Charlottesville releases draft report on zoning approach | local government

Charlottesville is one step closer to rewriting its zoning code, which city leaders want to meet the city’s affordable housing goals.

The city released a 118-page draft zoning diagnostic and approach report, and is hosting a four-hour open house on June 27 for residents to review and comment on.

“It’s a concept blueprint for future zoning ordinances and what might be in the new zoning ordinance,” said James Freas, director of neighborhood development services for the city.

The Charlottesville Neighborhood Development Services Department worked in partnership with a team of consultants from Rhodeside and Harwell on a three-part process called Cville Plans Together. Rewriting the zoning ordinance is the third and final part of the process. The zoning code has not been substantially revised since 2003.

Past efforts have focused on creating an Affordable Housing Plan, approved by City Council in March 2021, and updating the Charlottesville Comprehensive Plan and Future Land Use Map, or FLUM, which was passed by the city council and planning commission in November 2021. It includes commitments to affordable housing and climate management, and allows for more different types of housing in different parts of the city.

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The purpose of the report is to talk about different ideas, different rules or regulations that we could incorporate into the zoning ordinance that would help advance the goals and strategies of the overall plan,” Freas said.

Many supporters hailed the approval of the new Comprehensive Plan and Future Land Use Map, or FLUM, as key to addressing the city’s affordable housing shortage. FLUM’s endorsement is one of the first significant steps the city has taken to address the city’s legacy of racial pacts of exclusion and redlining.

The new map changes the high and low intensity designations in the existing map to general and medium residential intensity. This provides more potential affordable housing opportunities, housing that does not impose an undue financial burden on occupants, in areas traditionally dominated by single-family homes. The intent is for the zoning ordinance to build on this priority designated by FLUM and the Affordable Housing Plan.

“We are now going into more detail on how the new zoning ordinance could advance our affordable housing goals. It’s important to note that zoning by itself cannot solve the affordable housing crisis in Charlottesville, but it can certainly give us tools that help solve the problems,” Freas said.

Zoning refers to regulations that govern building development and land use. These regulations consist of two parts: the zoning ordinance (including a description of the zoning districts) and a zoning map. Zoning districts divide the city into different classifications, each with its own permitted standards for development and land use. A zoning map shows users which districts apply to each property.

The new report includes dozens of visual examples of possible building types and configurations under the new intensity designations.

Another goal is to make zoning easier for homeowners to understand, Freas said.

“One of our big goals for the new zoning ordinance is to make the ordinance and the process easier to understand, easier to read and easier to interpret for the average person,” Freas said. So that means a lot more illustrations. It means a lot more tables, graphs and it means plain language. When we write the zoning ordinance, it means using common language to describe “this is what you are allowed to do”. Here’s what you’re not allowed to do.

Planning Commission Chairman Lyle Solla-Yates said he liked that the report was easier for the general public to read than many previous zoning documents.

“I like the fact that it’s relatively visual and relatively clear. It was a big priority that it was something that was usable, and that’s what I see,” Solla-Yates said. “It has been such a challenge for us for decades, with owners not knowing what can happen to their property and adjacent properties. I hope we are on the right track to turn this into something clearer and simpler.

There is still a long way to go before a new zoning code is in place. Freas said that once the public comment period is over, the team will complete a revised version of the report for presentation to the Planning Commission and City Council. These two bodies will have the power to give the team the green light to begin the phase of drafting the actual order. The goal is for the draft zoning ordinance to be in the approval phase in the spring of 2023.

“I expect at least two rounds of changes as we work to get it right, just because it’s so important and complex,” Solla-Yates said.

The community review and comment period for the report will run until August 2022. Freas said there will be online surveys as well as in-person engagement opportunities to give feedback.

“We want to hear people’s feedback. What are the ideas here that preoccupy them? What are the ideas where they think we should go further? What additional ideas do people have? And that’s the dialogue we’re looking to have over the summer,” Freas said.

The city will host an open house on June 27 between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Ting Pavilion in the Downtown Mall to gather feedback on the proposed zoning approach. Interested residents are invited to come forward.

There will be a series of information stations where attendees can learn about the analysis of the current zoning ordinance and the proposed approach to the rewrite. There will be no presentation. Open house materials will also be available at cvilleplanstogether.com/zoning-plan.

The city encourages attendees to walk, bike, or take a bus or trolley to the meeting, but will provide parking validation tickets for attendees parking in the Market Street Garage.