Charlottesville City Council and the Planning Commission further discuss changes to draft zoning map

I’m still quite behind on writing about the latest on the draft zoning code in Charlottesville. I also really want to write up the discussion on the Comprehensive Plan in last week. Later this week I’ll write up the three hour discussion from July 13, 2023 between the City Council and the Planning Commission. 

Near the beginning of the Charlottesville Planning Commission meeting held on Tuesday, July 11,  there was this bit of information from Missy Creasy, the deputy director of the city’s department of Neighborhood Development Services. 

“Because we’re going to be talking about the zoning ordinance at length on Thursday, we won’t have any additional zoning ordinance discussions for this evening,” Creasy said.

The Planning Commission has held two joint work sessions with the City Council on the work session. 

The first was held on July 5 and was intended to be a continuation of a May 23 work session on potential changes to the zoning map. That one lasted four hours, and I have a summary of that discussion. You can either listen to it here on Charlottesville Community Engagement or read the text-only version on Information Charlottesville

The July 13 edition focused on residential neighborhoods and I plan to write that up in detail. But the July 5 noontime meeting began with an exchange captured between Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook and Charlottesville Planning Commissioner Lyle Solla-Yates.

“R-A, R-B, and R-C,” Solla-Yates can be heard before the meeting began. “I talked with staff about it just now, and that will be the next one that will be addressed at a work session…. Do you understand the issue?” 

“Well, I understand the issue, but I don’t understand the resolution,” Snook said. 

“We will get there,” Solla-Yates said.

“Okay,” Snook. 

“Which is a terrible answer, but that’s my answer today,” Solla-Yates said. 

“Okay,” Snook. 

“Your concern is noted,” Solla-Yates said. 

What concern? What resolution? Maybe we’ll find out. 

The July 5 meeting took two hours. The group went one by one through a series of specific requests recommended by members of the public. The following is some of what they discussed. 

Cedar Hills Road at District Avenue

A two-block section of Hydraulic Road across from Stonefield in Albemarle County is currently listed as Corridor Mixed-Use 5 in the draft zoning code. One member of the public noted that currently some of those blocks are duplexes and other affordable places to live. Commissioner Philip d’Oronzio suggested switching those not fronting Hydraulic Road to Residential-A or Residential-B in order to preserve them. 

Councilor Brian Pinkston pointed out that the Commonwealth Transportation Board recently approved a roundabout at District Avenue at Hydraulic. That means some of those structures may be demolished to make way for that project. Snook, a member of the MPO Policy Board, said at least two buildings would have to go. (read that story)

“Part of my concern is that I would hate to get to a situation where we are so determined to maximize housing that we don’t allow for commercial uses in places where commercial uses make sense,” Snook said. 

d’Oronzio described the existing character of the land not fronting Hydraulic.

“Once you get two steps back from Hydraulic you are in a quiet suburban neighborhood,” d’Oronzio said. 

The group reached consensus to make many of the changes to some of the properties. As this is a written and audio visual, I can’t see precisely what was changed. 

The brown section is Corridor Mixed-Use and the tan is Residential-B 

Rugby / Grady and accommodating the student population 

Another request to the Future Land Use Map was for an area around Rugby Avenue and Grady Avenue designated for High-Intensity Residential. This is an area that’s used for off-Grounds housing for students at the University of Virginia. 

“The current designation shows High-Intensity Residential for 3 owner-occupied homes, which seems to me like an encroachment of that student area into non-student land that won’t be necessary if we densify within its current boundaries,” reads the request.  

When the draft zoning map was drawn, these parcels were designated as Residential Mixed Use, or RX-3.

At the work session, Commissioner Rory Stolzenberg suggested going in the other direction and increasing them by one grade to RX-5.

“And the general philosophy of fitting as many students into existing student areas as we can so that they stop spreading out, Stolzenberg said. “That would leave a little more room to fit them in. I think 5 is also fairly consistent with some new development on Virginia Avenue that’s four stories over there that is obviously higher than three.” 

However, Stolzenberg suggested some of the owner-occupied houses could be reduced to address the community member’s concern. 

This topic comes up at a time when the University of Virginia is conducting a planning study for an initiative to house all second-year students on Grounds. Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook expressed skepticism. 

