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Planning Commission recommends Future Land Use Map for City Council approval

After five years of planning and months of controversy, the Charlottesville Planning Commission voted to recommend that City Council approve the current draft of the Comprehensive Plan and Future Land Use Map developed by Cville Plans Together on Tuesday.

A key change presented last month was the addition of a “sensitive community” 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. 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. They were identified with average median income and percentage of minority residents in mind.

On Tuesday, the commission unanimously approved a text edit to this sensitive community designation that could extend which areas fall under this designation. The edit was proposed by commissioner Taneia Dowell that would allow areas of the city to be designated by using additional metrics beyond just census block data. Edits also included requirements that zoning changes keep historical preservation in mind.

Cville Plans Together is a committee made up of planners from the consulting firm Rhodeside and Harwell who are working on the revisions to the city’s Comprehensive Plan, a guide for local land-use and other big-picture decisions that was last updated in 2013. The Future Land Use Map is a part of this plan.

While it 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 Future Land Use Map 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.

City Council will have its own hearing on the map on Nov. 15, where it will either decide to approve the map or make amendments.

Cville Plans Together has produced three drafts of the Future Land Use Map in the last several months, presenting the initial draft in March and an updated draft in May.

A new draft presented in September made changes from the May draft, which was highly criticized by many in the community for its proposed density allowances in certain neighborhoods. Residents of neighborhoods currently designated as R1 or single-family home zoning were particularly vocal and critical about the prospect of increased density and multi-family residences in their respective neighborhoods.

Others, including affordable housing advocates, criticized the draft map for not providing enough opportunities for increased density and multi-family unit affordable housing.

According to Jenny Koch, project manager with Cville Plans Together, the team received more than 2,300 comments on the May version of the map. Changes seen in the September draft were made with some of these comments in mind.

The draft pulls back on some previously proposed mixed-use nodes in the Barracks/Rugby, Greenbrier and North Downtown neighborhoods. This will prevent higher-intensity residential and retail activity in these areas. The draft also significantly reduces density in the Lewis Mountain neighborhood.

The draft proposes new definitions to residential categories. Under this draft, General Residential areas now will allow dwellings of up to four units only if the fourth unit is affordable. Previously, only three-unit dwellings were permitted. Building heights can be up to two-and-a-half stories, down from a previous three-and-a-half stories.

Under the new draft, medium intensity areas can include “house-sized” multi-unit buildings of up to 12 units, accessory dwelling units, cottage courts, rowhouses and townhouses. Medium intensity areas also would limit buildings to three stories, four in certain circumstances, down from the four-and-a-half allowed in the May draft.

On Tuesday, Cville Plans Together presented some edits they’d made to the September draft, including to chapters of the proposed Comprehensive Plan. These changes included a goal to make progress toward meeting the city’s established greenhouse gas reduction goals of 45% below 2011 levels by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050 as well as a strategy to research and identify strategies for greenhouse gas emission reductions that are compatible with the city’s adopted climate goals and adding an Environmentally-Sensitive Areas map to the appendix.

It also added a commitment to eliminating food deserts through strategic support and collaboration of organizations, community members, private businesses, health and educational institutions and city departments.

Planning Commission members voted unanimously to approve an edited version of the September map, but some disagreed on whether to vote on some map tweaks, with some members of the commission saying they were uncomfortable with approving edits that had not been presented to the public prior to Tuesday.

Commissioner Rory Stolzenberg presented 11 proposed amendments to specific areas of the city to change their density designations.

“I’ve been kind of going through … the future land use map at a finer grained level, with an eye towards maximizing the use of vacant properties,” Stolzenberg said.

Stolzenberg’s idea was to figure out use designations that could give the potential to make better use of specific parcels of land in the city.

“If we have sites that are underutilized at the future land use level, they’ll continue to be underutilized at the zoning level and perhaps further,” he said.

Cville Plans Together consultant Ron Sessoms voiced his concern that these amendments had not been presented as part of the public process. Stolzenberg said he came up with his ideas based on comments the commission had received from the public.

Commissioner Jody Lahendro motioned to commission a study on the proposed amendments.

“I see this keep going on and on … I haven’t had time to study these individual recommendations, I would like to have that time and I’m sure that consultants and the staff would like to have that time also,” Lahendro said.

This study will allow the Planning Commission to revisit these amendments in the future prior to the zoning process.


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