After multiple drafts, revisions and years of discussion, Charlottesville’s City Council will have its first public hearing on the city’s proposed and controversial Future Land Use Map, or FLUM, Monday evening.
If approved, the proposed draft of the FLUM could be one of the first substantial steps the city takes to address the city’s legacy of exclusionary racial covenants and redlining. It would do so by providing more potential opportunities for affordable housing in areas traditionally dominated by single family homes.
The map would eliminate designations for exclusively single-family home neighborhoods, allowing opportunities for different kinds of housing to be added in these areas.
This has led many residents of single-family homes to fear that developers could take advantage of their neighborhoods. But other residents say this is a necessary step forward to rectify persisting patterns of segregation.
The Future Land Use Map is a part of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, a guide for local land-use and other big-picture decisions. It was last updated in 2013.
City Council will hear from staff and the public about the map in a work session and public hearing Monday. In past hearings about the FLUM, dozens of community members have spoken in public comment, with some endorsing the map and other decrying the proposed changes. While councilors may ask for a second hearing, it’s not required, so they may make a vote on the map the same night. Hundreds of people have signed petitions and submitted comments to the city about the proposed map.
What is the Future
Land Use Map? The city’s Planning Commission first started discussing revising the Comprehensive Plan and Future Land Use Map (FLUM) in 2017. The city hired a team made up of planners from the consulting firm Rhodeside and Harwell to manage revisions to the plan and the map. The team is now known as Cville Plans Together.
“It’s helpful to understand the guiding principles that frame the Comprehensive Plan also frame the land use map,” said James Freas, the city’s director of Neighborhood Development Services.
Principles outlined in the Comprehensive Plan, such as environmental protection and affordable housing development, should be reflected when implementing the map, Freas said.
While the plan 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. The FLUM is intended to be consistent with the city’s Affordable Housing Plan.
The map designates some areas as general residential, which allows for different kinds of housing to be added into the existing residentials areas. Some neighborhoods have received a new “medium intensity” designation, which is intended to increase opportunities for affordable housing in areas that are not currently considered to be affordable. Examples of medium-density housing include townhouses, row houses, duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes.
This designation is also placed near schools, job centers and other places residents would frequent.
Previously, the city’s residential areas were only designated as high intensity or low intensity. This resulted in a stark divide between areas with single-family homes and areas with highly populated housing complexes, and limited opportunity for anything in between. Now, all neighborhoods will either be classified as general residential or medium intensity residential, in an effort to lessen the divide.
“I believe it’s the most meaningful change that we can see,” said Planning Commission chair Lyle Solla-Yates. “It doesn’t solve centuries of troubles that have gone before us. But it starts to turn the ship. And that’s the right thing to do at this point.”
While the FLUM eliminates R1, or single-family, zoning, Solla-Yates said that doesn’t mean single-family homes are not allowed. It just means areas that previously only included single-family homes may see different types of development around them.
The FLUM has been referred to as a “living document” by some members of the Planning Commission and the Cville Plans Together team, meaning even when it is approved, there is still room for edits and changes as issues may arise.
“Think about any plan that you make in your personal life. When you make a plan, you then refine that plan and when you actually move forward with implementation of what you’re doing, your experience informs your understanding of the plan,” Freas said.
While racial covenants no longer exist legally, historians and researchers have tracked how there are still patterns of segregation today in Charlottesville as a result of the covenants. Most of the houses that were built in the pre- and post-World War II era were established with racial covenants.
Racial covenant neighborhoods excluded racial and religious minority groups, often African Americans and Jews, from living there.
“What we have right now is a historical relic of intentional segregation. Our Comprehensive Plan and future land use map are based on existing zoning, which essentially realized and encapsulated crystallized patterns of segregation that were enforced through racial, religious-restrictive covenants,” Dan Rosensweig, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville and a member of the city’s Housing Advisory Committee, told The Daily Progress in April.
One of the additions to the most recent draft of the FLUM that addresses this legacy is a “sensitive communities” 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, as often happens which housing prices rise and people can no longer afford to live in their homes. 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. These areas were identified with average median income and percentage of minority residents in mind. The sensitive designation aims to limit excessive development in areas that are already under displacement pressure.
“People who expressed support for more residential intensity in the city also had some concerns about central displacement specifically in these neighborhoods,” said Jenny Koch, project manager for Cville Plans Together.
Koch said the team reviewed recommendations from the Charlottesville Low-Income Housing Coalition and the Housing Advisory Committee as well as census data to determine the sensitive designations.
Koch said some community members were specifically concerned about neighborhoods at risk of displacement near the University of Virginia.
The UVa Student Council weighed in on these displacement pressures in regards to the FLUM, releasing a letter last month that addresses the university’s legacy of gentrification. It was co-signed by 20 student organizations and includes five testimonials from UVa students about their individual struggles finding stable, affordable housing in the city.
