Council moves forward with long-range planning package

The Charlottesville City Council has voted unanimously to spend nearly a million dollars to hire a consultant to help complete the review of a state-mandated vision for the future.

“The acute need is to get the Comprehensive Plan finished and to have an integrated affordable housing strategy within that Comprehensive Plan and then to roll immediately into the rezoning citywide,” said City Councilor Kathy Galvin.

Council also agreed to move forward with hiring a new position of “long-range planner” who would oversee the overall planning vision, including implementation of small-area plans.

“Now is the time to use the dollars for long-rage planning and to hire an individual with the skill set to shepherd these and other projects going forward and to have that person report directly to the city manager’s office,” said Mike Murphy, the city’s interim manager.

The city Planning Commission has been working on an update of the Comprehensive Plan for two years, and the plan’s review took a turn following the Unite the Right rally in August 2017. The commission’s membership changed, with four new members added in the last year on the seven person body.

Council got an update on the plan at their meeting on December 18. One area of concern related to a Future Land Use map that depicted more intense density in several areas of the city. Council indicated they wanted to take a pause and help the Planning Commission complete their work.

“One of the directives to the city’s manager’s office was to bring back what resources might be required for competion of the Comprehensive Plan,” said interim manager Mike Murphy.

A list of resources was compiled after consultation with the Planning Commission, the Housing Advisory Committee and others.

The total amount before Council to complete the plan and and hire a firm to do the zoning rewrite would be $975,890.

Just over $85,000 in the funding comes from a $100,000 Council previously allocated but has not yet spent. Another $200,000 was funding that had been set aside for a housing needs assessment. Another $600,000 would come from the capital improvement program fund contingency fund.

It is widely assumed and expected that a rewriting of the city’s zoning ordinance will be required upon completion of the Comprehensive Plan.

“We’ve been hurting terribly for a long time because our zoning is out of sync with our community vision,” Galvin said.

The funding for the long-range planner would come from a position that Council authorized and funded in the current fiscal year, but the city has yet to fill.

“We are going to be at least three quarters of the year having never used dollars that were in this year’s budget that were in for a long-range planner of assistant city manager,” Murphy said.

Councilor Wes Bellamy wanted to know if the new planner would have staff. Murphy said no.

“Think about this position as somebody who is making systems more effective, refining processes, steering big picture items and maybe relieving some burden from staff to direct things like the small area plans,” Murphy said. “They are operating from a level that’s not wedded to one department’s point of view. They’re operating across all silos.”

Earlier in the night, Council took action on a rezoning on River Road for a mixed-use development with apartments and storage units.

Mayor Nikuyah Walker said the discussion of the River Road rezoning helped her appreciate the reason for why the position was being proposed. But Walker expressed concern about filling the position before the city manager is hired.

Galvin said staff is overwhelmed with development review. She also said the position could change once the city has a new leader.

“The new city manager could decide that he or she wants to restructure everything,” Galvin said. “But that person is still an important and essential professional with skills that are going to be needed regardless.”

Walker said she heard loud and clear from the planning commission that they needed assistance following their five-hour meeting on January 5.

Murphy said he felt the position should be independent of the planning department.

“I find it pretty difficult to imagine that someone who reports to the NDS director and is [also] the agent-of-change in the development process,” Murphy said.

The position was one of several recommendations made by the Novak Group in an efficiency study of NDS. The draft budget for FY2020 will also include a support services manager in NDS to help with the caseload.

Council was unanimous in its vote.

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