Charlottesville Planning Commission
has unanimously voted against a proposal that would potentially increase the density of multi-family housing zones around the University of Virginia. The proposal was to change the units of the density requirements for medium-density residential districts (R-3), Medium-density University residential (R-UMD), and High-density University residential (R-UHD) from dwelling units-per-acre (DUA) to bedrooms-per-acre. The Commission made their recommendation at their meeting on November 11, 2008.
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Various developers in the University area approached City staff with the proposal in an effort to gain more flexibility to respond to market demands. Given the current density maximums of 21, 43, or 64 DUA, developers claim they are forced to build only 4-bedroom units, which is the maximum allowable, since the land is priced with the assumption that occupancy will be maximized. Switching the requirements to bedrooms-per-acre would allow developers to build more 1 or 2-bedroom units without cutting into their total number of residents. For example, R-3 would change from allowing 21 DUA to 84 bedrooms-per-acre. The total number of bedrooms would not change and they could be allocated into units differently.
During analysis, planning staff determined that even if the number of bedrooms would stay the same, the total number of occupants could potentially rise. This is because the City calculates restrictions on the number of unrelated persons living in the same property in units – 4 persons per unit. Under the proposed changes, residents, looking to cut rental costs, would be legally allowed to share a bedroom with another person. Staff sees this potential for increased density as a problem, because it could increase the number of cars adding to parking and traffic congestion in the neighborhood.
Commissioner Genevieve Keller asked whether there was any data on housing costs to determine whether this change could provide more affordable housing. While the City has no data on this, they surmised that doubling up in a bedroom would be cheaper than being alone. City Councilor
inquired about whether many students would choose to live with a roommate. Commissioner Michael Osteen, who owns student-rental housing himself, questioned whether students really would double up even if given the option. Most of them are eager to get out of dorm-style living arrangements. David Neuman, Architect for the University, concurred.
Nevertheless, Commissioner Osteen did not want to risk the possibility of a density increase. According to Osteen, the increasing density here would be “catastrophic to areas around it.” This was the general sentiment of the rest of the commission, and they recommended denial of the zoning text amendment.