Charlottesville Community Engagement
Charlottesville Community Engagement
September 26, 2023: A discussion of anti-displacement measures in Charlottesville; New design for UVA Center for Politics
September 26, 2023: A discussion of anti-displacement measures in Charlottesville; New design for UVA Center for Politics
Plus: There is still a vacancy on the Charlottesville Planning Commission

Welcome to Johnny Appleseed Day. Or if that doesn’t take root in your mind, celebrate National Compliance Officer Day and think whether Mr. Appleseed’s work would be acceptable with 21st century agricultural practices. If you fail to have interest, ponder whether apples could be used in a commemoration of National Dumpling Day. If that’s all nonsense to you, perhaps this edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement is a way to mark Love Note Day. I’m Sean Tubbs, enamored as always of the details.  

On today’s show:

  • Charlottesville City Council makes several appointments to Boards and Commissions but does not fill a vacancy on the Planning Commission 

  • The city’s new building permit system is operational 

  • The city will work with Albemarle County on a grant application for a transportation study for the U.S. 29 corridor

  • A subcommittee of the Board of Visitors weighs in on the design for the renovation of Center for Politics 

  • The Charlottesville Planning Commission addressed anti-displacement solutions at a two-hour deliberation on September 19

Charlottesville Community Engagement is an afternoon newsletter and podcast with a lot of information about the built environment. Sign up for free but do think about paying to make sure there are more editions!.

First shout-out: Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards 

In today’s first subscriber-supported shout-out: The changing of the seasons is underway and that is perhaps the best time to get out in the woods to see what’s changing and what’s been productive in the sunny seasons. The Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards will have two walks coming up this week limited to 20 participants. 

In both, Tree Steward Phil Stokes will lead a walk through a well preserved and highly diverse woodland to see naturally occuring spicebush, winterberry, and dogwood laden with red berries. In abundance will also be nuts from forest oaks, hickories, and walnuts as well as orchard grown Chinese chestnuts, walnuts, pecans, and American hazelnuts.

  • One walk is to be held on Friday, September 29 from 10 a.m. to noon (register)

  • The second is be held on Saturday, September 30 from 10 a.m. to noon (register)

  • And coming up later in the fall, there’s a tree identification lesson on Zoom on October 17 to be followed up by a hike on October 21. (register here)

Council makes appointments to Boards and Commissions but not the PC

On September 18, Charlottesville City Council made several appointments to Boards and Commissions, but did not select a person to sit on the Planning Commission. A seventh seat on that appointed body has been vacant since Liz Russell resigned in June.

Other appointments were made:

  • Brian Johnson and Roy van Doorn were reappointed to the Joint Airport Commission. This seven-member body exists to advise the Joint Authority Board which consists of the City Manager, the Albemarle County Executive, and one appointee. That person is currently Donald Long, who sits on both bodies. 

  • Quinton Harrell was appointed to the Charlottesville Economic Development Authority, a seven-member body that “was established to promote economic development in the community, expand the local tax base and to encourage more job opportunities for our citizens.” 

  • Shaniece Bradford has been appointed to the Board of Directors to the Piedmont Family YMCA. Both Albemarle County and Charlottesville have appointed members to this body since committing capital funds to build their aquatics and fitness center in McIntire Park in the late 2000’s.

  • Casey Erickson and Miller Murray Susen have been appointed to the Charlottesville Sister Cities Commission to positions that had been vacant.

  • Dashad Cooper has been appointed to the Community Criminal Justice Board. Cooper was a candidate for City Council in the June 20 primary after having also been a candidate in the Democratic nomination for House District 54. 

The closing date for the Planning Commission vacancy is October 31. 

For the full list of vacancies, take a look at the city’s website.

Mayor Lloyd Snook encouraged people to consider applying for a position. 

“You can go to the city’s website for boards and commissions where it says Join a Board and Commission and just see what positions are vacant,” Snook said. “And if you see something there and say ‘I know something about that, I can contribute something there’ we would love to have you.” 

Snook did not mention the Planning Commission vacancy. Commissioners Hosea Mitchell and Rory Stolzenberg were reappointed to new four-year terms in June. Several people had applied during a previous window but Council opted not to make a selection. No one applied during this cycle, but seven had applied in the previous deadline. Council opted not to make a selection at that time. 

Charlottesville’s new building permit system is operational

Both Albemarle and Charlottesville have recently invested in new software to help run the departments that process land use applications and permits. Charlottesville reached a milestone at the end of August according to Deputy City Manager Steven Hicks. 

