After several attempts to reach a diverse cross-section of Charlottesville’s population, the city plans to ask community organizations for input on the city’s vision.

The Planning Commission will hold a public meeting on Aug. 21 with leaders of community organizations at the Herman Key Jr. Recreation Center. It will focus on the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which helps to determine where redevelopment will occur in the city, among other policies.

“We’re not doing a Comp. Plan for them or to them. We’re doing it with them, ideally,” Commissioner Genevieve Keller said at Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting.

The commission has conducted three engagement phases on the latest Comprehensive Plan update. From May 2017 to May 2018, the city held workshops at schools, libraries and at neighborhood and cultural events.

Activists have emphasized that these phases were not effective in reaching all of Charlottesville.

Members of housing and racial justice advocacy groups filled a Comprehensive Plan meeting in June and demanded that the update “center on extremely low-income residents.”

“Zoning laws have historically been used to segregate and displace communities of color. The Comprehensive Plan must make amends for the past,” the Charlottesville Low-Income Housing Coalition said in a statement prior to the June meeting.

“There are different reasons why people don’t get involved,” Joy Johnson, a member of the Public Housing Association of Residents, said at a meeting last week. Johnson is also a member of the city’s Housing Advisory Committee.

“They have been to previous meetings, gave their input, and none of their input has been reflected in their neighborhood. … They feel like people don’t hear them,” Johnson said.

Commissioners said they hoped that leaders of organizations like Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville would be able to guide a more satisfying engagement process.

“I’m willing to admit that we didn’t know how to plan thoroughly to reach everybody,” Commissioner Jody Lahendro said. “We’re willing to go back out again, but we need to know what to do.”

The leaders will receive the same presentation that commissioners hope to give the community in the final phase of outreach. As attendees enter the recreation center, city staff will hand them stickers that they can use to self-report demographic data on posters.

“For the leaders’ meeting, I really don’t have any specific demographics that I’m looking for,” Commissioner Taneia Dowell said. “[For the subsequent community meetings,] hopefully, we hit the mark. I’m looking for minority and I’m looking for young adult — and, if possible, under-18 [attendees], as well.”

The Planning Commission discussed how to set up the Aug. 21 meeting to be a collaborative event. Lahendro said he hoped to avoid a seating arrangement that separated commissioners from community organizations.

“I want everybody at the same table on this one,” Planning Commission Chairwoman Lisa Green said.

Several commissioners said that they hope to wrap up public feedback and create a final draft of the Comprehensive Plan soon.

“This is not an infinite process,” Commissioner Hosea Mitchell said. “We’ll take [your feedback] into account, but we have to put together a document and give it to council by the end of the year.”

Green asked how the commission should respond to activists who have asked them to wait for a citywide housing strategy.

“This will be a living document. It can be amended,” Mitchell said.

Two days after the Aug. 21 meeting, the Planning Commission is scheduled to present a draft of the plan to the City Council. The commission plans to finish the Comprehensive Plan engagement process in late September.


Emily Hays grew up in Charlottesville and graduated from Yale in 2016. She covered growth, development, and affordable living. Before writing for Charlottesville Tomorrow, she produced a podcast on education and caste in Maharashtra, India.