“That’s just me trying to read tea leaves and it’s not any inside knowledge,” Snook said. “And if it happens it’s going to happen probably at least five years from now anyway and maybe more like ten. Who knows? By that time we’ll have a different Board of Visitors and we may have a different president. We don’t know.” 

Planning Commissioner Carl Schwarz pointed out that after 14th Street was up-zoned in 2003, many houses came down to make way for the large apartment buildings that have been built ever since. Schwarz served two terms on the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) before being appointed to the Planning Commission last year and has seen many applications in this specific area. 

“This area has been kind of a battle ground for the BAR,” Schwarz said. “It is a bit of a struggle because there are a lot of single family houses that are no longer single family houses. And it’s a little frustrating because there’s an elementary school and the library and you’ve got parks. It’s set up as a neighborhood but it’s almost exclusively lived in by students.” 

Councilor Brian Pinkston raised a concern that the city may not have the ability to handle the additional density. The properties adjoining a nearby intersection are either Residential-C or RX-3. 

“We’re assuming a lot of things about vehicles, we’re assuming a lot of things about the road network, and so where Rugby (Road) comes into Preston (Avenue) just north of there essentially in an area that for better or worse has been residential for many years, that’s going to be essentially like a hub as we’re looking at it and I have some questions about whether that’s really feasible.” 

Commissioner Rory Stolzenberg said that was not the area he was considering for upzoning. He meant closer to the University on properties that are currently zoned either in the UMD or UHD category. 

“That is zoned for 50 feet, five stories,” Stolzenberg said. “So really what we’re proposing in this map is really a downzoning from what we allow there now. RX-5 would be what’s allowed now.”

Snook asked if anyone had ever quantified the number of UVA students who live in areas designated in student housing. Bill Palmer works in the office of the UVA Architect and said they’ve studied the issue.

“Generally what we’ve found for undergraduates especially is that they want to be as close to UVA as possible,” Palmer said. “I will say that this area and [Jefferson Park Avenue] are both serve by our [University Transit Service] and very walkable.” 

However, Palmer said many students do bring their cars and if there are no parking minimums in the future, there would have to be some management. 

Upzoning church properties

There has been a trend in Charlottesville for church properties to go through rezonings to add residential density. This has happened at Hinton Avenue Methodist Church in Belmont, Park Street Christian Church, and Mount View Baptist Church in Locust Grove.

In the comments on the Future Land Use Map made so far there were two further requests for church properties to be designated for future residential growth. These are at the Greek Orthodox Church on McIntire Road and Mount Zion Baptist Church.

The Greek Orthodox Church property has a draft zoning designation of Residential-C. 

The Mount Zion Baptist Church property is Residential-A and is in the Sensitive Communities overlay. Commissioner Karim Habbab suggested it could be increased.

“The South First Street development across the street is RX-3,” Habbab said. “Would it make sense to make [Mount Zion Baptist Church] RX-3? It’s right on Elliot Avenue.” 

Freas said doing so as part of this process would require an alteration to the Future Land Use Map, which may slow down the rezoning process. 

Upzoning north of the Bypass

Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook responded to community members suggestions that the area north of the U.S. 250 Bypass might not be suitable for medium-intensity residential. I’ll point out that as I write this, I don’t have access to the spreadsheet to which Planning Commissioners and Councilors made reference. 

For instance, the current draft zoning map designates properties along Meadowbrook Heights Road, Grove Road and Kenwood Lane as Residential-B matching the Medium-Intensity designation called for in the Future Land Use Map.  

“One of the primary reasons why I really don’t want to increase density right there unless we are going to solve the traffic problem,” Snook said. “That gets back to the question that I’ve been asking for a year now which is what responsibility do we have if we create a greater degree of intensity of use there?” 

Snook said the city has limited resources to put into infrastructure and the city might have to use eminent domain to buy right of way for more sidewalks. 

More on this topic in future editions of the program. 

The area north of the U.S. 250 Bypass would be upgraded to Residential-B with some parcels at intersections as Residential-C 

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 July 17, 2023 edition of the program. You can also listen to the audio version there in the podcast. One day I’ll have all of that audio cross-posted here, too!
But to ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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