“As of August 30, Neighborhood Development Services is able to accept online permits for building permits through the new permitting software,” Hicks said. “Looking ahead, the final phase of implementing the new software and bringing all remaining permits into the system will go live in November. We anticipate site plans as well in the near future.

Earlier this year, Council approved a new fee structure for building permits to match the new system. They held first reading on that matter on April 3 and second reading on April 17. (read my story)

You can access the portal as a guest and review applications here.

A status update on Albemarle’s attempts to modernize will be coming up in a future edition of the newsletter.

The new portal allows searches on a great number of permit types (Credit: City of Charlottesville)

Charlottesville to participate in Albemarle’s pursuit of federal grant funds

Last week, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors approved a request from planning staff to submit an application for a federal grant intended to address places that have been affected by being cut off due to transportation infrastructure. 

Albemarle is seeking $300,000 through the Reconnecting Communities and Neighborhoods program for a corridor study between Hydraulic Road and Hilton Heights Road. This is a resubmission after one sent in last year was unsuccessful. 

“Staff learned in a debrief with Federal staff that the application had scored very highly,” reads a staff report. “Federal staff noted minor points of improvement for the application if the County chose to resubmit.” 

This time around, Charlottesville staff will also participate.

“We are supporting this grant application area and the study area north of the 250 bypass on either side of Route 29 including the Meadows neighborhood and Michie Drive in the city,” Hicks said. 

The grant application comes at a time when there are several funded projects in that area. These are a conversion of the Hydraulic and Hillsdale intersection into a roundabout, a pedestrian bridge across U.S. 29 at Zan Road, and changes to Hydraulic Road’s intersections with Brandywine Drive and Michie Drive.  A public hearing for these projects was held in May 2022. (VDOT website on these projects)

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Renovations and additions coming to UVA Center for Politics

The University of Virginia Center for Politics is headquartered within a 4,700 square foot house called Montesanto that’s located between Old Ivy Road and Leonard Sandridge Drive in the area known as North Grounds.

Earlier this month, the Architect of the University of Virginia briefed the Buildings and Grounds Committee on some upcoming work  

“While the Center for Politics has been very successful in developing and running its extensive roster of programs, the size and layout of the existing house hampers the Center’s daily operations and prevents them from fully engaging students and community in hosting larger seminars and events,” said Alice Raucher. 

The existing site is accessed via Crestwood Drive, but the schematic design shows a new road connection to Leonard Sandridge Drive. 

The new design shows construction of a new 5,000 square foot addition to the house that will include space for a library, a common area, and a seminar room along with a new connecting building known as a hyphen.

“The project includes modest renovations to the main house including converting the first floor conference room to a collaboration hub and combining small rooms on the second floor into an open office space,” Raucher said. “The addition will also provide space for a memorabilia archive and a media studio and green room.” 

Construction documents are expected to be ready in the spring with the work to be complete in the summer of 2025. The Buildings and Grounds voted on a resolution to expedite the work. 

One member of the committee mentioned that the Virginia Department of Transportation is currently conducting a “pipeline study” of potential road improvements in the Old Ivy Road and U.S. 250 west corridor. 

“One of the big issues there is going to be how do the people, between the two, many of whom are UVA employees, get out of there,” said the member. “I think the connection between Old Ivy Road and Leonard Sandridge Parkway is going to be really important.”

Raucher said Crestwood Drive is currently a private road that there’s an agreement in place for Montesento only and not for through access. The University will one day redevelop the Ivy Gardens apartment complex to the east of the Center for Politics. 

I’ll have a story in tomorrow’s C-Ville Weekly with more information. 

A conceptual site plan depicting the location of the Center for Politics and its proposed layout (Credit: UVA Office of the Architect)

Second shout-out: Piedmont Master Gardeners

In today’s second subscriber supported shout-out:  To sustain natural habitats, there has to be enough places for pollinators to live in order to their job of fertilizing native plants. On Saturday, October 21, the Piedmont Master Gardeners will hold a free garden basic presentation on Native Plant Propagation: Seed Saving and Winter Sowing. (view the events page)

You can extend your budget and widen the selections available through seed saving and winter sowing. Join the Piedmont Master Gardeners to learn about: 

  • Seed collection and resources for buying native seed

  • Various techniques for preparing native seeds for sowing

  • Growing techniques for winter and spring and for outdoors and indoors. 

