Cville Plans Together announced it would be extending its public input period on the future land use map until Sunday after community members said hadn’t had enough time to submit feedback about the proposed changes, but some residents are still not satisfied with the process.
Cville Plans Together is a team made up of consultants from Rhodeside and Harwell, an urban planning firm tasked with overseeing revisions to the city’s Comprehensive Plan and Future Land Use Map.
The team held two Zoom webinars and three in-person pop-up events throughout the month of May to receive public input and answer questions about the draft map. It extended the public input period through an online feedback form on the Cville Plans Together website.
Jenny Koch, an urban planner with Rhodeside and Harwell and the project manager for Cville Plans Together, said they have received thousands of emails from Charlottesville residents about the draft map.
“We were getting a lot of requests [to extend the input period] from folks who were saying that they hadn’t been aware of it, they want to better understand what was going on. At the same time, we also are not hearing necessarily from all areas of the city so we wanted to allow some more time for that, as well,” Koch said.
The Future Land Use Map is part of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which is a guide for local land-use and other big-picture decisions. The plan was last updated in 2013 and the city’s zoning code hasn’t been substantially revised since 2003.
While the map provides a framework for potential zoning decisions, it is not zoning; it is a guide that informs the Planning Commission of what kind of zoning changes are possible.
Cville Plans Together presented an initial draft to city panels, including the Planning Commission and the Housing Advisory Committee, in March. After receiving feedback that the draft didn’t include enough allowance for affordable housing opportunities, Cville Plans Together revised the draft to allow for more density in certain areas of the city.
This included designating some areas that previously were R-1, or “single-family,” zoning as medium density, which would allow for more types of residences, such as duplexes and triplexes. It also would allow for up to 12 units per lot in some cases.
Peter Gray, a board member of the Lewis Mountain Neighborhood Association, said he first became concerned about the proposed density changes to the land use map when he attended a virtual Planning Commission meeting in May, where the draft map was presented.
The Lewis Mountain neighborhood is designated as medium density in the May draft of the land use map. Currently, it is considered R-1, which means the neighborhood is primarily but not exclusively single-unit residences.
“I was really surprised, and surprised in the same way that it turns out … all of my neighbors were when I began to ask them if they knew anything about this, because literally nobody knew anything about this new Comprehensive Plan and the new Future Land Use Map,” Gray said.
Gray said he thinks the COVID-19 pandemic limited opportunities for public input, and doesn’t hold Cville Plans Together at fault for that. However, he said he thinks more residents’ voices would have been heard if the process was delayed due to the limitations the pandemic presented.
“I don’t think you can fault … the consultants; I think they were really stuck in a hard place trying to conduct broad community outreach at the time of COVID. And so I think as a result during some of those critical early phases in the process when community input was really necessary to create a plan that could get behind there, we just couldn’t have mass gatherings and events to showcase ideas and get people’s feedback. And so up until recently, most people had no clue this was even going on,” Gray said.
Gray and other members of LMNA were particularly concerned about the neighborhood being zoned as medium density, which would allow up to 12 residential units per lot.
“I think the affordable housing plan is terrific … there’s a lot of aspects of the Comprehensive Plan that make really good sense,” he said. “In my opinion, getting rid of the R1 zoning is a great idea … most people recognize the need for a broader range of housing options in the city, and so we’re behind this idea of potentially a tripling of density. What’s really not clear, though, is whether the city can actually handle that kind of growth in terms of infrastructure and roads, schools, environmental impact, that sort of thing.”
Gray said he supports eliminating R-1 zoning in Lewis Mountain in order to provide more opportunities for residents to rent out basement apartments to tenants, for example. He also said he is supportive of duplexes and triplexes, such as the ones that already exist in the neighborhood, as a way to increase affordable housing opportunities.
“It seems to me like there’s lots of opportunities to improve density in the city and in our neighborhood, as well, without going to teardowns and constructing large buildings that might be, from a design perspective, not very compatible with the neighborhood,” he said.
Gray and his neighbors are concerned that a medium density designation that allows up to 12 units per lot could encourage developers to build large complexes.
Gray submitted a letter to Cville Plans Together and the Planning Commission on behalf of the LMNA, asking them to consider the impact the proposed changes would have on the neighborhood, which is adjacent to the University of Virginia.
“There’s a concern there that this is inappropriate for this neighborhood, and very out of character with what’s going on in many other neighborhoods … We just couldn’t really understand why that is the case,” Gray said. “We’re talking about eventually a whole lot more density, and that just seems like a huge transition to do with very little public input.”
Koch said Cville Plans Together has received feedback across a wide spectrum of opinions about the draft map, with some people supporting certain aspects and others asking for the same aspects to be changed. She said the team will analyze these responses after the public input period ends Sunday and will determine what the largest areas of concern are.
Koch said based on some of the responses the team has received, there seems to be misunderstanding from a lot of the public about how the process will go forward, including that there will soon be a vote by the City Council on the map. There is no vote scheduled anytime in the near future, and the map will have to be reviewed by the Planning Commission prior to any decision being made by the council.
“I think some [people] misunderstand and think we’re looking at zoning right now,” Koch said.
Koch said the land use map is just a framework for what kind of zoning could be allowed in certain areas of the city.
“Our intention is not to say, for example in the medium intensity residential areas, that we think up to 12 units should be allowed in all of these sites. And that’s not how it would work out. We’re saying the zoning should consider within this range what would make sense in these places,” she said.
Koch said neighborhoods will not be changed overnight and residents should not be concerned about buildings being demolished.
“If something goes through zoning and there are places that are identified for increased density as a final zoning ordinance, then that could mean that someone would want to redevelop their property, they might want to sell it to someone … That’s why it’ll be important as we move forward, to think carefully about what the zoning needs to include to both address any potential issues, particularly in order to ensure affordability as much as we can,” Koch said.
Some affordable-housing activists are concerned that designating some neighborhoods as medium density is not enough to fix the affordable housing crisis.
Joy Johnson, chairwoman of the Public Housing Association of Residents and coordinator with the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, told The Daily Progress in May that she doesn’t think medium-density housing as defined by developers will help low-income residents afford better housing and isn’t a solution to the housing crisis.
“People who made under $30,000 a year still often can’t afford medium-density housing,” she said.
Johnson said she wants to see more affordable housing opportunities that allow more space for families with multiple members, as well as outdoor yard areas, as opposed to duplexes, triplexes and other multi-unit residences. She also voiced concerns that the map draft doesn’t substantially address or try to correct the racial covenants of the Jim Crow-era that still influence Charlottesville’s neighborhoods.
As of Friday, 484 community members had signed a petition created by the Charlottesville Low Income Housing Coalition asking Cville Plans Together to address historically racist and economically discriminatory housing policies by stopping displacement in majority-Black neighborhoods and building “denser and more deeply affordable housing in historically exclusionary, majority-white neighborhoods.”
Cville Plans Together will present a draft of the future land use map to the Planning Commission on June 29. Koch said that while they likely will present the May draft due to the limited time between the meeting and the public input period ending, this does not mean the May map is considered final. The team likely will make revisions as it reviews the additional public input.
The commission can choose to make recommendations or request another revision. If no revision is needed, then the map goes to the City Council for its consideration.
Community members can submit feedback to the Cville Plans Together team by visiting cvilleplanstogether.com/contact-us.