Discover more from Charlottesville Community Engagement
A look at Charlottesville’s new Development Code in advance of Thursday’s public hearing
An atypical edition of the newsletter to provide a lot of information about a very complex topic
A key reason for the creation of Town Crier Productions was my deep conviction that people who live in complex civilizations should be able to know about the processes that affect their lives. I pursue this work to provide access to materials that are freely available in our democratic form of government.
In this atypical edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement, I’m going to try to provide as much information as I can about where we are in a process known as the Cville Plans Together initiative.
“Cville Plans Together is an opportunity for the community to actively participate in updating the future vision for the city, with a focus on equity and affordability,” reads the website.
As part of this process, Council has already adopted an Affordable Housing Plan in March 2021 as well as a Comprehensive Plan in November 2021. Since then, consultants have been working on a new zoning code that implements a call for more housing and rules to guarantee that at least some new units be kept below-market.
The Charlottesville Planning Commission will hold a public hearing Thursday at 4 p.m. to review what’s being called the Development Code. If adopted by Council, the new zoning and subdivision ordinance will enable property owners and developers to build significantly more residential units than currently allowed with fewer constraints.
How did we get here? What’s in the new zoning? Let’s get to it, but there’s no podcast version this time around.
In this edition:
A brief overview of the Cville Plans Together Initiative?
A very rough sketch of land use history in Charlottesville since 1979
More details on the development of the Affordable Housing Plan and the Comprehensive Plan
A summary of how the Development Code will change the rules of the city’s built environment
This work is an act of independent journalism created by a 20-year resident of Charlottesville who still wants to know why things happen the way they do. Sign up to see if he ever figures it out.
Today’s shout-out: An explanation of shout-outs?
In a typical edition, I use this space to provide a “shout-out” to subscribers and Patreon supporters who have qualified for a particular perk. Most of these editions are written as scripts for a podcast as my early journalistic dream was to be a public radio producer. I love the way that public service announcements sound and I love that in three years I’ve been able to use this space to promote items that I think most of you would be interested in.
In this shout-out, I want to salute anyone who has learned something new from these shout-outs. I also want to thank those individuals and organizations that have supported me in the past.
What is the Cville Plans Together initiative?
As I said above, this edition is a little different and atypical. The public hearing is less than three days away and there are many in the community who may still not know what’s been going on. I encourage you to click through the links in this edition. Some go to stories I wrote while at Charlottesville Tomorrow. Much of that work was also published in the Charlottesville Daily Progress.
The update of the zoning code that dates back to early 2017 when the Charlottesville Planning Commission began their required review of the Comprehensive Plan. Under Virginia law, that is a general overview of what should be allowed whereas zoning is the set of technical rules that allows what gets built where.
Charlottesville first adopted a modern Comprehensive Plan in November 1979 according to Missy Creasy, the city’s deputy director of neighborhood development services. At that time, Albemarle County and Charlottesville were engaged in a sometimes bitter conflict about land.
For much of the 20th century, the City of Charlottesville had the right under Virginia law to annex parts of Albemarle County if it could demonstrate it could provide urban services better. Albemarle fought annexation as it deprived them of tax revenues from places like Barracks Road Shopping Center.
The General Assembly placed a statewide moratorium on annexation in Virginia in the 1980’s but only after Albemarle and Charlottesville had signed an agreement that the two would share revenue based on a complicated formula. This agreement is still in place today and Albemarle will pay the city over $15.7 million, even though it’s unlikely the moratorium will ever be lifted. Since a voluntary annexation of Pen Park in 1988, the city-county boundaries have largely remained the same. That’s forced Charlottesville to live within its geographic means.
Expansion of the University of Virginia since the 1970’s prompted some members of some neighborhoods to seek protections against residential density. In the early 1990’s, the City Council adopted a zoning code that provided more protections for single-family neighborhoods.
“As part of the adoption of a comprehensive new zoning map for Charlottesville in 1992, the City implemented a number of land use recommendations including the creation of a separate single family zone for small lots in established neighborhoods, known as R-1A,” reads the land use chapter of the 2001 Comprehensive Plan.
That district ended being known as as R-1S.
