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City Council shelves form-based code

The Charlottesville City Council on Monday agreed with a recent Planning Commission assessment on form-based code: It needs more work.

The council voted to indefinitely table the new zoning proposal during its regular meeting and sent an associated zoning map back to the Planning Commission.

Form-based codes are land development regulations that replace conventional zoning and specify the form and mass of buildings and streets in relation to one another and public spaces. It would focus more on height and building type than density for zoning designations.

Developers would be allowed to construct taller complexes as a bonus for providing affordable housing. The code wouldn’t include a maximum density under its three zoning designations.

Supporters of form-based code and consultants hired by the city have said the new system would promote affordable housing, while opponents have said it’s too complicated and won’t incentivize affordable development.

The code would apply to a roughly 80-acre portion of the 330-acre Strategic Investment Area focused around the IX Art Park and properties mostly to the park’s northeast and northwest.

Councilor Michael Payne repeatedly referred to the “unique” method by which the proposal cleared the Planning Commission. The advisory panel forwarded a list of comments and concerns about the proposal to the council without a recommendation. The commission was running against deadlines for review in city code and January was its last chance to review the proposal.

Among the concerns were protections for the Hebrew Cemetery near Ix, how affordable housing would be measured and changes to required setbacks.

Valerie Long, a land-use attorney representing the owner of 310 Avon St., said during public comment that the proposal doesn’t incentivize investment in the strategic area and won’t help affordable housing needs.

“If the goal is to encourage affordable housing, it does not achieve that goal,” she said.

Former Councilor Kathy Galvin championed the proposal, but couldn’t get it passed before her term ended on Dec. 31. During public comment Monday, Galvin said the existing land-use system is “broken” and form-based code is a useful tool for tackling affordable housing.

“As our real estate assessments climb and land capacity shrinks, we must intentionally grow our stock of affordable housing through public and private sector means,” she said.

Galvin noted that the proposal could be tightened and urged the council to send it back to city staff and the Planning Commission.

Payne and Mayor Nikuyah Walker supported sending the proposal back to staff to address the Planning Commission’s concerns, but both expressed caution about whether they would support form-based code. They said they are concerned that it might not encourage affordable housing and how it could fit into a larger rewrite of the city’s comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance.

The associated zoning map was returned to the Planning Commission to address concerns about certain streets that were included in the proposal.

Dairy Central

In other business, the council voted 3-2 to approve a comprehensive sign package for the Dairy Central development.

Councilors Heather Hill, Sena Magill and Lloyd Snook voted in favor of the package while Walker and Payne voted against it.

Stony Point Design/Build is redeveloping the Monticello Dairy on Preston Avenue to include more than 30,000 square feet of office, retail and residential space.

The first phase of the four-phase project is expected to open this year.

The package needed council approval because the proposed signs wouldn’t comply with existing sign regulations.

The point of contention for Payne was a mural along 10th Street Northwest facing the 10th and Page neighborhood. It features a white cow and reads “Dairy Market.”

“This is a mural that is facing a neighborhood … one of our historic black neighborhoods that is facing extreme gentrification pressures,” he said. “Does this mural go up in North Downtown? I don’t think it does.”

Payne also questioned the effectiveness of the developer’s community engagement. Magill mentioned that the proposed sign was presented at a neighborhood association meeting.

Walker said she had larger concerns about the project and “negative effects” it could have on the neighborhood.


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