By Daniel Nairn
Monday, April 6, 2009
During a March 24, 2009 Charlottesville Planning Commission work session, staff presented a proposal to add more restrictions to zones in the University district, citing a number of typos in a 2003 down-zoning that allowed more unrelated students to share a unit than was originally intended. According to planners, the R-2U district was supposed to allow only three unrelated occupants per unit, but it was accidentally written to allow for four, making it identical to the R-3 district. Making such a corrective change would, according to Nick Rogers of the Department of Neighborhood Development Services, “maintain the low-density pockets” of adjoining residential neighborhoods. The goal is to create an economic disincentive for rentals in the area.
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Currently, R-1 and R-1S zoning do allow four unrelated occupants, which raised questions from commissioners about why neighborhoods with high levels of students should be singled out for this restriction. To avoid the perception of targeting the zoning ordinance, staff discussed the option of applying the cap of three unrelated to all medium and lower-intensity zones in a future comprehensive plan update.
Commissioner Dan Rosensweig gave a strong reaction to the proposal. Having lived in the area in question when he first moved to Charlottesville, he pointed out that it is mostly inhabited by graduate students. The loss of affordable housing could offer hardship to graduate students who do not have parents to buy houses for them. The current configuration is a “walkable, sustainable, pleasant, and harmonious” arrangement for many residents, and lowering the densities may even lead to an increase in cars. Furthermore, such a change would make a large chunk of the neighborhood non-conforming.
On the other hand, Commissioners Genevieve Keller and Bill Emory placed more importance in the “character of the neighborhood.” They would like to see R-2U stay a pleasant place for young families and graduate students, and they believed an allowance for higher densities could replace more single-family homes with duplexes. However, both see the difference between three and four to be relatively small. The real concern they see is the procedural problem of the typo and lack of accountability for the mistake.
Commissioner Cheri Lewis summed up the general reactions expressed during the meeting. She did not see a “whole groundswell to support” the proposed change. Commissioner Keller asked staff to do some research on other college towns to collect information for a future comprehensive plan updates, but otherwise the commission did not give any direction to staff to pursue this discussion further.
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