You will also practice what you learn with a hands-on propagation activity, and you will go home with a milk jug planter and seeds. The event will be held at Trinity Episcopal Church at 1118 Preston Avenue from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Space is limited so register today!

Charlottesville PC talks anti-displacement in first set of Development Code deliberations

Try as I might, there is no way I can get to everything I want to write especially when there are family obligations that eliminate hours in the day. Additional meetings on the calendar means additional items to juggle for a one-person information operation turned temporary furniture hauler this past weekend.

Shortly after publication of this newsletter, the Charlottesville Planning Commission will begin their second set of deliberations on the city’s new Development Code. They may or may not make a recommendation as I wrote about in this past week’s Week Ahead.

This segment is wonky and I dispensed with a lot of explanations. If you want more background, peruse stories at this link on Information Charlottesville.

On September 19, the six remaining Commissioners spent two hours giving staff and consultants direction on potential changes to the draft Development Code. Commission Chair Hosea Mitchell honed in on one specific item. 

“We’ll want them to give them a good general idea of where we want to go with the anti-displacement zones that used to be called the Sensitive zones,” Mitchell said. 

At the outset, Mitchell said the Commission had to provide feedback on the process for the special exemption process for special forms. This particular story doesn’t get into any of that.

Neighborhood Development Services Director James Freas got right to the point with topic number one. 

“I think the first kind of threshold question when we think about the anti-displacement overlay district is whether or not to have one,” Freas said. 

For background, the city commissioned the firm RKG to conduct a study on the feasibility of some of the rules and requirements related to providing affordable housing units in the new Development Code. (link to the report)

Freas said that members of the Housing Advisory Committee expressed concern at their review of the RKG report that the most attractive areas for development happen to be many of the neighborhoods designated in the Future Land Use Map as “Sensitive Communities.” All of these are depicted in the draft zoning as having the Residential-A designation.  That allows three units per lot by-right or four if an existing structure is preserved.

“Part of the role of the Medium Intensity, of the [Residential-B] and [Residential-C] districts was to actually draw some of that new development away,” Freas said. “That was part of the anti-displacement strategy was to create opportunities for new development in other parts of the city that haven’t necessarily seen that type of development in the past.”

Freas said there are pros and cons with developing an anti-displacement overlay but the main negative to him relates to decreasing potential for wealth-building.

“Anything we do that reduces the potential for development in the areas certainly reduces the potential for displacement but also reduces the potential for additional value for those homes and those properties,” Freas said. 

He was also clear that zoning changes cannot stop a well documented phenomenon. 

“There’s nothing that we can do to stop the single unit, the single family flips that we know are occurring in those areas but those are going to be part of what has happened and is leading today to the displacement those areas are experiencing and will continue to happen going forward,” Freas said.  

A screenshot of my summary of property transactions from November 2022. Go take a look at the whole month here.

Freas said the city will continue to work on an anti-displacement policy by amending the Affordable Housing Plan. He also said he wants to conduct a small area plan for the 10th and Page Neighborhood. Such a plan has been adopted for the Cherry Avenue corridor that runs through Fifeville. 

Mitchell took a straw poll to ask his five colleagues if they supported an overlay district.

“I don’t believe it’s necessary,” said Commissioner Rory Stolzenberg. 

“I’m more concerned about affecting the zoning of the periphery than affecting the zoning of the neighborhoods themselves,” said Commissioner Carl Schwarz. 

“A zoning overlay isn’t necessary,” said Commissioner Phillip d’Oronzio. “A lot depends on what else we do or don’t do or recommend.” 

“I think if there’s a way we can cater them per neighborhood then yes, we can do that,” said Commissioner Karim Habbab. “But as a general broad stroke across all neighborhoods, I don’t think it’s necessary at this time.” 

“I could see it as working as part of a citywide anti-displacement effort in all zones so that it is consistent and we can defend it in court,” said Commissioner Lyle Solla-Yates. “If it is not city-wide, I would recommend that it be separate and on a different timeline so that we can study it in more detail.” 

Mitchell said he did not think an overlay district is necessary but the city must address the issue.

“Some sort of protections need to be in place and separate and on a different timeline seems reasonable to me,” Mitchell said. 

Freas wanted more information from Solla-Yates.

“Commissioner Solla-Yates, do you have anything in mind when you think about city wide because that,” Freas said. 

“Check your email,” Solla-Yates interrupted. 

