After several months of debate and discussion, the Charlottesville City Council may decide in May whether to begin the process of changing the zoning on West Main Street to reduce the height of future buildings.

“The tool has the potential to address a number of the community’s concerns with the current West Main zoning,” said Morgan Butler, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Charlottesville Project.

As part of the West Main streetscape study, the firm Code Studio has recommended the city divide West Main Street into two zoning districts with larger buildings allowed to the west with slightly smaller buildings allowed on the east.

Under the proposal, developers would no longer be able to ask for a special use permit to ask for additional height.

The western district would have a maximum height of 75 feet and the eastern half would have a maximum of 52 feet. Ground floors would have to be at least 15 feet tall and there would be a minimum of two stories.

Special consideration will be made for the Amtrak station and the adjacent parking lot on West Main, which are below street level. However, those details most likely will not be developed until the public process begins.

In 2003, the council changed the zoning on West Main to encourage large buildings to accommodate greater resident density.

However, significant development did not begin until 10 years later when the council approved the Flats at West Village apartments.

The size of that building alarmed many people who said it is out of character for the corridor and led to the pressure for the rezoning.

“We’d like to see the review process get underway as soon as possible so that public input can be considered and any potential issues can be flagged and worked through,” Butler said. “The longer we wait to work on changes, the worse the problem gets.”

A local pro-business property-rights group will be watching the issue closely.

“The expectations of neighbors, elected and developers must be focused on the reality of what form-based zoning can achieve,” said Neil Williamson, president of the Free Enterprise Forum.

Williamson said he is hopeful that the new zoning will allow developers to have flexibility to meet the demands of the market.

“I hope that there is significant flexibility to allow the developers to meet the code and address the market demands,” Williamson said. “If the ordinance fails to address these issues, the regulatory environment can crush creativity and push development outside of the form-based corridor.”

If the council opts to go through with the rezoning, it will not affect the heights of several other multistory buildings that already have been approved.

On Tuesday, the Board of Architectural Review will consider a certificate of appropriateness for 1000 W. Main St., an apartment and commercial development that the council approved in November 2013.

Also in November 2013, the council approved a special use permit for a six-story structure called the Standard that will replace the Republic Plaza building.

In January, the council approved a special use permit allowing for a 101-foot hotel at 1106 W. Main St.

Last month, the Board of Architectural Review approved the design of developer William Atwood’s Atlantic project, which is expected to consist of a five-story building and a six-story building in the 500 block of West Main.

The rezoning possibility is a matter separate from the ongoing discussion of the future of West Main’s streetscape.

The streetscape is slated to be discussed at a June 10 meeting of a steering committee of stakeholders that shepherded the $340,000 study last year.

Permit parking

The council also held the first reading of an ordinance to create a permit parking zone in the Tenth and Page and Fifeville neighborhoods.

The council decided in January 2014 to pilot the program.

If adopted by the council at their next meeting, the permit program will be extended to Page Street, Paoli Street, 10 ½ Street Northwest and Ninth Street Northwest between Page Street and Preston Avenue. The system would also extend to Elm Street, King Street and Pine Street.

Two people supported the idea of making the permit program continue indefinitely.

“Our street has grown every time the University of Virginia grows,” said Josephine Morrison, a resident of the 800 block of Page Street.

However, a resident of Ninth Street said the permit parking is a nuisance.

“I’ve lived in Tenth and Page for a third of my life now,” said Brenda Castañeda. “During that time, I have never had a problem with parking.”

Castañeda said she understands the concern of her neighbors and recognized the need for the permit system elsewhere in her neighborhood. She also said UVa must do more to create more parking spaces so its employees don’t take up spaces on city streets.

Staff will return to Council with more information before a final vote is taken.