A new historical preservation tool could potentially be given to Charlottesville residents that wish to preserve the character and scale of their neighborhoods. In their January 13, 2009 meeting, the Charlottesville Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval for the creation of a conservation district ordinance (abbreviated ‘CV’ by City staff).
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According to Preservation and Design Planner, Mary Joy Scala, the conservation district would function as an “architectural design control district lite.” Unlike the more robust ADC overlay district, the new CV district would only affect new construction and demolition, not renovations. It is intended for use in more “modest neighborhoods,” although this ordinance itself does not apply to any specific neighborhoods. An interested neighborhood would have to propose a rezoning and get it approved through the public process to be adopted.
The Planning Commission previously discussed creating the category of CV districts during their November 11, 2008 meeting. They deferred the item on account of a letter from Mark Watson of Piedmont Housing Alliance (PHA), which implied that CV districts could limit the supply of affordable housing in the city. The letter stated: “If the proposed ordinance had been in-place during the past decade, PHA’s revitalization initiatives in Starr Hill, Hinton Avenue, and 10th & Page would probably have been impossible to accomplish.”
The Commissioners took this criticism seriously. They said they needed time to read the letter in its entirety and hear more from PHA. Since then, the PHA board reconsidered their stance and sent a more supportive letter to City staff, although they still acknowledged that such a tool could be used to limit development and promote segregation. Their primary concerns were that the interests of the entire city be taken into account when deciding on implementing CV districts, and that a fair public process take place.
During last week’s meeting, the Commissioners focused on the nature of this public process. How would the necessary consensus be achieved among neighbors to request this designation? Some neighborhoods have strong neighborhood associations that can offer a clear voice, but many of the neighborhoods that might be candidates for CV districts do not have these structures in place. Commissioner Dan Rosensweig mentioned that sometimes even he, an active citizen of Charlottesville, is not always privy to the actions of his neighborhood association, and he worried about whether others may also be left out the decision.
Mayor Dave Norris asked whether a formal process could be devised similar to a federal National Registry designation. In this case, all residents of a neighborhood are given notice, and if more than 50% of the owners object the process can be blocked. Ms. Scala responded that a system is already in place to ensure public participation. If neighborhood associations themselves are not effective in generating consensus, than the objections would likely come out in the public hearing for the rezoning. She clarified that each resident for whom a CV district would affect would be sent written notice prior to the public hearing.
Commissioner Jason Pearson brought up the recent unsuccessful attempt to historically preserve his neighborhood of Fifeville as evidence of a successful public process. Other Fifeville and Ridge Street residents
have recently expressed
their frustrations with the development review process when they were disappointed by City Council’s action to sell two parcels of City-owned land on the corner of Ridge Street and Cherry Avenue to Southern Development. Opponents of that project have cited years of feedback in opposition to the development which they believe fell on deaf ears and led to citizen apathy at later public hearings.
Having passed through the Board of Architectural review in July 2008 and the Planning Commission in January 2009, the CV district ordinance will next be heard by City Council at an upcoming meeting.
Daniel Nairn & Brian Wheeler
TIMELINE FOR PODCAST
1:35 – Preservation planning Mary Joy Scala presents ordinance
7:20 – Commissioner Emory asks about the role of planning staff
8:40 – Commissioner Farruggio raises concerns about additions to existing houses
11:50 – Commissioner Rosensweig opens discussion about public process of designation
16:40 – Mayor Norris points to a codified federal process for historic designation
19:05 – Sub-neighborhoods can still apply
22:30 – Public comments from neighborhood association representatives
29:10 – Comment from architectural historian
32:55 – More discussion on public process of designation
34:45 – Commissioner Farruggio concerned about cost burden for homeowners
43:20 – Commissioner Lewis supportive but wants to be sure property can be adapted
53:10 – Commissioner Emory offers philosophical reason for preservation
57:50 – Motion made and passed