The public comment period for the Cville Plans Together isn’t quite over as City Council will soon schedule their public hearings on land use reform that will transform Charlottesville’s future and accelerate a trend toward more building space allowed within city limits.
There were 110 speakers at the Planning Commission’s public hearing on September 14 and five days later the Planning Commission had their first set of deliberations. They talked about anti-displacement efforts among other things.
On September 26, five of the six Commissioners went through a list of recommended changes to the zoning code during their second set of deliberations. There is also one vacancy and has been since June.
This summary is not an exhaustive one but attempts to capture the conversation.
First up, Commissioner Philip d’Oronzio sought to reduce the minimum lot size allowed in Residential A districts from the 6,000 square feet requirement. Residential-B and Residential-C have lower amounts.
“Why aren’t we at 2,500 square feet across across all three districts?” d’Oronzio asked. “It doesn’t make sense to have R-A at 6,000 and the other two at 2,500.”
Commissioner Rory Stolzenberg said the two different sizes captures a concept in the current zoning which separated R-1 properties into two types.
“Historically we have R-1 large lots and R-1 small lots,” Stolzenberg said. “That’s a result of R-1 large lot being the original R-1 and R-1 small lots were introduced in 1991.”
Commissioner Lyle Solla-Yates proposed increasing the amount to 5,000 square feet, which Stolzenbeg said he could support. However, the available members held a 3-2 straw poll to go with the staff recommendation to stay at 6,000 square feet.
The Commission also discussed whether to allow two additional bonus units to lots in Residential-C zones to keep the existing structure. The draft says eight and Commission Stolzenberg suggested ten.
“You have areas in the city that are designated R-C where the existing house is very valuable and pretty much under no circumstances will it be viable to demolish it,” Stolzenberg said. “So you are effectively reducing the allowance in those areas by one because that house is already there so pushing the pressure to those other areas where the cheaper houses that are more likely to be demolished. It seems like a pretty easy and simple thing to do to disincentive demolition.”
Commissioner Lyle Solla-Yates suggested allowing the bonus height of an additional floor in Residential-C zones to allow four story townhomes.
“The best affordable home ownership tool that I am aware of is a stacked two over two townhouse,” Solla-Yates said. “The current code bans it in all residential areas and I think that if we want to do the things we say we want to do, we should find a way to do it.”
James Freas, the city’s director of neighborhood development services, said the additional floor would cause the structure to be more than “house-scale.”
“Ultimately it’s a policy decision and we’ve made various statements about house-scale and I think the decision has been ‘does four-stories keep us within or take us out of house-scale,’” Freas said. “I’ve certainly heard arguments that present four stories as house-scale. I’ve heard arguments that say the other way.”
Commissioner Philip d’Oronzio said he would support the bonus height in the other residential areas as well. The current base level in the proposed R-A and R-B districts is 28 feet or three and a half stories. d’Oronzio also said the word “house-scale” is a subjective one.
“These two-over-twos for example wouldn’t I don’t think be taller than C&O Row which is really three stories for the most part above grade,” d’Oronzio said.
d’Oronzio would even allow that height without the affordability requirements.
Commissioner Carl Schwarz said he would support that, but wasn’t sure it would get three votes on City Council.
“But three and half stories makes me feel a lot better,” Schwarz said.
Commissioner Hosea Mitchell said he was concerned about decoupling the bonus height from affordability requirements.
“I’m cool with four [stories] and 45 [feet] but only if there’s a reason to do it and the only reason I would want to do that is if I get some affordable housing,” Mitchell said.
Stolzenberg also expressed reservations given comments from property owners who are against the larger structures. Stolzenberg and d’Oronzio said there are plenty of examples of that amount of height in existing buildings throughout the city’s existing residential zones.
“Although we must consider the public comment, we can’t be enslaved by it particularly when we are encountering that might be not factually wrong,” d’Oronzio said.
The five Commissioners present then discussed making the base height in all three residential districts at 35 feet with a five foot bonus for affordable units.
“So the public has to endure seeing five extra feet but they can be safe in the knowledge that there are affordability units on site,” Stolzenberg said.
Schwarz wanted to keep the draft as is for R-A and R-B and add additional height in R-C. That appeared to be the consensus at this time.
Discussion about specific changes to the code went on for another hour or so before attention turned to uses allowed in each district. The five Commissioners present agreed to allow day care centers with more than 12 children as a use in residential districts with a special use permit.
Stolzenberg also wants to allow outdoor entertainment in residential districts with a special use permit.
“The Rivanna River Company would be banned under this current ordinance if it were not completely non-confirming,” Stolzenberg said. “I say we should allow new Rivanna River Companies by special use permit.”
The other four commissioners supported that change.
Commissioner Lyle Solla-Yates said he wants to make it easier for limited commercial uses to be allowed in residential districts.
Updated paragraph – October 4, 2023
“Staff has recommended that all go through the [special use permit] process which I think will kill all of them,” Solla-Yates said. “Small businesses that don’t exist don’t have the cash flow to survive a year-long SUP process.”
Solla-Yates suggested allowing them by-right on corner lots in Residential-C zones. Mitchell could support that. Stolzenberg said he could support by-right in Residential-B zones but suggested maybe limiting it to food uses. A straw poll of 3-2 favored allowing them in Residential-B.
A second discussion centered around a requirement to allow at least one residential unit to enable that by-right use as well as limiting the size of the space.
Commissioners also recommended a change to the code to allow people to ride bicycles on sidewalks.
There were discussions about specific changes to the zoning map.
Commissioner Schwarz recommended changing West Main Street east of the Drewary Brown Bridge to CX-8 rather than CX-5.
“The buildings are already taller than five stories,” Schwarz said.
One issue is how to protect Westhaven from more intense development. CRHA has asked for $15 million for an eventual redevelopment.
There’s another suggestion to increase the area around 14th Street from RX-3 in the draft map to RX-5.
Schwarz also suggested increasing properties on Fifth Street Extended to CX-10 from CX-5. These include the properties where a WaWa is currently under construction and the Willoughby Shopping Center.
Stolzenberg wants most of the land on U.S. 29 between Barracks Road Shopping Center and and up to nearly Greenbrier Drive to be NX-10. He suggested density is already happening along the corridor with projects such as Great Eastern Management’s redevelopment of Seminole Square as well as redevelopment of the Asian Foods market just across the border with Albemarle County.
“I am terrified of the idea of Bodo’s disappearing but I believe they own it or the original does so I’ve assured myself that I’m sure they would just put a Bodo’s in the bottom of the new building,” Stolzenberg said.
Behind that Bodo’s is the English Inn, which was purchased in early September 2022 for $11 million.
The Commissioners continued their suggested changes in detail, and I’m hopeful there will be a new map before Council takes a final vote so they know what they’re going to vote upon.
The Planning Commission held their third set of deliberations on October 4, 2023. I’ll have that story in the near future.
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