The Charlottesville Planning Commission has concluded a third phase of community meetings intended to shape the city’s key visioning document.
“Every five years it is a mandate that we update the Comprehensive Plan,” said Lisa Green, chairwoman of the commission.
The Comprehensive Plan was last updated in 2013 after a process in which the city worked with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission to plan jointly with Albemarle County.
Since then, the document has been periodically amended over the years with different studies and initiatives, such as the Strategic Investment Area, which was added in 2014.
To facilitate redevelopment in the SIA area, a company called the Form Based Code Institute has been paid at least $256,300 to rewrite a portion of the zoning code and to conduct a housing needs assessment.
“The draft [zoning code] is complete and under review,” said Alexander Ikefuna, the city’s director of neighborhood development services. “There was a request to hire a community engagement facilitator to work with the low-income community on the form-based code as it related to affordable housing.”
The Comprehensive Plan update itself has been a major focus for the Planning Commission since January 2017. A first phase of public workshops was held in May of that year.
Green acknowledged that most people who attended the first phase of workshops were homeowners and white. As such, a second round of meetings was held later that summer.
“Because we didn’t get a good cross section of demographics, we went to places where people go,” Green said about the second phase of workshops, where tables were staffed at atypical locations, including Fridays After Five and the African American Cultural Arts Festival.
Consideration of the plan, however, stalled in the immediate wake of the Unite the Right rally on Aug. 12. The commission then continued its work and held a series of meetings in the fall and over the winter to go through public input.
“The seven of us can’t know what the entire city should look like in the future or how it should function,” Green said.
In March, the City Council extended the deadline for the commission to complete its work from June to October.
The fourth and final workshop of the third phase of public input was held Tuesday at the Belmont Arts Collaborative.
“All four of them have been set up with the same format and at different times of day,” said Allison Linney, a facilitator who spent the first part of the day overseeing a City Council retreat meeting.
As with the other events this May, participants were asked to go to a table to offer feedback on one of the plan’s chapters. The chapters are on community facilities, economic sustainability, the environment, community engagement, transportation, historic preservation and urban design.
Halfway through the workshop, the performance space was filled with the sounds of rattling paper as a draft land use map was handed out to the 50-some participants.
Other than Commissioner Taneia Dowell, only one attendee was African-American.
“With this type of meeting and the type of power that generates from these conversations, there are a few people missing from the table,” said Jean Remi, a man from Haiti who has been in Charlottesville for five years. He saw the opportunity for the meeting on Facebook.
Remi encouraged the city to do more to attract more people to public input sessions.
Colors on the current land use map represent desired future uses for property.
“What we’ve been hearing … is how we’re having these high-rise structures come into neighborhoods with lower structures and there’s no transition between the two,” Green said.
The draft land use map features a color gradient where purple represents a high intensity of development and yellow represents lower intensity. However, details of how those colors translate to desired intensities have yet to be worked out.
The evening concluded with a general public comment period in which each speaker had up to 90 seconds to talk.
The first speaker reminded participants that land owners have the ability to build according to existing zoning no matter what the land use map says.
“We can lay out what we want in each area but how are we going to ensure the mechanisms are in place to get what we want,” asked housing activist Michael Payne.
Another speaker asked for the adoption of the updated Comprehensive Plan to be delayed until after the city completes an affordable housing strategy.
A Planning Commission public hearing on the Comprehensive Plan has not been scheduled yet.
“We’re still waiting to see and hopefully by late fall we can take this to council to take a look at where we are,” Green said, adding that there will be more opportunities for public comment.
Tuesday’s meeting was also the final time that both Kurt Keesecker and John Santoski participated as members of the commission. They will be officially replaced by Hosea Mitchell and Hunter Smith on Friday.
The City Council will fill another vacancy on the commission later this summer before the conclusion of Genevieve Keller’s term in late August.
“I know many people have been critical of this process, but I have to say I’ve learned something from every one of these meetings,” Keller said.