As the development of Charlottesville’s new Comprehensive Plan is underway, affordability and equity have been at the forefront of conversations. Many stakeholders agree that including an affordable housing strategy and eventual zoning rewrite in the plan can help bring affordability to future residents and those who have been negatively affected by those issues currently. But what could the plan mean for existing homeowners in the city?

Some officials argue there will be growing pains, but it can eventually benefit all.

Property taxes and sales may go up, but they can come back down

Each year when homeowners receive their property assessments, the numbers are the result of sales that have occurred within the past year, according to Charlottesville Assessor Jeffrey Davis. 

He adds that with a large amount of single-family zoned areas already built within the city’s  roughly 10 square miles, the low supply and increasing demand has contributed to spiking sales in recent years. 

“That’s still a major factor in property prices now. It’s because there’s so little supply and very high demand,” he said. “That continues to drive the prices up.”

Both Davis and Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors President Quinton Beckham say that initially following upzoning, property values and sales may experience a “hump” but that it won’t last forever. 

“Until you fix that low inventory problem you’re stuck. And if we’re stuck in this 15% rise and every house has an increased value, someone in your neighborhood is going to sell,” Beckham explained. “There’s no way to avoid that storm because we’re not going to magically create inventory in the next year.”

While the Comprehensive Plan process has taken years, and once endorsed still will entail a zoning rewrite within the next year, the actual process to develop can take anywhere from two to four years for approval — meaning not much will physically change with each Charlottesville neighborhood anytime soon. 

Beckham said that until more housing inventory is able to be created, the problems of affordability and rising costs, displacement and gentrification can continue. 

Charlottesville Planning Commissioner Lyle Solla-Yates said it’s important to distinguish between displacement and gentrification though they can go hand in hand and have happened over time in Charlottesville. 

Both have played out locally from the City Council-mandated razing of Vinegar Hill — a historically Black neighborhood in the 1960s — to more affluent people moving into or selling in lower-priced neighborhoods, thus contributing to the rise in future sales and property taxes. This can subsequently force other homeowners out of their neighborhoods and incentivize more affluent people to continue moving in. 

“You’re always going to have people driven to lower-price neighborhoods because they can’t afford what would have been their price and yet they have more income than the average means so they can offer more,” Beckham explained. “They win the bid, then they drive up the price of the next sale.”

Increasing housing stock, he said, can also help relieve current homeowners from being priced out of their homes.

“There’s a synergy and spiral to it,” Beckham said. “The only way to interrupt that process is to create new zoning and a process with the city and [Albemarle] County where more density is allowed.” 

Constructing solutions

Part of the solution can be to build our way out of the problem by creating a variety of housing types in areas with higher density zoning — think townhomes, duplexes, apartments and even more single-family homes. 

Another component of the drafted Comprehensive Plan is to allow for infill in under-utilized land parcels with things like home additions or accessory dwelling units along with converting larger single family-homes into apartments. 

While the possibility of infill development like ADUs or building smaller homes on larger plots of land that are currently zoned for and contain one home can become reality, the housing coming to fruition will ultimately be up to current or future owners of those parcels as to what happens to them. 

“My fear is we won’t do enough,” Solla-Yates said. “There will be an upzoning, but no one will build a single thing so the property values will keep going up.”

As officials have stressed the Comprehensive Plan is not a mandate, but rather a guiding document stating what can be, not what will be, Solla-Yates also notes that means regardless of changes, they will not happen immediately. 

Additionally, Solla-Yates points to the current draft of the Comprehensive Plan’s strategies for preserving the aesthetics of neighborhoods despite potential changes. There are considerations being incorporated into the Comprehensive Plan like preserving historical areas, parks and not allowing too much demolition as part of development. 

“The big fear that I’m hearing from people is ‘Oh God, this is going to change overnight,’ but that’s not the case,” he said.  “There’s already talk in the plan now about monitoring demolition to make sure there’s not too much in any area.”

A portion of the draft also notes that if demolishing buildings is necessary, the city can incentivize or require development of affordable housing. The plan also suggests considering the use of ordinances, financial support and other incentives to encourage the “preservation of existing housing stock.”

Addressing equity is also a component of the planning. The drafted Comprehensive Plan and the already-endorsed affordable housing strategy call for an equitable approach to enabling more density and housing stock. 

A sub-strategy within a current draft of the plan details the suggestion of developing metrics for impacts that would include “potential displacement of marginalized, underserved or vulnerable populations such as low-income, formerly displaced, aging, disabled, homeless individuals and families.”

Another proposed strategy involves using an affordable housing overlay as part of the forthcoming zoning rewrite to incentivize long-term affordability through by-right zoning, increased density and changes to minimum lot sizes.

In the meantime, Solla-Yates and his fellow commissioners are slated to hear community feedback from the current plan draft and Future Land Use Map on June 29. Cville Plans Together — a consortium of area stakeholders and members of the consulting firm Rhodeside & Harwell Inc., have solicited feedback both on and offline concerning the latest draft. Their presentation and work session with the Planning Commission will help determine the next steps in the process. 

“There’s a lot of value to having the input from people who live in neighborhoods because they know it better than anybody else,” Beckham said. “If we can do a good job of combining that with the information from the consultants who do this for a living, we can come with a path forward.”