Note: This story is part of our continuing coverage of Charlottesville’s Comprehensive Plan update. If you’re new to the conversation, get up to speed by first reading this initial explainer, then other stories about some of the  controversy and confusion, the community comment period, and what the City can learn from its land use and zoning history.


 

On Wednesday, Cville Plans Together released a draft summary of the comments collected during its most recent community comment period, which ran from May 3 to June 13. The team will present the summary to the Planning Commission during a public work session Tuesday, June 29.

Read the summary here.

The summary is 53 pages long, and while it’s fairly specific, it’s not particularly dense. It breaks down each different type of engagement Cville Plans Together utilized in this particular phase, and what they heard via each method (number of comments, general themes of comments, etc.), explained using a variety of graphs, charts, and text explainers.

At this point, at least one person has read and organized the nearly 3,000 comments that came in, and the Cville Plans Together team will continue to read through and reflect upon those comments as the process progresses, said project manager Jennifer Koch, a senior associate with Rhodeside & Harwell Inc. (RHI), the planning firm hired by the city in 2019 to assist with the Comprehensive Plan update.

“We don’t want to minimize anything that’s come out at this point. We still expect we may find additional themes as we go through the comments. I’d tell folks not to be alarmed if they don’t see their comment directly reflected in there,” Koch added. 

One thing that can be gleaned from this set of comments is that “there is a general theme that people seem to support these goals we have of equity or affordability, whether or not they think our current plan achieves it,” said Koch. “We’re happy to see that. We’re hoping we can work toward an option that people feel more clarity around, and that they understand more of what we’re trying to do.”

 

Example 1

One of the pages from the comments summary draft, showing commenters' priorities.

Credit: Courtesy Cville Plans Together

 

Another takeaway is that “there are a lot of ideas of how we can achieve affordability, or what aspect of that is most important,” and that will be an important aspect of discussions going forward, said Koch.

Many of the tables and charts early on in the summary (such as the one shown below) show the number of responses received via each individual engagement method, organized by neighborhood when possible. For instance, of the 1,161 emails and phone comments received, 79 came from Belmont-Carlton residents, 75 from North Downtown, 73 from Venable, 69 from Fry’s Spring, 68 each from Rugby Hills and Greenbrier, etc. The numbers taper down to 15 from Rose Hill, 14 from Johnson Village, 10 from 10th and Page residents, 9 from Little High, 5 from Barracks Rd., 2 from Starr Hill, and 2 from The Meadows. 

It would appear that certain city neighborhoods, and even Albemarle County, have much higher engagement rates than others neighborhoods throughout the city. And as the chart shows, 307 of those email and phone comments—more than one quarter of the total—came from people whose comments did not make clear where they reside. 

(It is important to hear from county residents, because many of them would prefer to live in the city but cannot afford it—that’s a comment the Cville Plans Together team has heard over and over again, said Koch, adding that they’re still prioritizing city residents.)

Example 2

Another page from the comments summary draft.

Credit: Courtesy Cville Plans Together

 

Similar patterns appear in the charts for other engagement methods as well. The disparities in numbers are alarming, particularly when these numbers suggest that residents of historically and majority Black and majority lower-income neighborhoods are commenting at a much lower rate than residents of other neighborhoods. That may be true, for a host of reasons—time, lack of adequate engagement on the Cville Plans Together team’s part, limited access to the internet and other devices needed to fill out the survey, to name a few. 

But this isn’t a numbers game, said Koch, particularly because equity is a guiding principle of the Comprehensive Plan update. 

“It’s not just a factor of total numbers of comments we receive. We need to take into account who we are hearing from when we look at the input,” said Koch, and that means recognizing if they’re hearing disproportionately from some neighborhoods over others and discussing in that June 29 Planning Commission work session how to balance that going forward.

What’s more, “this isn’t a voting process. That’s why we need to be looking at this from the lens of equity, and being clear about what we mean about equity and affordability,” said Koch.

“We’ve established in the affordable housing plan that we’re looking at a wide range of affordability. We’re looking at strategies that can address deeply affordable housing, deeply affordable homeownership, and everything above and between. […] And the way we’re thinking about equity is that it’s important to recognize that not everyone has what they need. Housing is an important part of everyone’s quality of life, and we are trying to address those needs across the spectrum to help people achieve a higher quality of life,” said Koch, and land use tools can help with that.

The presentation also includes summaries of comments made in other community comment and engagement phases (pages 40-42 of the presentation), because the team will continue to keep those comments in mind as the Future Land Use Map process—and the larger Comprehensive Plan update process—continues. This is particularly important, said Koch, because that early feedback is what helped Cville Plans Together create those planning objectives shared in the last round.

So, what’s next? Quite a bit, as we’ve outlined in previous coverage, that’s worth repeating here:

What will happen during that work session?

  • Cville Plans Together will present a draft summary of community comments to the Planning Commission (a more detailed summary will follow at a later date)
  • Cville Plans Together and the Planning Commission will discuss the comments and collaboratively discuss potential ways to address the comments;
  • The Planning Commission will have an opportunity to offer input on the seven draft chapters of the Comprehensive Plan, as well as the draft Future Land Use Map (remember, the draft FLUM is one part of one chapter of the Comprehensive Plan)

 

What will not happen during that work session?

  • A vote to approve any proposed part of the Comprehensive Plan.
  • A decision to approve any proposed part of the Comprehensive Plan.
  • A presentation of a new (third) draft of the Future Land Use Map.

 

When will Cville Plans Together share another draft of the Future Land Use Map?

At the moment, there is no date or deadline for the next FLUM draft. Previous drafts were revealed in March and May of this year, and a new draft FLUM will not be created prior to the June 29 work session.

The Cville Plans Together FAQ page offers more detailed information about next steps, how the proposed Future Land Use Map differs from the current one, other parts of the Comprehensive Plan that affect housing affordability, and so on.

The June 29 work session will give both the Planning Commission and RHI a better sense of the work that remains to be done on the FLUM as well as other aspects of other Comprehensive Plan chapter drafts. After the session, they’ll notify the public of future deadlines for revisions and, later, a date for a vote/approval by the Planning Commission.

Register for the session and download the agenda here.