Development Code public hearing attracts dozens of speakers

The Charlottesville Planning Commission spent five hours on Thursday, September 14, 2023 holding a public hearing at which dozens of people spoke. Before it got underway, the city’s director of neighborhood development services set the stage for this act of the Cville Plans Together initiative. 

“As you will recall back in 2021, the city adopted the Affordable Housing Plan and the Comprehensive Plan and now we’re moving into the rewrite of the zoning ordinance which is the implementation of that prior work,” said James Freas. 

Both plans directed the city to write rules that allow for more residential density by granting more development rights. There are ways that property owners can get bonuses for various reasons including guaranteeing that some units will be kept below-market for decades. For this particular story, I’ll assume you as the reader or listener have some familiarity with the details. 

Freas said the details of the Development Code could shift.

“I’m going to say right now that I don’t believe this draft that we have before us is our final draft,” Freas said, “I believe we’ll see changes over the course of this adoption process and indeed over the course of the future as we respond to changing conditions in the city.” 

City Council Chambers was packed with people who wanted to speak with a spillover room set up in CitySpace. All speakers were restricted to two minutes. This particular story can’t capture all of them, but the video is waiting for completists to watch. 

And here’s a selection from the first ten speakers. 

“I am not opposed to increasing residential density,” said Robyn Kells of the Jefferson Park Avenue neighborhood. “In fact I applaud that. I applaud the acknowledgement that our community needs more affordable dwelling spaces, more accessible amenities, but we need to be very careful in how this is achieved.” 

Kells said many in her neighborhood feel they have not been heard during the process and she urged more engagement with the community. Her property on Westerly Avenue would go from R-2U to the new Residential Mixed-Use 3. That would allow unlimited residential density and a maximum building height of 72 feet as well as many commercial uses without a special use permit. 

The property is also very close to the Fontaine Research Center and is off of Fontaine Avenue, a street that is set to be updated as part of a Smart Scale project approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board. 

The third speaker sought for property near another border with Albemarle County to remain at the lowest residential zoning possible.

“Maintain and do not change the current [Residential-A] zoning in the Greenbrier neighborhood,” said Diane Wakat. “Specifically the entrance onto Greenbrier Avenue [sic] from Rio Road and the length of Tarleton Drive until it crosses Banbury Street. We oppose the potential zoning changes because this area of Greenbrier, this street, Tarleton Drive in particular, is a family focused part of Charlottesville that is populated by those who want their children to be able to safely walk to Greenbrier Elementary School.”

A strip of Rio Road within city limits between Denice Lane and Greenbrier Terrace is zoned as Corridor Mixed Use 5. This is an area of Albemarle County known as Gasoline Alley. 

The fourth speaker was Valerie Long, an attorney with Williams Mullen speaking on behalf of the owner of nine parcels at the corner of Lexington Avenue, East High Street and 9th Street NE.  

Long sought consistency and pointed out that the Future Land Use Map designated all of them as Urban Mixed Use.

“As you know, the map provides that Urban Mixed Use Node is appropriate for up to ten stories,” Long said. “The property supports the higher zoning and is consistent with zoning proposed nearby but the draft zoning code continues to propose the zoning as a mixture of NX-10, NX-8, and CX-8.”

Five years ago, the developer submitted a site plan under the existing zoning for a two-phase project with a five-story office building and a 56-unit apartment apartment building. Long noted that Council and the Planning Commission agreed at a work session over the summer to designate a portion of the former Martha Jefferson Hospital site at NX-10. (read my story)

The fifth speaker said he has had a lot of experience watching Charlottesville change and grow. 

“My Great Uncle Knox lived on Chancellor Street for a time,” said Doug Turnbull of Robinson Woods Drive. “His home has now become student apartments. My dad would visit my Aunt Kitty on Brandon Avenue where she owned an acre of land. Brandon Avenue has had a massive influx of housing. Over the decades, that has area has changed a lot and I think mostly for the better. New students and new neighbors can be a great thing. I fear what will happen if we stop change and stop growth.” 

Turnbull’s house was built in 2000 as part of a Planned Unit Development approved by City Council. One idea of the PUD process is to allow for customized zonings to allow more building space on smaller lots. 

As an aside, there are 15 addresses on Brandon Avenue in the city’s Geographic Information System, all of them are owned by the Rector & Visitors of the University of Virginia. The University of Virginia Foundation spent millions over many years to purchase the land. There’s only one privately owned building in the area and that’s on Monroe Lane. 

A list of properties on Brandon Avenue and who owns them 

Jonathan Rice of the Little High Street neighborhood expressed skepticism that eliminating parking requirements in residential neighborhoods will have the desired effect of discouraging people from driving. 

“I’m very skeptical that reducing parking in itself is going to get us a place to where we’re actually less dependent on cars,” Rice said. “I think it’s really just going to annoy a lot of people and be actually harmful to many city residents.”  

Another Greenbrier resident and the ninth speaker said he was concerned that the Cville Plans Together initiative has turned into something for which it may not have been intended.

“It seems to me that as this came under way it was under the auspices of primarily affordability and it seems like affordability has sort of transitioned more into development,” said Erik Gunderson of Yorktown Drive. “And maybe a bit of switch and that if you want affordability, there may be other ways to get to affordability.”

The first recommendation of the Affordable Housing Plan was to get Council to dedicate $10 million a year toward housing projects. The draft plan also requires one in ten housing units in non-residential districts to be guaranteed as below-market rate, a requirement known as inclusionary zoning. 

Page 17 of the FY24 budget states some of the affordable housing programs and funding. This is not a complete list as Council approved $5 million in April to help the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority purchase several dozen affordable units in April. The other $5 million came from a loan from Riverbend Development 

The tenth speaker is a woman who lives in the Woolen Mill who expressed support for the draft code.

“I’m a renter who lives in  dense housing and I’ve raised my children here and I love my neighborhood too and I would love to have more neighbors and better use the land in this neighborhood to accommodate many more people,” said Elizabeth Stark. 

Stark called for more density in neighborhoods that excluded minorities through racial covenants also called for protections for people who live in neighborhoods where they are at high risk of displacement. 

“Specifically historically black neighborhoods and the places where those historic neighborhoods abut commercial areas,” Stark said. “These neighborhoods have already borne the brunt of Charlottesville’s growth and many who have lived here for generations have been displaced. Please provide an anti-displacement overlay for these neighborhoods.”

Such an overlay had been considered during the draft stage of the zoning code development but were removed for a variety of factors. Despite whatever the future zoning might be, properties in these areas have continued to sell at high prices. For instance, last week I reported in my summary of July property transactions of one sale which I reproduce here:

  • A house originally built in 1939 on 10 ½ Street and fully renovated in 2018 sold for $510,000. That’s 14.35 percent over the 2022 assessment of $446,000 and 4.59 percent over the 2023 assessment of $487,600. The structure also has what is now a guest cottage according to

    The seller is an entity called 326 10.5 Street LLC, an entity formed two and a half years after an individual bought the property for $90,000 on January 17, 2017. The assessed value in 2017 was $153,700.  This is the second similar transaction by this seller in the past two and a half years of doing this work. Go back to May 24, 2022 for the other one.  

The Planning Commission had their first deliberation on Tuesday and have another session lined up for September 26. I’ve not had a chance as of the publication of this version to review that meeting yet.

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 September 18, 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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