The Charlottesville Planning Commission has unanimously recommended a proposal from the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority to alter one of the conditions in a critical slopes waiver they were granted in early 2019 for the first phase of the redevelopment of South First Street. Carrie Rainey is a planner with the city of Charlottesville.
“The previously granted critical slopes waiver allows for construction and land disturbing activities within critical slopes for a development that would include 62 multifamily residential units in three buildings and a community resources center,” Rainey said.
City code defines a critical slope as one that has a grade of 25 percent or higher, and also contains either a horizontal run greater than 20 feet or is within two hundred feet of a waterway. The idea is to prevent erosion and prevent sediment from entering waterways, which kills macroinvertebrate life. The waterway Pollocks Branch is within the latter.
After construction at South First Street began, CRHA notified the city it would not be able to comply with a condition of the slopes waiver that required a phased construction so that two buildings on First Street would be built first “in order to create a better stabilized site during construction and to facilitate more effective erosion and sediment control measures.”
The return of a rezoning application for a property in the 1200 block of Carlton Avenue got the nod from the Charlottesville Planning Commission at their meeting on July 13, 2021. The seven-member panel considered a rezoning and special use permit for a vacant lot currently zoned R-2, which would allow two units on the property.
“The requested rezoning would be to R-3, residential multifamily medium density,” said Commission Chair Hosea Mitchell. “And then the following special use permit would then allow the applicant to build eight units.”
A similar application went before Commission and the Council in 2018 and was denied by Council in October that year. As part of this application, eight parking spaces would be provided on site. Here’s Matt Alfele, a city planner.
“Residents are concerned that the code-required eight parking spaces will not be enough for this development and the overflow parking will impact the surrounding neighborhoods, especially the homes on Chestnut Street,” Alfele said.
One of several major transportation projects intended to make Charlottesville an easier place to bike or walk passed a milestone last week. In 2017, the city was awarded $8.6 million in Virginia Department of Transportation Smart Scale funds for a project at the intersection of Barracks Road and Emmet Street. The design public hearing was held on July 7, 2021.
“The purpose of the project is to improve the operational performance of the Barracks Road and Emmet Street intersection while also enhancing bicycle, pedestrian and transit facilities serving the adjacent neighborhoods,” said the narrator of a presentation shown at the virtual meeting. (watch the full presentation)
The work will include a new northbound right-turn lane on Emmet Street, an additional west-bound left-hand turn lane on Barracks Road, upgraded traffic signals, increased medians, and a shared-use path up Barracks Road. Part of the work will involve something called a “pedestrian refuge” to allow slower walkers to cross Emmet Street and take a break.
“The scope of bicycle and pedestrian improvements on Barracks Road were less somewhat less defined which provided an opportunity to involve local citizens in the early planning and decision-making process,” the presentation continued.
One man expressed concern that this plan seemed to have come from nowhere and that it may not actually work.
“This has been a long time question for me about Charlottesville and planning and development,” said Joel Bass. “How do we actually develop in this town without working with [the University of Virginia] and getting feedback from them on their plans?”
Bass said what was needed from westbound Barracks Road was a right-hand lane.
Before we hear from city staff, some background. In 1986, Albemarle, Charlottesville and UVA signed a Three Party Agreement and until 2019 there was a public body known as the Planning and Coordination Council (PACC) where projects and planning were discussed in the open. Since late 2019, a private body called the Land Use and Environmental Planning Committee meets and those events are closed to the public. This LUEPC group last met on June 25, 2021 and there is one page of minutes. (read those minutes)
Back to the Barracks/Emmet project. There is a steering committee that includes a member of the UVA Office of the Architect and those meetings are open to the public. Kyle Kling in Charlottesville’s public works department.
“In our department, we meet quarterly with the University to discuss projects the city is administering as well as projects that the University has throughout their Grounds and during those conversations we always discuss how things will trend during the future and how projects may supplement each other so that coordination is ongoing,” Kling said.