Around the same time, some were concerned that Charlottesville did not have the financial means to support city services through real property tax revenues that showed little to no growth. There was an unsuccessful campaign in the mid 1990’s to petition the General Assembly for Charlottesville to revert to city status which would have meant Charlottesville becoming a town in Albemarle County. Council formally killed the proposal at its last meeting of 1999.
In the wake of that decision, City Council officials embarked on a new Comprehensive Plan update that sought to increase residential density.
“The City Council recognizes the critical role cities have played historically in providing affordable housing opportunities for those most in need, and is proud of the efforts it has made (and will continue to make) to ensure that our housing stock meets high standards while enhancing the quality of residential neighborhoods,” reads a portion of Chapter 14 of the 2001 Comprehensive Plan.
The Council also recognizes that the future of the City is linked to increasing the stock and diversity of housing type and price,” reads the next sentence.
The 2001 Comprehensive Plan begat the 2003 rezoning which introduced several concepts that pushed the city toward more density. These included the University High Density district which enabled construction of large apartment buildings on 14th Street as well as districts specific to key corridors such as West Main Street and Preston Avenue. There was also the creation of the Neighborhood Commercial Corridor district which is why there are restaurants and other commercial units in Belmont.
The 2003 rezoning was introduced to the public that June and adopted in September after a very brief community engagement period.
The 2007 Comprehensive Plan put an emphasis on neighborhoods. The 2013 plan had been intended to be developed in conjunction with Albemarle County, but that goal was never fully realized. One day I hope to write out a more thorough history of these times.
When the Planning Commission began their work on January 3, 2017, there were discussions across the city about how much density the city could actually support. This was at a time when members of the Little High Neighborhood Association were fighting against a special use permit for an apartment complex at 1011 East Jefferson Street.
A year and a half later, Charlottesville residents had gone through the experiences of the Unite the Right Rally and other turmoil now known collectively as the “Summer of Hate.” The August 12 rally put consideration of the plan on hold and a new round of community engagement began in early 2018 and wrapped up in May after a series of public workshops.
The plan stalled once again. There was disagreement on the Commission that the Future Land Use Map created as part of the process did not do enough to increase residential density. There’s a whole history waiting to be written but today the city’s archives are down. At least for me.
In February 2019, Council voted to hire a consultant to begin the process over and allocated nearly a million dollars to the process.
“The acute need is to get the Comprehensive Plan finished and to have an integrated affordable housing strategy within that Comprehensive Plan and then to roll immediately into the rezoning citywide,” said City Councilor Kathy Galvin at the time.
The firm Rhodeside & Harwell was eventually hired to oversee what became the Cville Plans Together initiative. I must disclaim here that I was initially on the steering committee for this process because I worked for the nonprofit Piedmont Environmental Council. I resigned that job in July 2020 because I realized I’m in no position to tell anyone what to think.
Adopting an Affordable Housing Plan and a Comprehensive Plan
The firm Rhodeside & Harwell was the sole respondent to a request for proposals issued by Charlottesville in 2019 for the new consultant. document was created by members of the Housing Advisory Committee and the Planning Commission.
To understand the zoning code that will be the subject of the public hearing, you have to read two paragraphs from the RFP.
In Charlottesville’s history, the failure of institutions and city government to be accountable to low-wealth communities, particularly communities of color, has taken many forms: violent suppression, structural oppression, neglect, half-hearted or insincere attempts that serve to manufacture consent, and well-meaning attempts that end up failing due to their assumptions, framework, and processes favoring those in power and resulting in lopsided and inaccurate information, community inaction, or community harm.
Housing is at the root of historical structural inequity and oppression in the United States, and it came to be this way deliberately. As we build a strategy to achieve a local housing landscape that is healthy, ample, high quality, and affordable, we must be equally deliberate in dismantling the dynamics and the structures that perpetuate continued inequity—structures that often go unnoticed by those of us who benefit from them or don’t directly experience their harm.
Community engagement for the Cville Plans Together initiative began in the spring of 2020 at around the same time that COVID-19 was proliferating throughout the world. The global pandemic would mean no in-person meetings were held for the entire period the Affordable Housing Plan was being created. Materials were placed online for people to review, such as in November 2020 for virtual meetings.
