City Council members weighed in on the most recent draft of the controversial Future Land Use Map During Tuesday’s joint meeting with the Planning Commission and Cville Plans Together, expressing continued concerns about protecting the city’s vulnerable residents and neighborhoods.
The new draft came after 2,300 comments poured in on a previous land use plan unveiled in May. Partially in response to those comments, a key feature of the new plan was taking care to consider the communities and residents in Charlottesville most at risk for displacement. Under the new proposal, this would be done by designating a neighborhood at risk for gentrification or displacement as a “sensitive community.”
Cville Plans Together is a committee made up of planners from the consulting firm Rhodeside and Harwell who are working on the revisions to the city’s Comprehensive Plan, a guide for local land-use and other big-picture decisions that was last updated in 2013. The Future Land Use Map is a part of this plan.
While it is not a zoning map, it provides a framework for what kind of zoning could be allowed in the future. The zoning code hasn’t been substantially revised since 2003.
Cville Plans Together has produced three drafts of the Future Land Use Map in the last several months, presenting the initial draft in March and an updated draft in May.
A new draft presented earlier this month makes changes from the May draft, which was highly criticized by many in the community for its proposed density allowances in certain neighborhoods. Residents of neighborhoods currently designated as R1 or single-family home zoning were particularly vocal and critical about the prospect of increased density and multi-family residences in their respective neighborhoods.
Others, including affordable housing advocates, criticized the draft map for not providing enough opportunities for increased density and multi-family unit affordable housing.
Jenny Koch, project manager with Cville Plans Together, said the team received more than 2,300 comments on the May version of the map. Changes seen in the September draft were made with some of these comments in mind.
One of the changes is a “sensitive community” designation. The goal of this designation is to identify and support communities that are most sensitive to displacement pressures and are at risk of resident displacement. The map identifies the Meadows, Rose Hill, 10th and Page and parts of the Fifeville and Belmont neighborhoods as sensitive communities.
The draft proposes that these are sensitive areas that may require additional affordability requirements, incentives or other tools to support residents. They were identified with average median income and percentage of minority residents in mind.
On Tuesday, the team proposed some potential ideas to support these sensitive areas and prevent gentrification. These include incentives for keeping existing homes in place, adjusting maximum floor-area ratio to incentivize smaller, affordable housing units and incentivizing developer purchases of smaller lots.
The draft also pulls back on some previously proposed mixed-use nodes in the Barracks/Rugby, Greenbrier and North Downtown neighborhoods. This will prevent higher-intensity residential and retail activity in these areas. The draft also significantly reduces density in the Lewis Mountain neighborhood.
The draft proposes new definitions to residential categories. Under this draft, General Residential areas now will allow dwellings of up to four units only if the fourth unit is affordable. Previously, only three-unit dwellings were permitted. Building heights can be up to two-and-a-half stories, down from a previous three-and-a-half stories.
Under the new draft, medium intensity areas can include “house-sized” multi-unit buildings of up to 12 units, accessory dwelling units, cottage courts, rowhouses and townhouses. Affordability requirements may be established for sensitive communities and will be considered for other areas in the city to address housing goals.
Medium intensity areas also would limit buildings to three stories, four in certain circumstances, down from the four-and-a-half allowed in the May draft.
Cville Plans Together planner Lee Einsweiler said these height limits would not mean existing buildings would have to be rebuilt, and that areas with significant volumes of higher height homes may be set at higher height limits.
Councilor Lloyd Snook voiced his concern that drastic height differences in the different types of residential areas could result in a large, multi-story apartment complex next to two story housing lots, for example.
Einsweiler said transition levels would be worked into these border areas to limit drastic height differences.
Councilor Heather Hill said she thinks it’s very important to protect the sensitive communities and commended the team for identifying them in the most recent draft.
“I do continue to have a concern around the impacts of Airbnb because right now we’re a community that doesn’t enforce Airbnb [regulations] … we’re almost setting up a situation where we’ll be inviting some of that behavior because people will be living on their property and there will be other units in which that they rent,” Hill said. “I just really hope that we can explore ways that we can minimize that, because I think that we already have a lot of housing stock that’s not being utilized effectively because of those types of dynamics, and I’m just fearful of that happening across the city.”
Mayor Nikuyah Walker is concerned that further development into areas like the IX Art Park area, which borders the Crescent Halls public housing facility and two other low-income housing complexes, could have unintended consequences and displace marginalized families even if it is intended to provide affordable housing.
“… you’re talking about available land in the city that’s privately owned so that owner will be able to do what they choose to, but you’re also talking about areas that have been predominantly Black and low income and the continual gentrification and possible displacement of families who live in those areas and what’s already happening in that area,” Walker said.
She asked the team to be mindful of where increased development would occur and to spread it out rather than concentrate it in areas that are already highly-populated and traditionally occupied by low income, Black and minority families.
Councilor Michael Payne voiced his concern that not enough areas of the city that are susceptible to gentrification are designated under the sensitive protection.
“I think there’s still some neighborhoods that you haven’t defined as sensitive neighborhoods that will be at risk of displacement and gentrification, particularly if there is a high percentage of renters in those neighborhoods,” Payne said. “I think there will be an even greater risk if the approach isn’t expanded throughout more of the city, whether that be through inclusionary zoning or an affordable housing overlay to accomplish that.”
Councilors were generally supportive of increased density within the city as long as more housing options are affordable.
“I’m also in favor of us exploring ways that we can expand or that incentive to build affordable units … so that we do have a greater range of affordability throughout the city and not just … in the sensitive areas,” Hill said.
Walker said she is concerned about how affordable housing is defined.
“It’s not clear and it means something different to everyone so it is a conversation we need to have as a community … it’s been something that we’ve been discussing, and we need to define it for us in our community,” Walker said.
Snook agreed with Walker, and said he wants to also see increased housing for the middle class as well. He noted that many middle class people who work within the city of Charlottesville cannot afford to live in the city and end up buying or renting homes within the surrounding counties.
“We have a lot of rich people, a fair number of poor people, the middle class has always been missing … middle class folks have tended to move out to [Albemarle] County or other places, because they couldn’t find something in Charlottesville. And now, that may not be a crisis, but it’s an important problem,” Snook said.
Einsweiler said tweaks will be made to whichever map is approved for it when zoning ordinances are drafted to work out any logistical issues that may come up.
The Cville Plans Together team will be working with City Attorney Lisa Robinson to ensure all parts of the proposed map will follow city laws, particularly in regards to subdivision regulations and affordable housing. There may be another draft presented in the next several weeks that would make tweaks to the September draft.
There will be another joint hearing between City Council and the Planning Commission to discuss the map on Oct. 12. Council will have its own hearing on the map on Nov. 15.
The Planning Commission will vote to make a recommendation to City Council to either approve the Land Use Map or send it back for more work.
Planning Commissioner Jody Lahendro said he still has concerns and would like to see another draft for the Planning Commission to vote on that would be passed on to City Council.
Planning Commissioner Hosea Mitchell said it is important for the map to be voted on by City Council while this particular group of councilors is in office so the new elected council in January doesn’t have to be re-educated on the map.
“This is a living, breathing document … it will change,” Mitchell said.