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Charlottesville releases draft zoning approach report

Charlottesville is one step closer to its zoning code rewrite, which city leaders want to address the city’s affordable housing goals.

The city has released a 118-page draft zoning diagnostic and approach report, and it is holding a four-hour open house June 27 for residents to review and comment upon.

“It’s a conceptual plan for future zoning ordinances and what could be in the new zoning ordinance,” said James Freas, director of Neighborhood Development Services for the city.

Charlottesville’s Department of Neighborhood Development Services has been working in partnership with a consultant team from Rhodeside and Harwell on a three-part process called Cville Plans Together. The zoning ordinance rewrites is the third and final part of the process. The zoning code hasn’t been substantially revised since 2003.

Earlier efforts focused on creation of an Affordable Housing Plan, endorsed by City Council in March 2021, and updating Charlottesville’s Comprehensive Plan and Future Land Use Map, or FLUM, which was adopted by City Council and the Planning Commission in November 2021. It includes commitments to affordable housing and climate stewardship, and allows for more and different types of housing in different areas of the city.

The objective of the report is to talk about different ideas, different rules or rules that we could bring into the zoning ordinance that would help advance the goals and strategies of the comprehensive plan,” Freas said.

Many supporters hailed the approval of the new Comprehensive Plan and Future Land Use Map, or FLUM, as critical in addressing the city’s shortage of affordable housing. Approving the FLUM is one of the first substantial steps the city has taken to address the city’s legacy of exclusionary racial covenants and redlining.

The new map changes the high and low intensity designations in the existing map to general residential and medium intensity. This provides more potential opportunities for affordable housing, housing that doesn’t put an excessive financial burden on occupants, in areas traditionally dominated by single family homes. The goal is for the zoning ordinance to build off this priority as designated by the FLUM and Affordable Housing Plan.

“We’re now getting into more specifics of how the new zoning ordinance could advance our affordable housing goals. It is important to note that zoning by itself can’t solve the affordable housing crisis in Charlottesville, but it certainly can give us some tools that help address the issues,” Freas said.

Zoning refers to the regulations that govern the development of buildings and use of land. These regulations have two components: the zoning ordinance (including a description of zoning districts) and a zoning map. Zoning districts break the city up into different classifications, each with their own allowed standards for development and land uses. A zoning map tells users which districts apply to each property.

The new report includes dozens of visual examples of types of buildings and setups that are possible under the new intensity designations.

Another goal is to make zoning easier for property owners to understand, Freas said.

“One of our big objectives for the new zoning ordinance is to make the ordinance and the process easier to understand, easier to read and easier to interpret for the average person,” Freas said. So that means a lot more illustrations. It means a lot more tables, graphics, and it means simple language. When we’re drafting the zoning ordinance, it means using everyday language to describe ‘here’s what you’re allowed to do. Here’s what you’re not allowed to.’”

Planning Commission Chair Lyle Solla-Yates said he likes that the report is easier for the general public to read than a lot of previous zoning documents.

“I like that it’s relatively visual and relatively clear. That was an important priority that this be something that is usable, and that’s what I’m seeing,” Solla-Yates said. “That’s been such a challenge for us for decades, property owners not knowing what can happen on their property and on adjacent properties. I’m hopeful that we’re on the right track to push that into something clearer and simpler.”

There is still a long way to go before a new zoning code is in place. Freas said once the public input period is through, the team will finish a revised draft of the report that will be presented to Planning Commission and City Council. Those two bodies will have the authority to give the team the go-ahead to start the drafting phase of the actual ordinance. The goal is for the draft zoning ordinance to be in the approval stages in spring 2023.

“I’m expecting at least two rounds of edits as we work to get it right, just because this is so important and complex,” Solla-Yates said.

The community review and comment period for the report will extend through August 2022. Freas said there will be online surveys as well as in-person engagement opportunities to give feedback.

“We want to hear people’s feedback. What are the ideas in here that cause them concern? What are the ideas where they feel like we should go further? What are additional ideas that people have? And that’s the dialogue we’re looking to have over the course of the summer,” Freas said.

The city will host an open house June 27 between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Ting Pavilion on the Downtown Mall to gather input on the proposed zoning approach. Interested residents are encouraged to drop in.

There will be a series of informational stations where participants can learn more about the analysis of the current zoning ordinance and the proposed approach to the rewrite. There will not be a presentation. Materials from the open house will also be available at

The city encourages participants to walk, bike, or take a bus or trolley to the meeting, but will provide parking validation tickets for participants parking in the Market Street Garage.


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