Planning Commission reviews Charlottesville zoning changes in advance of open house meetings

Tonight the City of Charlottesville begins the first of three open houses on the first module of the draft zoning code. For a recap, take a look at the story I wrote on February 4 within 24 hours of the draft new rules being produced. 

The first open house is at Charlottesville High School tonight at 6 p.m. with the second tomorrow night at Buford Middle School at 6 p.m. I’ll be at that one. Then on Saturday, the final open house will be held at 11 a.m. at CitySpace. The meetings are all informal and offer a chance to talk to staff about the work.

A broad overview of the new zoning map. View the interactive map to drill in to different areas of the city. Read below for descriptions. 

If you are new at this and didn’t click on the above story for more information, the changes to the city’s zoning ordinance are the third leg in the Cville Plans Together initiative, which is intended to create more housing units across the city and to also introduce rules to require a portion of them be reserved for people with incomes less than 60 percent of the area median income. 

The Charlottesville Planning Commission has helped steer the process and had a chance to offer initial feedback and questions on the new zoning module at their meeting on February 14, 2023. That was all in preparation of their work session on February 28. 

“The questions we’ve provided you as a prompt are: what have you been hearing from your community on the zoning ordinance materials? Topics for in-depth discussion on the 28th, and topics for exploration,” asked James Freas, the city’s director of Neighborhood Development Services. 

The first question was on affordability. As written at the moment, a property owner in a Residential-A zone could build up to four units without providing affordable units.  Residential-B could build up to six units and Residential-C could build up to eight units by-right. Each could get double that amount if they agree to designate all of them as affordable. 

“Module 2 will have the detailed actual ordinance language that implements what you see in that summary,” Freas said.

Freas said that will also include details on the inclusionary zoning.

“The other thing that we will have in module 2 is a separate document which will be our manual for implementing the inclusionary zoning so that will actually have the rules for how the game is played,” Freas said. 

Commissioner Phil d’Oronzio said there needed to be more information for the areas designated in the Future Land Use Map for protection of Black residents and property owners.

“There’s a lot of reference to this proposed tentative Sensitive Communities Overlay that we’re thinking about,” d’Oronzio said. “I’d like to get one level less abstraction on that.” 

Right now, there do not appear to be any policy interventions to stop these properties from transferring. Since the adoption of the Comprehensive Plan, several of these parcels have been flipped. Here are some examples from 2022: 

  • A couple bought 708 West Street on January 7 for $250,000 and then sold it on December 2, 2022 for $510,000. describes it as “a complete and total transformation in the heart of the city.”
  • A two bedroom house in the 800 block of King Street in the Fifeville neighborhood sold for $305,000 on January 12, 2022.
  • A three bedroom house on 7 1/12 Street in Fifeville within the Sensitive Communities area sold for $522,000
  • Visions of Love LLC paid $400,000 for 856 Nalle Street on February 15
  • A couple paid $645,000 for 723 West Street on March 21 
  • A vacant lot on Concord Avenue where a building was demolished in 2020 sold for $200,000 on June 9 
  • One half of a duplex on Bailey Road was purchased for $140,000 on June 14 by Aspiring Developments LLC and sold in December for $270,000. 
  • A three bedroom house on Henry Avenue in the Rose Hill neighborhood sold for $429,000. That was 71.12 percent over the 2022 assessment of $250,700. 

It still is not yet known if existing site plans under review will be grandfathered when the zoning code is adopted. The city currently does not have a City Attorney and is relying on the firm Pandak & Taves for land use issues. Commissioner Karim Habbab had this thought on this issue.

“My opinion would be that someone put a lot of work into doing something and if its already under review there’s a lot invested in it,” Habbab said. “It would be kind of wild to have to go back to the drawing board.” 

“But you also have to figure out where are you going to draw those lines,” Freas said.

The new zoning introduces the concept of the “sublot” which might allow for more homeownership opportunities. Commissioner Carl Schwarz had questions.

“Does it work? In what conditions would it not work? When will the fire department say ‘you can’t do that?’” Schwarz said. 

Commissioner Rory Stoltzenberg shared what he has heard from people in the community. 

“I have heard people express concern about the prohibition on front yard parking including driveways,” Stoltzenberg said. “I know for a lot of the small-scale residential forms that we have in the city now, people have driveways in front that they park in.”

Stoltzenberg also said he’s heard positive things about allowing restaurants and coffee shops in Residential-B and Residential-C zones with a special use permit. He also said he looks forward to a more detailed conversation about affordability. 

“I still have a lot of heartburn about the height reduction we are contemplating in the [Residential-A] zone relative to the current R zones,” Stoltzenberg said.

One topic for the 28th will be when special use permits can be used. Freas said these will be more about whether the use should be allowed rather than for asking for more building space and scale. 

The use table in the draft zoning code specifies what additional activities could happen in each zone, including restaurants below 4,000 square feet in R-B an R-C zones (Credit: City of Charlottesville)

The non-voting Commissioner who represents the University of Virginia had one concern to share.

“Some of the districts have unlimited units and I think that’s hard for me to get my head around,” said Bill Palmer of the Office of the University of Virginia Architect. 

Palmer acknowledged there would be limits in the building code based on size of bedrooms, but seeing the word “unlimited” may be jarring to many community members. 

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 February 22, 2023 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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