Two other Smart Scale projects are in the planning states to the south on Emmet Street. The Emmet Street Streetscape had its design public hearing in December 2019. The Commonwealth Transportation Board just approved $20.6 million in funding for a second phase of that project that would span between Arlington Boulevard and Barracks Road.
There was some concern at the public hearing about the shared-use path that will travel about a third of a mile up the hill on Barracks Road to Buckingham and Hill Top roads. Gregory Kastner was appreciative to get a dedicated facility, but had a question about how that fits into a larger network.
“As you’re on the bike lane coming up the road, how does that transition to the current sidewalk?” Kastner asked. “With it ending at Hill Top, there’s still a fair bit of up to go where the rider is going to be going pretty slow and it really wouldn’t be a great place to get dumped out on the road.”
Kastner said he hoped the scope of the project extended up to Rugby Road where the hill flattens.
Kling said in the short-term, a sharrow would be painted on the road in the short-term as VDOT has strict rules about extending Smart Scale projects past the boundaries outlined in their initial application.
“I do know that there are some plans in the works on the city’s end to kind of continue bike and pedestrian upgrades further into town along this stretch,” Kling said.
About another two-thirds of a mile up Barracks Road is another Smart Scale project to address the intersection of Preston Avenue and Grady Avenue. That project has also not yet begun.
Next steps for the project include final approval by City Council this summer and completion of the design in the winter of 2022. If all goes according to schedule, construction would begin in the spring of 2023.
(This piece originally appeared on Charlottesville Community Engagement as an article for paid subscribers. Please consider becoming one to ensure these reviews can continue!)
2021 continues to be a year where the price of single-family residential homes and lots is increasing in Charlottesville, seemingly with no end in sight. Interest-rates remain low, as does interest in making large financial investments.
I feel it’s important to understand what’s happening here parcel by parcel, transaction by transaction. That helps me have a better understanding, though this month’s list raises more questions.
What insights do you have? How do these real-world transactions affect consideration of the recently adopted Affordable Housing Plan? Were any of these transactions influenced by the not-yet-adopted Future Land Use Map? How many of these houses might have been purchased for their land?
On Monday night, Charlottesville City Council officially adopted a resolution canceling a project to build a 300-space parking garage at the corner of East Market Street and 9th Street. Part of the decision hinged on a notion of whether the city was doing enough to get people out of their cars and into other modes of transportation.
In 2015, the firm Nelson Nygaard conducted a study of parking downtown, and one of the recommendations was to maintain existing supply through something called “transportation demand management.”
“Strong promotion of TDM efforts and continued enhancement of alternative travel options will serve Charlottesville well in maintaining its reputation and charm as an attractive, livable and sustainable city,” reads page 8 of the study, which was the most recent official review of parking downtown.
Specifically, the plan recommended creation of a “Transportation Management Association” to help encourage alternative modes of travel. In early 2008, local community member Randy Salzman brought the idea up to the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). That’s the local body that makes decisions on regional transportation projects. Salzman arranged for them to hear from a professor of sustainability from Curtin University in Perth, Australia. Here’s Peter Newman, who co-authored a book with UVA professor Tim Beatley called Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change.
“Now we’ve had all of our cities do regional plans in the last five years and they have all concluded the need for more sustainable future based on less car-dependence with transit prioritized with corridors and centers to make sure the structure of the city changes,” Newman said.
The idea at the time didn’t get much traction.
At the May 27 meeting of the Regional Transit Partnership — a sub-group of the MPO — Salzman once again appeared to promote the idea.
“We need to understand why people take the bus or don’t take the bus, why people bicycle or don’t bicycle, why people drive or don’t drive,” Salzman said. “There is another car culture that has done this exceptionally well and that culture is Australia where they have just as much of a car ownership culture as we have in the United States.”
Salzman mentioned a program called TravelSmart, which has now transformed into a program called Your Move. People who register are assisted in getting used to different forms of transportation. Salzman wants this community to take on the same approach, perhaps by expanding the existing RideShare program.
