Council sets December 5 date for Development Code public hearing

Charlottesville City Council has set the stage for the final act in the third step in the Cville Plans Together initiative. The public hearing will be held on December 5.

Council’s fourth work session on the zoning ordinance was held on October 25, 2023 and was not intended to be an exhaustive discussion of what will be in the final product. 

“The goal of the work session is for us to decide on the Charlottesville Development Code text and map which the Council will advertise for public hearing,” said Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook. (review the materials)

Council set that public hearing for December 5. The legal advertisement to be published on November 21 will include the two new districts created to fulfill the Comprehensive Plan goal of providing some protection from speculative development for certain areas of the city that are known in the Future Land Use Map as “Sensitive Communities.”

Council may decide not to proceed with the two districts after their deliberations, but that information will be included in the legal notice to satisfy Virginia law on public hearing requirements. 

“We’re going to err on the side of inclusivity of provisions and that does not mean that merely because we are adding it in or agreeing to put it in a particular provision that reflects Council’s decision that we know where the five votes are,” Snook said. 

The Planning Commission recommended its version of the Development Code on October 18 and included two new zoning districts that had not been included in their public hearing from September 18. One of them is Residential Core Neighborhood-A District. 

“It identifies a set of core neighborhoods that have served as a location for workforce housing historically and there’s a desire to see them continue to provide that use going forward,” said James Freas, the city’s director of Neighborhood Development Services.

In the draft that went before the Planning Commission, the least permissive zoning district was the Residential-A neighborhood which allows property owners up to three units as a base. 

Under the RN-A district, that would be restricted to one unit with two additional units allowed only if the existing structure is kept. 

“The idea there is to keep the opportunity and the space for accessory dwelling units,” Freas said. “The RN-A district would allow up to six units where all of the bonus units are affordable to 60 percent of the area median income.” 

Freas said these RN-A areas would also not allow as much building footprint as Residential-A.

The second district is called a Core Neighborhoods Overlay District and would require developers on portions of Cherry Avenue and Preston Avenue to get a special exception permit if they wanted the same amount of building space allowed in similar areas elsewhere.

“The underlying premise of that district is that the starting point is that we lower the proposed density to the [Corridor Mixed Use 3] in those corridors and then apply the overlay,” Freas said. “If you want additional stories, you have to provide a minimum of two items on a community benefit list.”

Vice Mayor Juandiego Wade said he understood that both are seen as temporary measures while small area plans are conducted to further gauge community expectations. 

“And I understand we can’t say let’s just put things on pause until we do the study because things will continue to roll,” Wade said.

Council opted to advertise just the text for those districts but not to advertise a map at this time to allow for maximum flexibility.

Council also went through the various changes that the Planning Commission recommended to see if they wanted to proceed. 

First they discussed map changes. 

Councilor Michael Payne expressed concerns about increasing intensity in the Venable neighborhood as well as other areas recommended to increase from Node Mixed Use 5 to Node Mixed Use 10, but said he was comfortable advertising them.  Other were fine to go with what the six appointed Planning Commissioners recommended. 

“I can say that I don’t know of anything that I would want to do that would increase the intensity of the use over what the Planning Commission recommended,” Snook said.

Council also agreed to advertise changes that the Planning Commission recommended, such as allowing commercial uses by-right on corner lots in Residential-B and Residential-C districts. That doesn’t mean Council has agreed to support that in the final zoning code.

Under the new zoning, building sizes will be set by standards and it will ultimately be up to the zoning administrator to sign off on what’s proposed. That includes granting additional height if affordable units are provided. Neighbors would not have a say in that process, but would not entirely without a voice.

“If the neighbor believes that the zoning administrator has not properly applied the ordinance by granting the additional stories, then the neighbor could conceivably if they can demonstrate they’re an aggrieved party, they can appeal it to the Board of Zoning Appeals,” said Sharon Pandak, an outside counsel hired to assist City Council with the vote. 

The Council had a more in-depth discussion of the two overlay districts at their meeting on November 1.

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