Community members do not have easy access to email, but each of us can take steps to get them if public business has been discussed. I’ve just submitted a request through the city’s Freedom of Information Act portal to get details that Solla-Yates did not initially disclose at the meeting. 

You too can submit a FOIA request. Click here.

d’Oronzio is a member of the Housing Advisory Committee which has made recommendations. One of them is to place limitations on who can develop in the Sensitive Communities areas similar to rules for family subdivisions in rural counties. 

“In order to move forward with development on a given lot you have to have been on the title for two years,” d’Oronzio said. “And that would be effective from day one so everyone who lives in these areas would be able to develop immediately but if they sold to a developer, that developer would have to sit and the idea there would be to put in a break.” 

Another HAC recommendation would be to create an overlay district for a limited period of time that would allow three units on a Residential-A lot but only if at least one of the extra units is guaranteed to be affordable. A third one involves another novel mechanism. 

“Can we just keep this away from zoning at all, and presumably we’re spending implementation money anyway, to offer cash options for the development rights from the city of some other entity,” d’Oronzio said. 

These recommendations were not available in the materials for the packet for discussion or review by community members.  

More education on the worth of real estate?

Commissioner Rory Stolzenberg said he felt there was little the city could do given the extent of free market activity.

“The status quo is of rapid change in these neighborhood as a result of single-family home flips and it seems to be that nothing about the overlay we’re discussing is going to limit those in anyway,” Stolzenberg said. “At worst, it could even exacerbate the problem where we may have at least some of those flips add smaller and more attainable units and instead they will become even pricier higher-end flips.” 

Stolzenberg suggested the city could put a cap on development per year like a similar ordinance in Arlington County aims to do. That zoning code is the subject of a lawsuit. (Judgment in Missing Middle lawsuit likely one month away, Jo DeVoe, ARL Now, September 19, 2023)

Solla-Yates then read from an email he sent to Freas two hours before the meeting. 

“Anti-displacement effort making the first single-family home on a parcel require a special use permit so that Council can consider its effects on displacement. This would also apply to de-duplexification efforts where two or more homes are combined into one. Does not apply to in-fill within an existing home or homes preserved on sight. Can be ministerially approved by staff with affordability component to address displacement concerns. Recommend this be either city-wide or a secondary process that is legally separate from the rest of the zoning process so it can be legally challenged and delayed on a separate timeline.”

Schwarz asked Solla-Yates if he sent the email to everyone.

“No, I was told not to,” Solla-Yates said. 

Let’s see if FOIA turns it up as well. 

Charlottesville has both a city attorney in Jacob Stroman as well as a consulting attorney hired for land use issues after former City Attorney Lisa Robertson left the position abruptly at the end of 2022. 

Missy Creasy, the city’s deputy director of Neighborhood Development Services, said Sharon Pandak wrote to say that a special use permit cannot be required for by-right development. 

Part of the discussion reviewed a basic element of the real estate market. Developers will try to get the lowest price possible and there are many ways to do so. 

“No builder is interested in paying the fair market value for a lot if they can possibly get away with paying less,” d’Oronzio said.

“I would argue that people selling their house for less than its worth is at the very core of this problem, right?” Stolzenberg said.  “You have people who are selling for $200,000 and those houses are getting $10,000 worth of work put in them and selling for $550,000. That’s not a problem that can be solved with zoning.”

Stolzenberg suggested working with the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors to educate potential sellers on getting a fair price. 

The conversation continued, but the next one begins in a few hours so I will end this summary.

Reading material:

Exeunt, 581! 

This particular edition is about four days later than I would have liked, but I had a mid-Atlantic errand to run in a transit van. You can stay up to date with the production schedule by taking a look at my page on Substack Notes

As 2024 nears, it is definitely time to begin work on training people to assist me in this work and paying them! I’ve got some ideas because the volume of potential stories is only going to increase. 

I am grateful to the more than 550 paid subscribers who keep me afloat as I try to soak in as much information as I can to produce these newsletters and podcasts. If you are one of that number, thank you. If you’re not, also thank you! The main goal is to get the information out to as many people as possible. 

For now, you can support this work with a subscription through Substack. The Internet company Ting will match your first payment. 

Ting sponsors Scott Stadium, the Ting Paviliion, and the John Paul Jones Arena. Maybe you’re in the market for a new high speed internet provider?

If you’re in Charlottesville, check out Ting! If you sign up for Ting at this link and enter the promo code COMMUNITY, you’ll get:

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