“Right now because of the stars aligning at the federal level, this area could go after a grant that would be the leadership for helping America,” Salzman said. “Understand the individuals and how we can help them change as opposed to building the change, building all the transit and then not using it.”
The Regional Transit Partnership consists of the University Transit Service, Charlottesville Area Transit, Jaunt, and other agencies. A non-voting member of the body is Sara Pennington, who runs the RideShare program as part of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District.
“Transportation doesn’t just work in a silo,” Pennington said. “There are so many moving parts and moving pieces and the more that we can work together and band together to help each other out, the better.”
Much of Pennington’s work this past year has focused on telework, which was crucial for many during the pandemic.
The TJPDC will soon hire a consultant to create a regional transit vision plan at a cost of $350,000, with half of that amount coming from a grant from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. A selection firm is reviewing three proposals for the project and an announcement on who will do the work may be made later this month.
The TJPDC is also working on a $106,215 study about expanded transit in Albemarle County, above and beyond a second study that Charlottesville Area Transit is conducting to add service to U.S. 29 north of its current terminus at the Wal-Mart. Jessica Hersh-Ballering is a transportation planner and said the firm Michael Baker International has been hired to do the work.
“We are planning our first public engagement session for that project in late July or early August,” Hersh-Ballering said.
Karen Davis, the interim CEO of Jaunt, said her planning manager’s recent appearance at a Central Virginia Regional Housing Partnership panel discussion may lead to the resumption of a discontinued service between the North Fork Research Park and points south. Stephen Johnson talked about the possibility of on-demand transit at the May 20 event. (watch)
“I got a call from UVA Foundation talking about a service we had done for them that is right now discontinued, Park Connect, he was so well-spoken that they called me and said ‘hey, on-demand could actually meet our needs better than the model we were using,” Davis said.
Later this summer, Charlottesville Area Transit will begin a public period for proposed route changes.
(This installment originally appeared in the June 9, 2021 episode of Charlottesville Community Engagement)
The University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors met earlier this month. One of the items on the Building and Grounds Committee’s agenda was approval of a master plan for the redevelopment of Ivy Gardens, an apartment complex between Old Ivy Road and Leonard Sandridge Road that was built in the late 1960’s.
University Architect Alice Raucher explained the purpose of creating a master plan.
“It is in general always good to have a plan and physical master planning helps to set priorities to inform future plans,” Raucher said. “It often aligns limited physical resources with often equally limited financial resources and provides the opportunity for broad University and community engagement to create a shared vision.”
Ivy Gardens is made up of 17 acres and has 440 residential units close to North Grounds, Darden, the School of Law, and the Miller Center for Public Affairs, and the Center for Politics.
“In 2016, at the direction of the University, the Foundation purchased Ivy Gardens and although its structures are aging, the property is currently income producing with units that primarily house our graduate students in a low-density, automobile-oriented development,” Raucher said.
The proposed redevelopment plan would increase the number of units to 718 and would add about 46,000 square feet of academic space and 69,500 square feet for commercial uses. The latter would be clustered in a new Town Square that would front onto Old Ivy Road. To the immediate north would be a Residential Commons with different kinds of housing types. In the middle would be a Central Green. A pedestrian bridge would cross Leonard Sandridge Drive, allowing safe passage to Darden and the Law School.
The steering committee overseeing the Cville Plans Together initiative met on May 19 to take a mid-month review of the latest round of the public engagement efforts. To recap, Rhodeside & Harwell is overseeing an update of the city’s Comprehensive Plan as well as a rewrite of the city’s zoning code. They’ve already produced an affordable housing strategy that City Council adopted in March. (review the plan)
In February 2019, Council voted to approve spending up to $1 million to hire an outside consultant to take over oversight of the Comprehensive Plan. For background, read my story from then to explain the reasons behind the decision.
The work got underway in January 2020 and continued during the pandemic with virtual meetings. There were two previous community engagement periods last year in addition to the one underway now.
