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Consultants wrap up virtual sessions on city's Comprehensive Plan

A consultant team charged with updating the city’s Comprehensive Plan has wrapped up its first round of virtual community engagement sessions.

The team held three online webinars to discuss the update process and gather input over the past week.

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.

Rhodeside and Harwell Inc. is leading the consultant team and received a $926,000 contract for the update. The company is also working with Brick & Story, HR&A Advisors and Code Studio.

“This is a process of collaboration with the entire community,” said LaToya Thomas, founder of Brick & Story, which is leading the public input process.

City 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.

The update process came to a halt in 2018 when city planners realized updating the plan and zoning code was too much for an already overworked Department of Neighborhood Development Services.

Project manager Jenny Koch said one issue is that the 2013 plan update didn’t translate to zoning revisions, leaving the code further outdated.

Thomas said that the plan update is expected to finish in March 2021 and the zoning ordinance will be completed by December 2021.

The process has been slightly stymied by the coronavirus pandemic, which has changed the initial public input process.

“This was not how we planned to meet with you originally to kick off these conversations,” Koch said during a webinar last week. “We wanted to be with you in person in your neighborhoods talking with you.”

Koch acknowledged technological and time constraints presented by an online process and said the team is exploring other options to gather community input, with plans to hold in-person meetings when it’s safe.

Each webinar started with a general overview of how the plan will be updated and who is involved in the work. Koch also presented a few statistics about housing, which will be an integral part of the update.

Koch said that although the city’s population grew by an estimated 5,000 people between 2010 and 2018, the number of people living in the city who make less than $35,000 decreased by 1,500 in that timeframe.

Koch noted that the area’s median rent is $1,200 a month, but the median income for a renter is $945 a month. In households with a GED or less in education, the median monthly income is $690.

Another issue that has been discussed in various planning meetings is a lack of high-density zoning in the city. Koch said that only 30% of the city’s residential-zoned land can be used for high-density development.

Koch said previous small area plans, such as those for Cherry Avenue and Starr Hill, will be incorporated into the updated document.

“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel on things that have been done,” she said. “Anywhere there’s already been a community engagement process happen, we want to see what came from that and incorporate it in the Comprehensive Plan. We don’t want to keep asking people the same question, we want to learn from those efforts where we can.”

Some of the participants urged consultants to focus on reaching out to young, minority and low-income residents in the process. Planning Commissioners have noted that the last attempt to update the plan didn’t draw enough input and “what we got were the same people over and over again.”

One speaker asked about the city’s pledge to reduce carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 and to eliminate emissions by 2050. The council adopted the goal in July 2019.

Koch said that the team is working with city staff to incorporate the goals into the plan.

Former Councilor Kathy Galvin applauded the team for planning to include an implementation strategy and asked for performance measures to guide city leaders, which Planning Commissioners have said was a shortfall in the 2013 plan.

“I’m really glad there’s going to be a strategy for that,” she said.

The consultant team has a survey available through June 10 focused on priority areas for the plan. Residents can also sign-up for small-group meetings, send email comments and call a toll-free number for information or to leave a message. The webinars were also recorded and are available online.

To learn more about the plan, visit cvilleplanstogether.com. The team can be reached by email at engage@cvilleplanstogether.com or by phone at (833) 752-6428.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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