Category Archives: Placemaking

Toward a TDM Plan for Charlottesville?

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.” 

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UVa making plans for Ivy Garden redevelopment

(This installment was originally posted in the June 9, 2021 edition 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. 

Source: University of Virginia Office of the Architect
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Oversight group discusses Cville Plans Together initiative

(This article originally appeared in the May 25, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

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 latest version of the schedule for the process

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. 

Jennifer Koch is a project manager with Rhodeside & Harwell.

“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. 

Seven draft chapters of the Comprehensive Plan are available for review (download)

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.

The Lewis Mountain Neighborhood has been designated as medium intensity in the draft future land use map. (interactive map)

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. 

Neighborhood plans were drafted in the 2007 plan, as described on page 285. If you’re a Charlottesville resident, what was said about your neighborhood? (download the plan)

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.” 

At the meeting, some members expressed concern about a perceived lack of engagement. Valerie Washington represents the Charlottesville Low Income Housing Coalition

“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.”

The housing plan was adopted in March 2021 and informed the development of Future Land Use Map (download)

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. 

Proposed apartments for Fifeville draw attention to planned railroad underpass

(This article was originally a segment in the May 11, 2021 Charlottesville Community Engagement)

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 [2015] 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.

This map is Charlottesville’s 2015 Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan and can be found on page 38. (download the plan)

Ash trees are in a “state of emergency”

(This article originally appeared in the May 11, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

The Charlottesville Tree Commission got an update on several topics at its meeting on May 4, including an update on several projects planned for Charlottesville’s McIntire Park. 

“In McIntire Park there are three projects going on that are really private-public partnerships,” said Peggy Van Yahres, a member of the Tree Commission.

Van Yahres is part of one project to install a memorial grove in McIntire Park to commemorate people who have been awarded the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce’s citizenship award. 

“We wanted to preserve the landmark oak trees  on the top of McIntire Park on the east side,” Van Yahres said. “The other objective was just to enliven the park and make it a better place for people to go and sit underneath these beautiful trees.” 

The memorial would be a stone terrace on which the names of the past and future award winners would be displayed. 

“There will be a beautiful lawn, people can play, a walkway, and of course, a lot more oak trees to continue the tradition,” Van Yahres said. 

Van Yahres said the grove has been added to the schematic design for the Botanical Garden of the Piedmont. That’s the new name for the nonprofit that entered into a memorandum of agreement with the City of Charlottesville to operate in the northeast section of McIntire Park. She said the grove will hopefully be installed by this fall. 

A rendering of the proposed Grove in McIntire Park. Learn more on the Chamber and Grove website.

As for the garden, Jill Trischman-Marks is executive director of the newly renamed organization. There was a naming contest.

“We had over two hundred responses and selected Botanical Garden of the Piedmont because it was precise and concise,” Trischman-Marks said. “It not only identified where the garden is located but it also talked about the trees and other plants that will be highlighted in this garden.” 

The nonprofit is on the hook to raise funds to pay for infrastructure and to install the garden.

“The city of Charlottesville has dedicated the land to this project but that’s where the taxpayer burden ends,” Trischman-Marks said. “All of the funds that are needed to design, construct, and maintain the garden will be privately raised but once it is built just like any other city park, the Botanical Garden will be free and accessible to all.” 

Trischman-Marks said the plan for the garden is to utilize native species and demonstrate the ecosystem of our area. You can weigh in on a survey they have listed on their website

“And share the survey with your friends, families, and neighbors because the more feedback we get, the better this garden will be,” Trischman-Marks said

Trischman-Marks will update the Charlottesville Planning Commission at their meeting on Tuesday.

The third project is a more low-key initiative from the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards to plant new specimens. 

Later in the meeting, the Tree Commission got an update on plans to fight the Emerald Ash Borer from the city arborist, Mike Ronayne.

“The Emerald Ash borer is an invasive insect from Siberia and it will be killing all of our untreated ash trees in Charlottesville,” Ronayne said. “And now it seems like it’s come through other parts of Virginia like northern Virginia and now we’re really just starting to deal with all the dead ash trees that we’re finding in Charlottesville.”