“We fully recognize there are folks in the community who may not have been aware of this process that was going,” Koch said. “We’ve been working hard to reach folks but it’s been quite a year… We’ve been doing a lot of virtual engagement for the past year and we don’t anticipate that will completely go away as we move forward but we also know it’s really nice to speak with people in person.”
First, members of the steering committee had the opportunity to weigh in. One of them is City Councilor Michael Payne, who will be one of five votes to adopt the Comprehensive Plan and the updated zoning code sometime next year. At this stage, he wanted to suggest a change in the title of one of the draft chapters.
“With the Economic Prosperity and Opportunity [chapter], I know it mentions community wealth building in the update but I still wonder if it may make more sense for the chapter itself to be focused on community wealth building, again to try to gear that chapter towards more system change thinking about things like community land trusts, community development corporations, [and] community gardens all interconnect as a system for wealth creation that’s different than the normal way of doing economic development,” Payne said.
Christine Jacobs, the interim executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, applauded language about regional partnerships. However, she wanted her organization to be more specifically referenced given the number of bodies it runs on which Charlottesville City Councilors serve.
“The TJPDC does have the Charlottesville-Albemarle MPO,” Jacobs said. “It also has the Regional Transit Partnership and the Regional Housing Partnership.”
Diana Dale represents the leaders of neighborhood associations in the city, some of which have expressed concern about too much density. She drew attention to the chapter on Land Use, Urban Form, and Historic and Cultural Preservation.
“And I’m thinking in particular of goal two,” Dale said, reading from the chapter summary. “Protect and enhance existing distinct identitiess of the city’s older neighborhoods while promoting housing options, a mix of uses, and sustainble reuses in the community.”
Dale said some residents of neighborhoods are concerned that some of their portions have been changed from low-intensity to medium-intensity, such as most of the Lewis Mountain neighborhood and some of the Martha Jefferson neighborhood. That could allow between four to 12 units per lot, but that will remain unclear until it is time to rewrite the zoning code.
“What is aspirational? And what is actually codifiable?” Dale asked.
The zoning rewrite will be conducted by the firm Code Studio, a subcontractor whose work will be informed by the affordable housing plan and the Future Land Use Map.
“I’m not certain that we have a whole lot of the answers,” said Lee Einsweiler of Code Studio. “We were hoping we could work through things at the more generalized level of the Future Land Use Map and then begin to craft strategies for implementing those tools.”
Einsweiler said that each category on the future land use map will not be represented by a single zoning district.
“There would be two, three, four implementing zoning districts that might all have appropriate strategies for different types of the community but those can’t quite be figured out until we can understand where they are likely to be applied,” said Lee Einsweiler.
Dale remained concerned.
“The vagueness is not helping people’s confidence in the plan,” Dale said.
Dale also expressed concern about the impacts of a more people on the existing infrastructure. She said roads might need to be widened to accommodate additional traffic, and stated the city has issues delivering on infrastructure projects such as frequent buses and a consistent bike and sidewalk network.
“The guidance is recommending multimodal strategies, and that’s going to take time and funding to implement and that’s been a long struggle for a lot of improvements over time for those of who have been in the city,” Dale said.
There are 19 neighborhoods across the city, and the 2007 Comprehensive Plan contains an entire appendix of specific requests from neighborhoods that came from a city-wide design day arranged by a now-defunct non-profit called the Charlottesville Community Design Center. That approach was abandoned for the 2013 Comprehensive Plan and the 2017 process did not seek a thorough capturing of what residents of neighborhoods wanted.
Ashley Davies, who represents the Charlottesville Area Development Roundtable on the steering committee, suggested an approach that built upon previous efforts to plan at a neighborhood level.
“I think people are hungry to give you feedback that is more specific to their area and I think it’s a shame that we can’t have the time right now to do the small area planning because I think that’s what a lot of people want to inform the land use plan,” Davies said.
There’s a lot of discussion of what role the Future Land Use Map plays. Is it advisory? If so, what does that mean? Ron Sessoms is with Rhodeside and Harwell.