Council adopted that Affordable Housing Plan in March 2021 and there are three main recommendations: (download the plan)
Dedicate $10 million a year to affordable housing
Build inclusive governance at all levels
Adopt progressive and inclusionary zoning reforms
The last goal signaled to the consultants that the next Future Land Use Map should be very different then the one in 2018. The text describes single family zoning as being “historically a tool to create and reinforce racial segregation in Charlottesville and nationwide and has restricted the development of housing, contributing to rising housing costs.”
The Affordable Housing Plan also calls for an end to height restrictions and other barriers to multifamily apartment buildings. It called for elected and appointed officials to be taken out of land use decisions.
“These processes are highly discretionary, meaning that the City, and by extension the public, exercise significant influence over what development receives approval,” reads page 37 of the plan.
On March 30, 2021, the Planning Commission took a look at a new version of the Future Land Use Plan which showed a parcel-by-parcel approach. (read my story)
Council initially adopted the Comprehensive Plan on November 15, 2021 but had to re-adopt it last year to address a legal technicality. The adopted Future Land Use Map officially designated most land currently zoned for single-family neighborhoods as “General Residential” though a small subset of these lands were designated as either “Medium Intensity Residential” or “Higher-Intensity Residential.”
Lots in General Residential areas were to get up to three-units. Lots in Medium Intensity Residential were to have as many as 12 and lots in Higher-Intensity Residential could have more than 13. The details would be worked out in the zoning.
The legend of this map also pointed the way to more non-residential uses.
“Limited commercial uses allowed in all residential districts, to be further described in the Zoning Ordinance,” reads the top of the Future Land Use Map. “Zoning tools will regulate affordability and maximum allowable development for all categories and will consider demolition disincentives, as feasible.”
The adopted Future Land Use Map also included one consideration that has since been abandoned. “Sensitive Communities” were to be areas where data depicts current households as being subject to displacement pressure. These were to be restricted to one unit per lot.
The first module of the draft zoning would not be released to the public until this past February.
A quick look at the market
Before I get to what’s in the zoning, I thought it might be useful to give a sense of what has happened on the ground in those areas that had been designated as Sensitive Communities taken from my ongoing work on property transactions from April 2021 to November 2022. While the Affordable Housing Plan decries single family houses, the market for them has been hot especially for areas near the University of Virginia.
713 Nalle Street in Fifeville sold for $700,000 on April 12, 2021.
313 10th Street NW in 10th and Page sold for $320,000 on May 17, 2021
336 7 ½ Street SW in Fifeville sold for $380,000 on May 18, 2021
336 11th Street NW in 10th and Page sold for $559,000 on May 27, 2021
302 5th Street SW in Fifeville sold for $380,000 on May 18, 2021
809 Anderson Street in 10th and Page sold for $575,000 on June 3, 3021
806 Page Street in 10th and Page sold for $428,000 on July 14, 2021
905 Charlton Avenue in the Rose Hill neighborhood sold for $385,00 on September 9, 2021
514 11th Street NW in 10th and Page sold for $600,000 on September 13, 2021
914 Anderson Street in 10th and Page sold for $589,000 on September 27, 2021
309 5th Street SW in 10th and Page sold for $389,000 on October 14, 2021
316 6 ½ Street SW in Fifeville sold for $367,500 on November 1, 2021
903 Charlton Avenue was purchased on November 15, 2021 for $160,000 to a company that renovated the house and sold it for $525,000 on November 29, 2022
