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Council to discuss form-based code, budget surplus

Charlottesville’s City Council on Monday will review a proposed form-based code that divided planners last month.

The council will hold a first reading of the proposal that would cover roughly 80 acres downtown.

The discussion isn’t accompanied by a public hearing because the council held a joint hearing with the Planning Commission in January.

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.

The code 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.

The Planning Commission forwarded a list of comments and concerns about the proposal to the council without a recommendation. The comments included concerns about which streets the proposal would cover, how affordable housing would be addressed and changes to required setbacks.

An initial hearing was held on the proposal in November, but it was returned to city staff for improvements.

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 its northeast and northwest. The investment area is bounded by Avon Street, Elliott Avenue, Ridge Street and the railroad tracks north of Garrett Street, and includes the subsidized housing development Friendship Court and public housing site Crescent Halls.

The process to designate the Strategic Investment Area started in 2012. Former Councilor Kathy Galvin, whose term ended Dec. 31, began the process of applying form-based code to a portion of the investment area.

Somewhat muddying the process is the city’s Comprehensive Plan update. The plan, which is a guide for local land-use decisions, was last updated in 2013, and the zoning code hasn’t been substantially revised since 2003.

The plan update started in 2017, but likely won’t finish until the end of the year. The city awarded a $926,000 contract to Rhodeside and Harwell Inc. to finish the update, which the consultant expects will take at least a year. Rewriting the zoning ordinance would take another year.

In other business Monday, community members will get the chance to weigh in on how the city allocates its $5.8 million budget surplus.

The council conducted a roughly three-hour first reading of the recommended allocation in January, flip-flopping several times on giving a pay raise to low-wage staff members before mostly backing staff’s recommended allocations.

The recommended allocation includes $700,000 for the Affordable Housing Fund, slightly less than the $755,000 discussed in the fiscal 2020 budgeting process.

It also includes $50,000 to fund the startup of the Police Civilian Review Board. Ongoing operating costs will be allocated as part of the fiscal 2021 budget process.

City budget staffers propose allocating $1.8 million to the retirement fund and transferring $1.01 million to the citywide reserve.

The largest chunk of the surplus, $2.28 million, is for the capital projects fund to cover a citywide salary study and add money to the rescue squad equipment fund. The salary study would cost $1.25 million.

During the first reading, Mayor Nikuyah Walker and Councilor Michael Payne supported using $350,000 to improve salaries for those who make less than $50,000 a year ahead of the salary study.

City Manager Tarron Richardson and Human Resources Director Michele Vineyard said at the time that the proposal could exacerbate existing issues with competitive salaries and wage compression. Other councilors also were hesitant to use the surplus to support ongoing costs rather than a one-time expense.

Staff adjusted some of the recommendations after the City Council held a retreat to discuss the budget on Jan. 23.

The revised suggestion is for only $5.3 million to be spent, with $500,000 going to the Capital Improvement Program contingency fund, a reduction from the originally recommended $624,766.

The council also wants to allocate $300,000 to the Equity Fund; $130,000 to the Emergency Assistance Support Program; and reduce the planned allocation for radio replacements for emergency services from $614,000 to $308,766.

The proposed spending plan also contributes $96,000 to replace Charlottesville Police Department equipment; $46,494 for courthouse maintenance and construction; and $18,500 to cover marketing of Unity Days events and a U.S. Census project coordinated by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.

In other business, the council will consider a comprehensive sign package for the Dairy Central development.

Stony Point Design/Build is redeveloping the Monticello Dairy on Preston Avenue to include more than 300,000 square feet of office, retail and residential space.

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

One of the signs is a mural along 10th Street Northwest facing the 10th and Page neighborhood. It features a white cow and reads “Dairy Market.” On Thursday, Payne asked on Twitter, “Am I being unreasonable in how tacky I find it & how much I hate it?”

The City Council meets at 6:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 605 E. Main St.


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