“The future land use map is a critical component of a Comprehensive Plan and sets the stage for the city’s long-term vision of how it’s going to grow,” said Ron Sessoms of Rhodeside & Harwell (RHI). “You can think of this as the 10,000 foot view of the city and defining where there are opportunities for growth.”
Sessoms said the land use map is a guide for development, but is not binding like zoning.
“As we think about the future land use map, it’s much more broad and the zoning code is much more detailed with specifics of what it means to fulfil the future land use map,” Sessoms said.
The medium intensity residential category is new with this comp plan update, and encourages construction between four and 12 units per lot. Sessoms said that did not have to be out of scale with existing buildings.
“They can be integrated into the fabric of a neighborhood,” Sessoms said. “They don’t have to be five stories to get fourplexes or any of the medium intensity development types.”
Ashley Davies said she liked that the future land use map begins a process of reducing the amount of areas colored as low-intensity residential, but thought there should be some sense of what types of housing units are prioritized.
“It seems to me the strategy for adding units in the city and adding residential, maybe we need to talk about the hierarchy of that can truly happen in Charlottesville,” Davies said.
Dale said the Martha Jefferson Neighborhood Association’s Board of Directors supports soft density by adding accessory units and permitting apartments within structures. But they don’t support being colored as medium intensity.
“Is there an opportunity to merge the ambitions of transforming Charlottesville to general residential, which is a big step to begin with, and to merge some of the intentions of the medium intensity?” Dale asked. “I recognize this may happen as you move to more strata, more levels of medium density.”
This draft also includes a name change for Low Density Residential to General Residential, which recommends up to three units per lot.
Lena Seville, a Belmont resident who is on the steering committee, wanted to know why General Residential didn’t recommend allowing four units per lot.
“There are plenty of little houses that are split into four,” Seville said. “At two stories, it’s four apartments. They’re easier to build. They mirror each other. They have the same footprint.”
Much of what is happening in Charlottesville is patterned off an effort in Minneapolis, where their City Council voted to permit duplexes and triplexes in all R-1 areas. Here’s Lee Einsweiler with Code Studio again.
“You may have followed the exercise in Minneapolis in which they began talking about four but ended up adopting three,” Einsweiler said. “Part of the conversation was about the likelihood that the existing house would be replaced as opposed to split. The three is most likely an additional building on the property and a main unit carved out of the main house.”
“While this process has been going on for a while now there are still many folks in the community that I’ve spoken to who have no idea about this process,” Washington said. “Is there any plan to really put some education out there for folks who are having difficulty understanding the planning process so they can better participate?”
LaToya Thomas of the firm Brick and Story acknowledges that many people are not knowledgeable in planning issues, but the Cville Plans Together initiative wants to educate more people especially as the pandemic recedes.
“We are reaching out to as many people that we can get connected to, but we also know that many of you are connected to folks and so we will continue to make ourselves available if there are groups of folks that you want to convene,” Thomas said.
Dale suggested a pause while people get caught up on the planning process. That would give people the chance to read the many recommendations in the affordable housing plan adopted by Council in March.
“Most of the community doesn’t really understand how it informs the plan,” Dale said. “It was previewed with the public last fall when everyone had their head down dealing with Zoom school and Zoom work and health care and everything else. It was a 100-year health event.”
S. Lisa Herndon is a Realtor on the steering committee who wants to see a map that depicts where redlining occurred which overlays areas proposed for more intense development.
“Going back to the history of Vinegar Hill and Gospel Hill, there [are] communities that were negatively impacted and now we’re going through redevelopment again and we see a lack of equity in terms of participation and I see nothing within this which shows where we were and how we’re going to prevent that negative effect in communities of African-American historical context,” Hernson said. “I don’t see that.”
Sunshine Mathon, executive director of the Piedmont Housing Alliance, said he has been through this process in other communities where he has worked. He reminded people the intent of the initiative is to guide change.
