plan in late 2016, but it was partially derailed by a push to focus on affordable housing in the fallout of the 2017 Unite the Right rally. It came to a halt the following year when city planners realized updating the plan and zoning code was too much for Neighborhood Development Services staff members, who said they already were overworked.

The consulting firm Rhodeside and Harwell Inc. received a $926,000 contract in October to finish the update, which is expected to wrap up by the end of this year. The process has taken longer than initially expected and a full plan is now anticipated no later than June 2021, followed by a zoning rewrite.

During a Tuesday work session, representatives from the consulting firm, including urban planner Ron Sessoms, presented the commissioners with the latest draft of the map.

The map was divided into corridors and nodes, which represent block face parcels usually along a major road, and larger, mixed use focus areas.

Some key themes of the map are an emphasis on housing affordability, racial equity and land use/design elements, Sessoms said.

“We’re providing more housing opportunities, including affordable housing, and we’re including those areas where people want to live,” he said. “These will be places near parks, schools, transit city services and employment centers and where we can provide more affordable options to those community amenities.”

Another goal of the map has been supporting community wealth-building through enhanced homeownership opportunities, Sessoms said. This will involve increasing the availability of housing in single-family neighborhoods that have historically had exclusionary zoning, while minimizing community disruption and displacement in low-income neighborhoods, he said.

The presentation largely focused on several nodes and corridors throughout the city and proposed changes that, in many cases, would allow for more housing density.

Throughout the presentation, commissioners would occasionally chime in with suggestions for changing to the map draft.

In the current plan, the Jefferson Park Avenue corridor is categorized as an urban mixed-use corridor, which encourages higher intensity, mixed-use development.

Commissioner Rory Stolzenberg suggested zoning the area in a way to allow for more density due to its popularity with University of Virginia students.

“We should really focus on just jamming as much as we can into this area to keep those students contained and stop them from spilling out into the rest of the city,” he said. “Along JPA I think it would be appropriate to go potentially even higher.”

Another note presented to the consultants was focused on the pictures used in the presentation, the majority of which showed constructions not from Charlottesville. Before presenting information to the general public during the next step of the drafting process, Commissioner Liz Russell suggested finding local examples.

“Those buildings connotate new developments plopped down in a cityscape and what we have is an existing historic fabric,” she said. “We have good urban design and we actually want to make sure we retain it and treat it appropriately.”

Many of the corridors and nodes came with suggested height limits, which Commissioner Lyle Solla-Yates questioned on several occasions. When talking about neighborhood mixed use corridors, Solla-Yates asked why the consultants limited the height of buildings to four stories, citing a five story limit that was considered in 2018.

Sessoms said the recommendation was based on neighborhood context and feedback they had received, though no harm would be done by raising the recommended story limit.

“I remember when we did the future land use framework for West Main Street a couple of years ago, there was a lot of concern from the community about looming buildings next to adjacent residential areas,” Sessoms said. “So when we start to suggest these lower heights in the fabric of these communities, we just want to be careful on how tall we get and make sure that the public is comfortable.”

Following the presentation, Chairman Hosea Mitchell emphasized to the consultants the need to consider the impact changes could have on Black homeowners in residentially zoned areas.

“So as you guys begin to think about density increases, just remember that you need to also bring equity into the equation and think about how much of the Black community in this city are living in [R1 zoned] areas we need to make sure that we protect,” he said.

Next, the consultants and urban planners will revisit the plan and make changes suggested by the Commission before moving on to a round of community input some time in April.

According to project manager Jenny Koch, the presentations will look to distill the information and changes into widely understandable ways and will make sure a wide swath of community members of varying racial and economic backgrounds are included in the conversation.


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