Updated at 10:45 p.m. with more comments from the meeting.
Fewer than half — about 47% — of people who weighed in on Charlottesville’s draft future land use map over email support the general approach being taken to update the map.
After the conclusion of a contentious public comment period that closed earlier this month, the city Planning Commission held a work session Tuesday to review the feedback and ask questions about the future land use map and other chapters of the city’s Comprehensive Plan. The city currently is working to update the Comprehensive Plan.
Consultants with Rhodeside and Harwell are working on the future land use map changes. The consultant group is called Cville Plans Together.
Cville Plans Together received more than 1,800 comments from community members either via email, phone calls, surveys, outreach events or webinars. Tuesday’s presentation highlighted an analysis of those comments, though the consulting team noted that it is still reviewing the feedback.
Most of the comments were focused on the draft future land use map, which is one chapter of the Comprehensive Plan, that envisions more multiplexes and mixed-use areas throughout the city. Neighborhoods around the University of Virginia and along West Main Street and Fifth Street would see large developments up to five stories, according to the map.
In addition to those who supported the map and increasing the amount of units that could be built on a site, others who weighed in were concerned about the map, the community engagement process and how the changes would affect the city’s character and infrastructure.
The future land use map does not change how individual parcels or neighborhoods are zoned. The land use map is a planning document that would inform a potential update to the city’s zoning ordinance. City officials and consultants have said any zoning updates would follow approval of the draft map and the updated Comprehensive Plan overall.
The draft map, including an interactive version, is available at cvilleplanstogether.com/document-media-center.
A draft of the map was presented to the Planning Commission in March and was revised again in May. The revisions designated more areas as medium density, which would allow duplexes or townhomes. Medium density is considered a more affordable option.
“We received quite a few comments that perhaps this future land use map was not going far enough in terms of equity,” said Ronald Sessoms, a planner with Rhodeside and Harwell.
Sessoms said that as they move forward into the next phase of planning, the team will define zoning districts, which can vary from the land use categories in the map. For example, he said the 2013 map had four or five land use categories but the zoning map has 30 different categories.
The draft map puts most of the city under the general residential category, which would allow someone to build three units up to 3.5 stories by-right on their property. Currently, most of those lots are zoned for single-family housing that allows property owners to build one unit by-right.
The increases in density prompted a raft of concerns from community members who were worried about traffic and infrastructure to support the city’s growth, how larger buildings would affect a neighborhood’s character and the overall effect on property values, according to the presentation.
“You can see neighborhoods that will be experiencing the most proposed change had the most negative feedback,” Sessoms said.
Those neighborhoods include Barracks/Rugby, Greenbrier and Lewis Mountain, according to survey results. Of the emails and phone comments, 20% were from people living in the Belmont, North Downtown and Venable neighborhoods.
Renters who responded to the survey supported the draft map while homeowners were largely opposed, according to the presentation.
“With homeowners citing concerns around property values, character and other concerns that directly impact the places that they live and they own,” Sessoms said. “Renters see this as an opportunity to diversify where they live in a city.”
The consultants noted that those who commented did not represent the city’s overall demographics.
Several people who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting supported the draft map.
Crystal Passmore has rented in the city for eight years and said half of the city’s residents would benefit from more housing supply.
"We have a lot of people who commute in but would like to live in town," she said. "It’s also frustrating to hear people say that increased housing in the city would increase traffic without recognizing that pricing people out of the city means people have to commute, even farther distances. People are more likely to walk or bike or bus if they live in the city near their jobs."
Ja’Mir Smith moved from Fry’s Springs to Albemarle County because the housing was more affordable. Smith, who recently graduated from UVa and works for the university, said he and his peers want to live within a 15-minute walk from work or along a high-frequency bus line.
Increasing the density could allow for more transit options and help ease traffic concerns, he said.
"If we want traffic to go down, if we want more bike and pedestrian infrastructure, if we want more like buses to take people places, you’re going to want to make places for people to live because it’s not going to come if the demand is not there," he said.
Another speaker, Maddy Green, asked the commissioners to consider where the comments are coming from.
“Note that comments came from areas that were exclusionary zoned and had racial covenants in their houses,” Green said. “We’re going to see that the residents are still advocating for those same policies.”