“One of the things that gets lost in the translation is that change is constant and people have this assumption that their neighborhoods are a thing and have always been that thing which is fundamentally not true,” Mathon said. “One of the changes that we are seeing across the city regardless of the form of the city, one of the real changes is a dramatic increase in the cost of living in the city. That’s a fundamental change. The plan itself can’t be the change that solves that on its own, but it is an ingredient in that tool set.”
Comments will be accepted through June 13 now that a two-week extension has been granted. The Planning Commission is expected to have a work session on June 29.
The main event at Council’s meeting on May 17, 2021 was direction to proceed with a plan to use millions of funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation to cover another cost overrun for the long-planned Belmont Bridge replacement. The project was put out for construction bids in February with a $31 million cost estimate. According to the city’s Urban Construction Initiative manager Jeanette Janiczek, that wasn’t enough money.
“The lowest responsive, responsible bid can be awarded with existing project funds, however there is a need for additional funding, $4.2 million, to cover contingency, construction inspection services, VDOT oversight, as well as utility relocation,” Janiczek said.
VDOT has suggested adding funds from its bridge maintenance account, something referred to as State of Good Repair. Janiczek said possible reasons for the higher estimate include inflation, increases in material costs, and potential issues related to the pandemic.
Janiczek said one choice would have been to remove items from the project, such as a pedestrian tunnel on the southern end.
“Any of these options would result in us having to rebid the project,” Janiczek said. “This adds at least a year in time but most importantly it doesn’t fulfil the commitments we’ve made to the public as well as the Board of Architectural Review.”
Janiczek if the appropriation of the VDOT goes forward in June, construction could begin this summer. Another public meeting will be held when the contractor is hired to explain how traffic will continue to use the bridge during construction.
“So once they submit their baseline schedule, we’ll release that to the public and let people know what to expect during construction,” Janiczek said.
Asked by Council if the project costs could increase, Janiczek said many of the prices for materials would be locked in as soon as the construction contract begins.
City Manager Chip Boyles said he thought construction costs would increase as the federal government prepares to make billions of investments in infrastructure projects. That’s why he r
“If this project is delayed, we’re already seeing very substantial inflationary projections into the near future,” Boyles said. “If President Biden’s infrastructure package that is in Congress is approved, you will see multiple fold of capital projects underway. If this had to be rebid, I would say that we would end up with less product and at least the same amount or more of the cost.”
The second reading of the appropriation will be on the consent agenda for Council’s June 7 meeting. They’ll next meet on May 25 to have a work session on the 7th Street Parking garage followed by a May 26 joint meeting with the city School Board on the reconfiguration of the city’s middle schools.
Council adjourned their meeting before 8 p.m. something that newcomers to city government should never ever expect.
Tonight, the Charlottesville Planning Commission will have a joint public hearing with the City Council on a rezoning on a cul-de-sac on the western edge of Fifeville. A property owner on Valley Road Extended seeks the rezoning and a special use permit to build four apartment units on just under two-thirds of land. The applicant is proffering $48,000 to build a portion of sidewalk and have suggested it could be part of a larger network. (meeting info)
“Sidewalk improvements along the new parcel frontage along Valley Road Extended that ultimately may be incorporated into a more robust pedestrian and bicycle improvement network if the multi-use tunnel under the railroad right of way, as called for in the  Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan,” reads the narrative.
The narrative references a map on page 38 of the plan that depicts many desired projects throughout the city. One of them is this underpass at the northern end of Valley Road Extended.
However, there is no active project planned for such a tunnel at this site to occur, according to city Communications Director Brian Wheeler. In all, there is a distance of 4,500 feet where the railroad bisects the Fifeville neighborhood from the University of Virginia without a pedestrian or vehicular crossing, between Shamrock Road and Roosevelt Brown Boulevard.
The University of Virginia is also not planning for a tunnel at that location, according to its non-voting representative on the Planning Commission. After the city agreed to hand over right of way for the Brandon Avenue corridor, UVA agreed to study for a railroad crossing and settled on a different planning concept closer to Monroe Lane and Paton Street. However, they are not pursuing a crossing at this time but will work with the city on an easement should it choose to proceed.