“Student Council decided to weigh in on the City’s Comprehensive Plan and FLUM because UVa students have historically caused substantial harm to longtime Charlottesville residents, despite the potential for UVa students to be strong allies to other renters in Charlottesville,” UVa Student Council President Abel Liu told The Daily Progress in an email.
UVa Student Council estimates that about 19,000 to 20,000 UVa students live in off-campus housing in the city. UVa has approximately 27,000 students, but there are only 7,500 beds on UVa Grounds as of May 2020.
“This places a significant burden on Charlottesville’s housing stock and contributes to the displacement of low-income and Black and Brown longtime city residents,” the letter says.
Liu said the Student Council’s goal is not for the city to prioritize student housing. Rather, the board feels that increasing the density and concentration of housing near the University, particularly affordable housing, is a “mutually beneficial solution” for both permanent Charlottesville residents and students who rent off-campus housing.
“Student Council wants to champion tenants’ rights and affordable housing while preventing further student encroachment into the Charlottesville community and displacement of sensitive neighborhoods,” he said.
But while the FLUM has support from UVa students and many others, it has strong critics. Some residents are concerned that it doesn’t do enough to address the affordable housing crisis, while other residents decry the increased density designations in single-family neighborhoods.
Cville Plans Together has received thousands of comments on the map, and community members spent hours addressing it during public comment portions of city meetings and forums. Some community members organized groups in response to the proposed map. Koch and Freas said that while community members have been very vocal about the process, this isn’t uncommon and they’ve both seen this kind of response in other communities.
Build Smart Charlottesville is a group of city residents advocating for the city to delay the Comprehensive Plan and Future Land Use Map approval process. A change.org petition started by the group has garnered over 550 signatures as of press time.
The petition calls on City Council to delay a vote on the map. It says the addition of the newly announced interim city manager, Marc Woolley, is not enough and the city should at least wait till a permanent city manager is hired. City Council has said the hiring process for a permanent city manager will not begin until spring of 2022.
“We need an outstanding city council and deep professional expertise to help us prevent a developer-led demolition bonanza that ruins our neighborhoods and city. Unfortunately, the current council is profoundly dysfunctional,” the petition says.
The group has taken out multiple ads in The Daily Progress referring to the FLUM as “the most extreme rezoning plan in the country.”
Solla-Yates said the plan is not extreme in comparison to what other localities have done.
“We’re a little bit late to the party now. The various efforts to reform zoning have been going on for decades,” Solla-Yates said. He said California, Minneapolis and Hartford, Connecticut are examples of localities that have taken similar actions in limiting or eliminating single-family zoning.
Solla-Yates said it would be “astonishingly difficult” legally for existing single-family homes to be demolished, and homeowners should not be concerned.
Built Smart Charlottesville did not respond to requests for comment.
Another group, Citizens for Responsible Planning, garnered over 500 signatures on its own petition, voicing concerns about increased density and saying there have not been enough opportunities for community members to give input on the map.
Cville Plans Together has an online public comment tool and has held multiple public forums, both on Zoom and in-person, throughout the year. The Planning Commission held multiple public hearings on the map.
CRP has published multiple papers and videos on its website advocating against the proposed FLUM. A letter authored by CRP and signed by 11 neighborhood associations drew criticism in June after some community members alleged that a few of the signing associations didn’t appear to exist before the FLUM debates.
Members of Citizens for Responsible Planning could not be reached for comment.
Livable Cville is a group that supports the changes in the proposed FLUM. Livable Cville has written letters to the Planning Commission and City Council advocating for affordability and has published papers on its website explaining the proposed changes to the FLUM and why they endorse them.
Crystal Passmore, a member of the group, said the group formed after some like-minded city residents who did their own research on land use and affordable housing realized they could be more impactful by working together. The group wants to see increased opportunities for affordable housing, as well as safer roads to encourage walking and biking. They see an environmental component at the intersection of these issues as well.
“I don’t know if our group would have formed if there wasn’t such vocal opposition to what we all thought should happen,” Passmore said. “It was frustrating to be a group of individuals, another organized group trying to put out statements and their own data and not see anyone on the other side.”
If City Council votes to approve the FLUM, the next step is the zoning rewrite, which will take a long time, Solla-Yates said.
“Nothing is going to happen soon, that much is a promise. We are merely setting us up to start the rezoning process, which will be its own public process, there’ll be public meetings … this is a process that leads to a process that leads to a process. So I understand the anxiety that the government will move too fast, but the risk is low,” Solla-Yates said.
“We would expect the changes to not happen on the ground overnight. Most of the land in Charlottesville is private property and people will choose to make changes or not on their property,” Koch said.
And while the plan may pave the way for affordable housing opportunities, the city will still have to do more to ensure change is made, both Solla-Yates and Koch said.
“The greatest need is affordable housing, it will require sustained commitment on the city’s part, financial commitments, to make that happen,” Koch said. “That will be an important part of actually seeing those affordable housing changes happen on the ground, specifically at the greatest needs.”