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Commission cautions consultants on troubles with last Comprehensive Plan update

City officials are warning consultants about the stumbling blocks that derailed Charlottesville’s last attempt to update its Comprehensive Plan so they can avoid the same troubles.

Rhodeside and Harwell Inc. discussed the ongoing update with the Planning Commission during a work session on Wednesday.

“We want to start out this process by coming to speak with all of you today about what your experiences have been with this process in the past … so that we can learn from those,” said project director Deana Rhodeside.

The plan, which is a guide for local land-use decisions, 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 an already overworked Department of Neighborhood Development Services.

Former Councilor Kathy Galvin, who attended the work session as a member of the public, referred to an October 2017 Planning Commission meeting that was shut down by protesters who wanted a plan to improve affordable housing.

“It was a real intentional desire to be an equitable inclusive city,” she said. “In some sense, the comprehensive plan was being held hostage by the affordable housing strategy.”

Rhodeside received a $926,000 contract in October to finish the update, which is expected to wrap up by the end of this year. The zoning ordinance rewrite is expected to kickoff in November and take another year.

Project manager Jenny Koch said the firm will build off the work already completed.

“We’re not trying to start from a blank piece of paper on this plan,” she said.

Several commissioners were on the panel during the last attempt to update the plan.

Commissioner Lisa Green said residents participated in the plan at the beginning, but it was hard to maintain interest.

“The public doesn’t trust us,” she said. “They want to be involved, but we’ve got to pull them out of the door. Not physically, but we’ve got to encourage them to come out.”

Commissioner Hosea Mitchell said that eventually “what we got were the same people over and over again” and young people, particularly those of color, weren’t participating in the process.

The commission also urged the consultants to develop a strategy for the city to implement the Comprehensive Plan.

Green said that having a zoning ordinance that works with the plan is essential.

“We don’t know if that 2013 Comprehensive Plan works or not,” she said. “The zoning is not in line with it so we don’t know what we would have got with that plan.”

Commissioner Taneia Dowell noted that affordable housing is important, but the plan should also focus on protecting homeowners who already live here.

“You have it where people have worked all of their lives, they’ve gotten mortgages from the bank … they’ve raised their kids, now 15 years later, 20 years later you’ve got these new developments coming in and they’re taxing them out of their properties. So it feels like the city is doing nothing to protect the people who have made it,” she said. “If we don’t stabilize the people who are currently homeowners or landlords who do provide affordable rents because they can, then what do you do with those people who are in the very low income or disabled.”


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