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The Charlottesville Planning Commission has weighed in on one way of providing more affordable housing in the city.

During a five-hour meeting on Saturday, the commission decided not to include restrictions on dwelling units per acre in their update of the land use chapter of the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

“Tough day, but this is an important step forward for affordable housing in @CvilleCityHall,” Commissioner Lyle Solla-Yates tweeted after the meeting about the dwelling unit decision.

The commission has been updating the Comprehensive Plan for almost two years. The plan provides direction to staff members on the city’s priorities and vision for the future.

The city routinely uses dwelling units per acre as a metric for whether a development meets city zoning ordinances or the vision outlined in the Comprehensive Plan. However, many argue that the focus on the number of units discourages developers from building smaller units that can be more affordable.

“In an urban set of metrics … there usually is no density requirement. It’s just ‘as fits.’ Building height matters. [You have] parking maximums,” Councilor Kathy Galvin said during the public comment period, arguing that the commission had to decide whether their vision was urban or suburban.

The dwelling unit decision was one point of agreement during a tense work session.

2018-Draft-Land-Use-Map

The draft Comprehensive Plan land use map published in Dec. 2017

Credit: Neighborhood Development Services, City of Charlottesville

The meeting began with a 4-3 vote to work from the December 2017 Comprehensive Plan land use map, following negative feedback from the City Council on the commission’s most recent map.

When the council reviewed the Comprehensive Plan in December, several councilors said that the commission’s November map envisioned more population growth than the community had asked for or could accommodate.

“[The Birdwood neighborhood next to the U.S. 250 Bypass is] pretty landlocked. There’s only one way in and one way out. There’s existing housing throughout that whole community, and it’s purple [for high intensity]. I’m trying to figure out how that plays out,” Councilor Heather Hill said in December.

Solla-Yates and fellow commissioners Rory Stolzenberg and Gary Heaton voted in the minority to adjust the November 2018 map.

However, the commission did not get to adjusting either map on Saturday.

“We’re going to need to have some focus and stay on track,” Chairwoman Lisa Green said before turning to Mayor Nikuyah Walker, who was sitting in the audience. “Otherwise, mayor, I’m not sure when we’re going to get this done.”

The commission did debate and vote on how much they expect the city to grow vertically. A majority of commissioners envision up to 10 stories in the highest-intensity area, transitioning down to a maximum of four stories in the lowest-intensity area.

The commission still needs to write the text for the land use chapter, write a community engagement chapter and incorporate the council’s feedback into the six complete chapters.

The commission has not scheduled its next work session on the Comprehensive Plan.