Charlottesville officials have started work on the city’s massive rezoning project with the goal of increasing housing density

The sun shines brightly on a four-unit apartment building in Charlottesville's North Downtown Neighborhood. The photo is taken from the street level, looking up at the multi-story building.

Charlottesville has started its massive rezoning process with a goal of broadly increasing housing density across the city.

Officials are not yet seeking public input on the plan. The first phase is “a lot of desk work, quite frankly,” said James Freas, director of Neighborhood Development Services for the city. 

Staff is reviewing city maps and the current zoning ordinance that they will compare to the recently adopted Future Land Use Map “taking those ideas and recommendations reflected in the Future Land Use Map and translating that into a potential zoning map with new districts and all of that,” said Freas. 

The current zoning ordinance, in use since 2013, classifies most of the city’s land as “low density residential.” In those areas, the only new housing allowed are single family houses and the occasional duplex — no multiplexes or apartment buildings.

The FLUM calls for broadly increasing housing density in all areas of the city, breaking the former “residential” land use designation into general residential, medium intensity residential, and higher-intensity residential. The general residential category allows a maximum of three units of housing (think triplex) on all residential parcels. Medium intensity allows for 4-12 units per parcel, high intensity residential would allow 13 units or more per parcel.

Officials have said they hope this will result in more homeownership and rental opportunities for city residents, and increase the supply of housing that is affordable for middle- to extremely low-income community members.

“We don’t anticipate that being a necessarily one-for-one translation,” Freas said. “There very well could be land use designations on the Future Land Use Map that are presented as multiple zoning districts on the zoning map.”

(Think of it like an impressionist painting, where the Future Land Use Map is a view of the painting from across a room: Yellow sunflowers in a vase. The land use categories are like a closer look at the painting, where one can see that the sunflowers are made up of individual petals. The zoning ordinance, then, is like a super close look at the painting, where one sees the different brushstrokes and different colors and hues that comprise each petal.)

“For example, the [land use category] that people are most interested in is medium-intensity residential, which on the Future Land Use Map identifies up to 12 units [per parcel]. But in the zoning, that could translate into new zoning districts in the area that are up to six units, or up to eight units,” Freas explained. Whether a parcel of land can feasibly handle 12, or six, or eight units, “that’s going to depend on the analysis that we’re going to be doing over the next few months.”

The city will release a report and a draft of a new zoning ordinance sometime in April, Freas said.

At that point, Neighborhood Development Services will ask for community feedback on the draft via a variety of meetings, neighborhood pop-up events, and one-on-one conversations. 

“Part of the reason we do this outreach is so that people can bring forward the knowledge they have of their community and of their neighborhood, so that we have that information” to work with, said Freas. That could mean anything from concerns about ongoing displacement of families to informing NDS that a portion of land around a creek is soggy and stinky, things that even the most detailed maps can’t convey.

At the earliest, the new zoning ordinance may be completed by this time next year, Freas said.

“That’s a good thing, because we want to make sure we take our time, and have an opportunity to hear from the community and ultimately come out with a good ordinance,” he said.

For now, folks who want to get involved can sign up to receive information and notifications via the Cville Plans Together site.

The site also encourages folks to reach out to the Cville Plans Together team (which includes Neighborhood Development Services as well as a consultant team) via email at engage@, or to NDS director James Freas directly. Freas can be reached via email at freasj@, or via phone at 434-970-3182.