City resident Melanie Miller submits her feedback

The community mustered just enough people to match the dozen staff from the city of Charlottesville at a recent public outreach forum on the draft Comprehensive Plan.  

Those who came had questions answered on topics such as plans for arts and culture, the city market, zoning and transportation.

Assembled at tables representing each chapter of the revised plan, officials made themselves available for three hours Thursday in the Water Street Center conference room at the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.

“Anybody who has specific questions or wants to talk about any aspect of the draft plan, they have the opportunity to sit down with at least one staff person and get their questions answered,” said Missy Creasy, the city’s planning manager. “It’s another opportunity for us to meet with the public instead of just having them look online or send an email.”

Belmont resident Brian Wimer came in with a specific question.

“Where’s the arts and culture table?” Wimer asked.  

He was directed to the economic development team and afterwards said he was concerned that the arts were not getting greater emphasis.

“That’s worrisome to me,” Wimer said. “If you are missing the soul of the city, then you have a zombie.”

Economic development staff said creating a Cultural Arts Plan was a priority and related to their goal of increasing tourism. In January, the Piedmont Council for the Arts began coordinating a year-long effort to develop such a plan.

Wimer said it was the unexpected rather than the planned that often define a special place.  He cited the Black Market Moto Saloon as a welcome surprise.

“Nobody plans for a motorcycle bar in Woolen Mills. That’s how great cities are created, by the unexpected,” Wimer said. “How do you create a plan that nurtures those opportunities?”

“We are very open to having all sorts of quirky uses, in the right places,” Creasy said. “It depends on what the community input is on that and the specific impacts that might occur.”

Asked how citizen input had shaped the current draft of the Comprehensive Plan, Creasy cited the city’s eastern border with Albemarle County.  

“The focus on the Rivanna River is definitely citizen driven, as well as officially driven,” Creasy responded. “There is so much momentum behind it right now.”

She also credited the work by the University of Virginia School of Architecture, which held a workshop and design competition last month focused on the riparian land between Pen Park and Woolen Mills.

“There were a lot of good ideas,” Creasy said. “Getting the ideas out there is incredibly valuable to getting people thinking about what might happen.”

Melanie Miller, a city resident and member of the Board of Architectural Review, said her feedback had to do with the city’s efficiency and effectiveness.

“How can the city be more efficient and operate more like a business?” Miller asked as she placed her suggestion into the comment box. “Just because we have the money doesn’t mean we need to spend it.”

Madeleine Hawks, a graduate student in urban planning at UVa, traversed the conference room, appearing to thoughtfully read each table’s goals.

“It’s a good opportunity for people to have face-to-face time,” Hawks said. “As with a lot of public meetings though, its hard to get attendance.”

“There is a lot to understand, and some people just grumble about conflicts, but they don’t get involved on the front end,” Hawks added.

The Charlottesville Planning Commission will continue its review of the Comprehensive Plan at 5 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall, where the public is once again invited to provide input. The draft material is available at www.charlottesville.org/plancville.  

A public hearing will be held in April before the plan is passed on to the City Council for final approval.

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