712 West Street in 10th and Page sold for $465,000 on November 18, 2021
932 Charlton Avenue in the Rose Hill neighborhood sold for $399,000 on November 19, 2021
311 5th Street SW in Fifeville sold for $480,000 on December 20, 2021
708 West Street in 10th and Page sold for $250,000 on January 7, 2022 and sold on December 2, 2022 for $510,000
813 King Street in Fifeville sold for $305,000 on January 12, 2022
609 7 ½ Street in Fifeville sold for $522,000 on January 24, 2022
856 Nalle Street in Fifeville sold for $400,000 on February 15, 2022
507 10th Street NW in 10th and Page sold for $475,000 on February 25, 2022
723 West Street in 10th and Page sold for $645,000 on March 21, 2022
915 Paoli Street in 10th and Page sold for $325,000 on May 2, 2022
724 West Street in 10th and Page sold for $500,000 on May 6, 2022
338 10 ½ Street NW in 10th and Page sold for $550,000 on May 24, 2022
310 10th Street NW in 10th and Page sold for $519,000 on June 2, 2022
912 Anderson Street in 10th and Page sold for $519,000 on June 3, 2022
325 6 ½ Street SW in Fifeville sold for $490,000 on June 14, 2022
905 Page Street in 10th and Page sold for $577,000 on June 30, 2022
800 Anderson Street in 10th and Page sold for $400,000 on July 7, 2022
225 Dice Street in Fifeville sold for $336,000 on July 21, 2022
309 7th Street SW in Fifeville sold for $435,000 on July 29, 2022
1002 Grady Avenue in 10th and Page sold for $590,000 on August 19, 2022
339 6th Street SW in Fifeville sold for $280,000 on September 27, 2022
920 Charlton Avenue in Rose Hill sold for $210,000 on November 7, 2022. What’s different about this one?
A duplex at 801 Prospect Avenue in Fifeville sold for $240,000 on November 7, 2022
819 Ridge Street sold for $122,000 to a firm called Salvaged Assets on November 10, 2022
A lot of people have made money in this market. Who are they, and did they do so in the name of affordable housing?
What’s in the Development Code?
Now, let’s move onto what’s actually in the zoning code. The final draft of what’s being called the Development Code was released on August 14, a full month before Thursday’s code. All of the materials are available here on the Cville Plans Together initiative page.
I wrote up an account of what’s in the zoning code on August 15 if you want to see what I wrote at the time. This is likely more thorough than what is below. (read this story)
The following is a slightly different version written while looking at the source materials one more time before Thursday.
Unlike when the Comprehensive Plan was adopted, the Planning Commission will conduct a separate public hearing from the City Council. Council adopted the Comprehensive Plan the same night that the Planning Commission held their public hearing.
All commercial uses in residential neighborhoods would require a special use permit.
Rules and requirements for public meetings are in an administrative manual rather than the Development Code itself
From the 429-page final Development Code itself we learn: (read the final version)
There are twelve reasons for the zoning code under section 1.13 on “purpose and intent” and two are related to housing. “J” calls for affordable housing and “K” calls for “optional increases in density in order to reduce land costs for such moderately priced housing.
While there is still a moratorium on annexation, Section 1.2.2-A gives Council the ability to determine the zoning of any new land that were to become part of Charlottesville.
Division 1.3 of the code established three new residential zoning districts, two residential mixed-use districts, three corridor-mixed use districts, five “node” mixed-use districts, two industrial flex zones, and three special districts. These replace the districts established in 2003.
Division 2.1.1 explains how each district page is to be read and interpreted, and how to read the interpretations for various rules.
For this next bit, here’s a handy link to the zoning map.
Residential-A lots have a minimum lot size of 6,000 square feet and have three units as a base. There can be four units if an existing structure is preserved. There can be as many as six units total if three of them conform to the city’s affordability policy. If there are more than four units, buildings could take up 65 percent of the lot. The maximum height allowed is 35 feet
Lots in Residential-B zones can have a much smaller minimum lot size at 2,500 square feet. Six units could be built by-right if there is no structure or if it were to be removed. If a structure is preserved, there could be eight units. A maximum of 12 units could be built if a portion of them were designated as affordable. The maximum height would be 35 feet and 70 percent of the lot could be covered with building.
Property in Residential-C zones would also be restricted to 35 feet in height and have a minimum lot size of 2,5000 square feet. This zone was altered during the community engagement process this year.
There would be no stated limit on the number of dwelling units in Residential Mixed Use 3 or Residential Mixed Use 5. There are also no minimum lot sizes by area but there would be minimum widths. Buildings could take up 80 percent of the lot in RX-3 and as much as the entire lot in RX-5. Buildings in these zones could get additional height if affordability provisions are met. RX-3 could be 44 feet tall without the bonus and 72 feet if the below-market units are provided. In RX-5 those figures are 72 feet and 100 feet respectively.
The Corridor Mixed Use districts replace the corridor districts from the 2003 rezoning that were specific to each one. There is no specific limit on the number of dwelling units in any of these. Corridor Mixed Use 3 would allow 80 percent of a lot to be covered with 10 percent set aside for “outdoor amenity use.” Allowed heights in CX-3 are a base of 44 feet up to 72 feet if affordable units are provided. Corridor Mixed Use 5 could cover the entire lot, though 10 percent must be set aside for “outdoor amenity use.” Heights in CX-5 are 72 feet as a by-right base with 100 feet if affordable units are designated.