The goal is to protect 31 individual trees in the city, and have sought additional funding from City Council for the purpose and to remove the dead trees. About one to two percent of trees in the city’s parkland are ash trees. A draft cost estimate to remove the trees over five years is $480,000. That does not cover the cost of planting replacements. The cost to annually treat those 31 trees will be $8,425 a year. Todd Brown is the city’s director of parks and recreation.

“Basically this is a state of emergency situation,” Brown said. “These trees are dying. Ninety-nine percent of them are going to die and right now we’ve been hitting at a tiny fraction of them. For everyone we’re doing, there are ten more that need to be done and ten more that die. We’re chasing a moving target that’s eventually going to stop and eventually we are going to have to catch up to it.” 

Brown said that presents a safety issue and more and more limbs become prone to falling. For more on the Emerald Ash Borer, take a look at the Virginia Department of Forestry website. The agency is offering a cost share program for individual removals. (learn more)

The woods shroud this dead Ash tree near Crozet. The homeowner took advantage of the Virginia Department of Forestry cost-share program to help treat some of its fellow specimens, but this one was too far gone. (Credit: Grace Reynolds)

Albemarle design panel reviews Fontaine Avenue Corridor

The next time you walk, bike, or drive along Fontaine Avenue in Albemarle County, think about possible futures. Much of the land is owned by the University of Virginia or its real estate foundation. The road itself is one of Albemarle’s Entrance Corridors, and as such is under design guidelines of the Architectural Review Board

“The majority of the land is either owned or controlled by the University,” said Fred Missel, director of design and development at the University of Virginia Foundation. “Some land, primarily Foxhaven Farm, Morey Creek, Observatory Hill, are all being held for long-term needs of the University. 

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Charlottesville Council to consider Cherry Avenue plan

Tonight, Charlottesville City Council will take action on whether to add the Cherry Avenue Small Area Plan to the city’s Comprehensive Plan. Council’s public hearing was held on January 12, 2021 during the Planning Commission and they wanted some revisions. City planner Matt Alfele said at that meeting that this plan has been a long time in the making. (read the draft plan)

“I know one of the driving principles of our community is engagement and letting the neighborhood drive the planning process,” Alfele said. “This is very true with the plan in front of you tonight.” 

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Work continues on Rio Road Corridor Study

Tonight, the Places29-Rio Community Advisory Committee will get a briefing on the Rio Road Corridor Study, a project underway in that is in part a response to opponents of recent rezoning proposals on Rio Road East. They argued Albemarle County needed to address congestion on the street before approving any more residential units. The firm Line + Grade was hired last year to conduct the work following their work on a similar study of Avon Street Extended.

The Albemarle Planning Commission got a look at the study’s scope at their meeting on February 16. (project website)

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Council seeks additional information on West Main Streetscape

The prospect of the West Main Streetscape being implemented is still alive as City Council still wants more information about how the project could be salvaged. The project was split into four phases in order to secure funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation, but staff has recommended not fully funding the project. 

Council has not made several final decisions about the proposed $160 million Capital Improvement Program for the next fiscal year and the four years that come after it. That amount also includes $8 million for a 300-space parking deck as well as a $50 million placeholder for reconfiguration of the city’s middle schools. 

“There certainly is a lot of unknowns when we think about going into the future of the CIP especially when we think about schools and not knowing the scope of what they’re going to be [doing],” said City Councilor Heather Hill. “And also thinking about the parking deck situation and what options we may have.” 

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Albemarle PC recommends form-based code overlay for Rio Road / 29 area

On Tuesday, the Albemarle Planning Commission held a public hearing on a new zoning overlay district created by staff for the area around the intersection of U.S. 29 and Rio Road. The idea is to encourage the redevelopment of single-story shopping centers into a more urban form. The form-based code would be optional and would allow for more square feet in a structure. Rachel Falkenstein is a planning manager with the county. 

“The application process for development under form-based code would look pretty similar to a by-right development process that we have today with a couple of small tweaks,” Falkenstein said. “The first is that we are requiring a pre-application meeting for applications under the form based code where we could discuss topics with the applicant such as the location of streets and civic spaces and any unique site characteristics.”

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