Vern Buchanan, a Greenbrier resident, said the covenants are not about race.
“I have no problem with different people moving into the neighborhood,” he said. “It’s fine with me. What I don’t want to experience is what I experienced at River Vista Avenue. … The house next to us was rented to some very fine people who were bar workers, and I worked from 7 to 3:30 [p.m.]. A bar worker works until 2 [a.m.] and then gets off. I don’t want overcrowding. … Let the place become diverse. It’s going that way right now. We don’t need to add more housing.”
Other speakers wanted to know why the planning team was expecting the city to grow and to see the data.
“You’re talking about density and intensity and not about population growth,” said Nancy Summers. “I just haven’t seen any projection of the kind of population growth you imagine in our small city.”
The Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service has projected that Charlottesville will grow to about 52,300 residents by 2030.
Councilor Lloyd Snook said near the end of the four-hour meeting that there are limits to Weldon Cooper’s methodology in that those numbers are based on the status quo remaining in place.
“The reality is that the reason why the population has not risen in Charlottesville in the last few years is pretty simple: there’s no supply; there’s no place to move,” Snook said.
Snook said he was a fan of the draft map but was concerned about a lot of details.
He added that the city runs the risk of becoming Palo Alto, California, where the median income is about $160,000 and the median home sales price is $3 million.
“That is not who we are now, but that is who we would become if the only people who can buy houses here or rent here are people with $100,000-$150,000 incomes,” he said. “We’re in danger of becoming something we don’t want to be.”
He said the city wants to be seen as welcoming to refugees and those in the middle to lower middle class who make the city run. To do that, action needs to be taken at the comprehensive plan level.
Other speakers asked if there will be a corresponding increase in jobs to support the envisioned population growth, encouraged the consultants and city officials to work with UVa and Albemarle County and wanted more information about how the draft map would create more affordable housing.
Jennifer Koch, an urban planner with Rhodeside and Harwell managing the update, said that overall, there was a general agreement for improved affordability, though there was disagreement about the methods to reach that solution.
Koch said later in Tuesday’s meeting that land use policies are one tool to address the issue.
“That will need to be paired with financial support and initiatives and support in other ways from the city,” she said. “I certainly would agree that land use on its own will not achieve all of the affordable housing goals that are out there, so I appreciate that people recognize that as well.”
The City Council signed off on an affordable housing plan in early March that will be incorporated into the Comprehensive Plan.
The Charlottesville Low-Income Housing Coalition circulated an online petition that asked the steering committee to stop displacement in majority-Black neighborhoods, as well as to build denser and more deeply affordable housing in historically exclusionary, majority-white neighborhoods, according to the petition. The committee received about 498 emails through that campaign, and about 46% of email comments supported those two provisions.
Concerned with the revision process, 11 of the city’s neighborhood associations sent a letter June 9 to the Planning Commission and steering committee asking for a six-month delay. A group called Citizens for Responsible Planning gathered 401 signatures to support that letter, as of June 13, according to Tuesday’s presentation.
In an email sent Monday, Citizens for Responsible Planning reiterated the call for a six-month delay, highlighting the lack of broad consensus and support for the draft map and seeking more information about its implementation.
“Sound local governance requires that sweeping policy changes be supported by broad consensus,” the group wrote. “This is not the case here and must be rectified.”
The members of Citizens for Responsible Planning are not identified in their letter. Local attorney Michael Derdeyn sent the letter to city representatives.
During the discussion, the commissioners were generally supportive of the map and protecting low-income neighborhoods from further gentrification.
“Whatever we do we have to protect them from gentrification,” chairman Hosea Mitchell said. “Protection of that has to be written into it.”
Commissioners also wanted to hear more from the consultants about the Housing Advisory Committee’s proposed framework that would tie the developments with more units than allowed by-right to affordability provisions. The committee will present their ideas to the commission soon.
Up next, the consultants will revise the map and comprehensive plan over the next few months. Koch expected the current timeline, which has the zoning rewrite beginning this summer, would have to be pushed back.
Mitchell said that any extension should be short.
“Perfect should not become the enemy of the good,” he said. “Let’s get something out there, because this is a living breathing document.”