Lots in Corridor Mixed Use-8 could see buildings taller than anything currently allowed in Charlottesville. A base of 114 feet would be allowed with no affordability provided. Structures could go as high as 142 if ten percent of the units are set aside as affordable. Some examples of CX-8 land include the intersection of Maury Avenue and Fontaine Avenue. The northeast quadrant sold in December 2022 for $20.7 million to Crossroads of Charlottesville.
The Node Mixed Use districts are very similar to the CX districts, with the addition of a Node Mixed Use district would have a base by-right height of 142 feet and 170 feet if the project complies with affordability guidelines.
That’s a basic summary of building forms allowed and residential uses allowed. There’s a wealth of detail in here.
Now let’s switch over to uses which begin in Article on page 163 of the .PDF of the Development Code. The use table begins on page 166.
General household living is allowed by-right in all zoning districts except Civic, which is one of the special zoning districts.
Someone who wants to open up a restaurant below 4,000 square feet in R-A, R-B, or an R-C zone could do so if Council approves a special use permit and if performance standards are met. You can have any size restaurant by-right in all other zones.
“General Medical” up to 4,000 square feet would be allowed with a special use permit in R-A, R-B, and R-C zones. Same with “General Retail” and “General Office” and “General Personal Service” up to 4,000 square feet.
Manufactured home parks are only allowed by special use permit in R-B districts and by-right in RX-3 as long as performance standards are met.
Adult assisted living up to eight residents is allowed by-right in all zones except Civic. A special use permit is required for more than eight residents in R-A, R-B, and R-C zones. Otherwise it is a by-right use.
Religious assembly is permitted anywhere by-right. Even Civic.
Day care up to 12 children is also allowed by-right anywhere. You could not have any day care above that amount in R-A, R-B, and R-C zones.
“General Education” would be allowed with a special use permit in R-A, R-B, and R-C zones but by-right in all other zones. No “college, university, or vocational school” in any residential zones including RX-3 and RX-5, but by-right in all other areas.
You can only have a cemetery in Civic or the Campus districts. Nowhere else.
“General indoor entertainment and recreation” no matter the size is not allowed in any residential zones but allowed by-right in most other places.
You could not have a private club in R-A, but you could in the four other residential zones with a special use permit.They’re by-right everywhere else.
There is no ability to build a new golf course anywhere in the city. You can have a golf driving range with a special use permit in the two industrial flex zones.
Gyms or studios would be allowed with a special use permit in R-A, R-B, and R-C zones. They are by-right in all other zones.
There are also things you can’t do in R-A, R-B, and R-C zones. These include “artisan workshop”, “Farmer’s Market”, “Greenhouse or Nursery”, “Vehicle Repair or Service”, or “Fueling Station.”
You also could not open a bakery of any size in any residential district.
You could not open a “low-impact industrial and manufacturing” in residential areas.
There also could be no data centers, warehouses, self-service storage, vehicle storage yards, or recycling drop-off centers.
I’ll leave uses for now as there are some performance standards to review. These begin on page 209. As time is moving fast, I’ll place two.
Details of the development bonuses for existing structures begin on page 213.
Vehicle parking standards began on page 241. There will no longer be requirements for off-street parking but projects over 50,000 square feet must submit a transportation demand management plan.
So, that’s that. I had hoped to do more with all of this, but it’s just me doing the work here at Town Crier Productions. I quit a job with benefits in the summer of 2020 to follow my heart and my conviction because I never really wanted to leave Charlottesville Tomorrow. Yet, I did. There’s a whole history to write there, too, but goodness.
What isn’t there a history to write about?
I am running out of time with this one. So I hit “publish” while sitting in an establishment on West Main Street built on what used to be a field when I first moved to Charlottesville. I am acutely aware that in my time here, this place became much more like a city. I’m on the ground floor of a seven story building that was enabled by the 2003 rezoning. That’s the year I showed up here.
Where will any of us be in 2043? As I finish up this edition, I ask everyone to think about that timescale.