Council briefed on draft Charlottesville Climate Action Plan

Charlottesville City Council got a first look at the long-awaited Climate Action Plan for Charlottesville at a work session on October 3. The document is intended to help steer the city towards meeting energy efficiency goals. (view the plan)

“The City of Charlottesville committed to developing a Climate Action Plan, or CAP, to achieve greenhouse gas reductions of 45 percent by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050,” said Kristel Riddervold is the manager of the environmental sustainability division in the Charlottesville Public Works Department. 

“It identifies projects, programs, policies, processes, and some key resources needed to support action in the near-term,” Riddervold continued.  

The plan also seeks to identify data sources to help track whether the city and community members are meeting various goals. 

“What is the data that our greenhouse gas inventories are telling us?” said Susan Elliott, the city’s climate protection program manager. “Where are emissions coming from and where do we need to focus our efforts in order to reduce the emissions?” 

Elliott said there are specific strategies for how to reduce emissions. 

“These strategies and actions are looking at both things that the community can do and things that the municipal government can do,” Elliott said. 

The plan requires yearly progress reports as well as a full review of the plan every three to five years. They will check to see if key actions identified under various strategies are actually implemented. 

For instance, one strategy is to “increase travel by walking, biking, and transit.” 

Key actions include: “Create walkable, bikeable, and transit-served neighborhoods” and “include Transportation Demand Management Planning for sites in the zoning code” and “develop a mobility plan approach that seeks to leverage and interconnect bicycle pedestrian, and transit infrastructure networks along with parking and the Future Land Use Map density areas.” 

Examples of some of the key actions suggested for each strategy in the Climate Action Plan (Credit: City of Charlottesville)

The Climate Action Plan is far from the beginning of the city’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In 1998, the city was a party to the Jefferson Area Sustainability Accords and the environmental division was established in 2002. Council signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement in 2006. There have been GHG inventories produced in 2008, 2012, and 2018. The plan states they will be conducted annually. 

“We are about two-third of the way toward achieving our 2030 goal but we still have a long way to go, particularly when we look out to 2050 and reaching carbon neutrality,” Elliott said. 

One long-term issue to be addressed is the decarbonization of the city’s natural gas utility. Elliott said a consultant is being sought to work on a study. 

Elliott said that 95 percent of emissions are coming from non-municipal sources, with five percent from the city of Charlottesville. 

“When we look into that 95 percent number, what we see is that about two-thirds of that is coming from our residential and commercial buildings, and when I say commercial that also includes nonprofits, businesses, houses of faith,” Elliott said.

The remaining emissions come from transportation sources with a smaller amount coming from waste. 

The Climate Action Plan comes just as the city continues to work with consultants to rewrite the zoning code. Elliot said there is a table in the CAP that demonstrates how many of its strategies are already called for in the Comprehensive Plan and waiting to be in the zoning code to help ensure the tree canopy doesn’t continue to shrink while residential density is encouraged. 

There are also steps specific to the make-up of households in Charlottesville.

“Charlottesville has a 60 percent rental rate for households which means if we’re going to make progress in terms of how we’re affecting our buildings, we need to look at things that are both owner-occupied but also rentals and really looking to engage and find solutions that work for the property owners and the tenants in those properties,” Elliott said. 

Elliott also said the city is a landlord to many tenants and the plan asks for it to take that role  seriously. Council got an update on leased property this past May.  (read that story)

“What can we do within our leases?” Elliott asked. “What is our relationship with those properties in being able to help those tenants both reduce their emissions but also possibly realize energy-savings on the utility bill?” 

City Councilor Michael Payne said the Climate Action Plan comes at a time when the budget season is beginning to get started. The Planning Commission will have a work session on the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) in November and he wanted to know if there would be requests based on the plan. 

“My fear is that its such a big plan with so much in it that it could be almost easy for Council to not figure out how we begin to implement it just because its so much,” Payne said. “None of this is going to happen overnight so how do we pick in our [Capital Improvement Program] what we begin with.” 

City Councilor Brian Pinkston noted that there’s a list of projects on page 88 of the Climate Action Plan such as $75,000 a year in citywide tree planting, $700,000 to convert streetlights to LEDs, and $400,000 for bicycle infrastructure. But, he noted that city personnel would be required to manage those tasks. 

“Those things are there and I hope that when the City Manager brings us a budget we’ll see those lined out,” Pinkston said. 

Vice Mayor Juandiego Wade said funding should be expanded for programs to help property owners cover the costs of new heating and cooling systems as well as other renovations for energy efficiency.

“I think that we really need to support organizations like [Albemarle Home Improvement Program] and [Local Energy Alliance Program] and things like that because it’s our homes that we’re in that I think we can have the biggest impact,” Wade said. 

Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook said he really appreciated the timing of the report. 

“I really, really, really appreciate the fact that we are receiving this in October,” Snook said. “I’ve only been on Council now for three budget sessions or three budget preparations and every time it’s been enormously frustrating when somebody comes out with a grand and glorious plan in March. We have no ability to process a plan in March.” 

Snook said the timing is also useful as the zoning ordinance is being rewritten. He asked for the City Manager to prepare the plan for adoption as soon as possible. 

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the October 11, 2022 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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