“I think we’re making progress,” said Commission Chair Genevieve Keller.
Council will not officially begin its review of the Comprehensive Plan until after the commission has made its formal recommendations, but four of the five Councilors participated in a work session earlier this month.
Councilor Kathy Galvin called for a series of studies known as “strategic investment areas” to coordinate the location of infrastructure in areas of the city where economic development is desired.
“Looking at a place…before anyone starts investing makes sense,” Galvin said.
Commissioner Dan Rosensweig said his review of a suggested list of locations for future studies indicated there are two types of potential review.
“There are areas of opportunity… where strategic investment and streetscape improvements could supercharge new economic activity… and there are others where it seems more zoning related and dealing with conflicts,” Rosensweig said.
Planning manager Missy Creasy said the study currently under way will help guide the process for future plans, but she warned using the term “strategic investment area” may have connotations that will concern property owners that their neighborhood may be transformed beyond recognition.
Commission Chair Genevieve Keller agreed with that point of view.
“I want to offer some level of comfort to the public that they don’t think that their adjustment of zoning in their primarily residential neighborhood is going to be as full-blown as the strategic investment area downtown,” Keller said.
However, Galvin argued that all of the small area plans should be done in a consistent manner to guide the city in the direction desired by City Council.
“We’re not going to achieve walkability, sustainability, and diverse economic opportunities if we don’t look at these areas holistically,” Galvin said. “We have to marshal our resources across departments to get this done.
The first “strategic investment area” study is underway and is taking a look at an area south of downtown between Belmont and Ridge Street. The firm Cunningham Quill could have a report as early as July, according to neighborhood development services director Jim Tolbert.
The draft “economic sustainability chapter” of the Plan was written with input from the city’s economic development office.
“We have objectives in there that talk about preparing the work force for the target market and industries based on the target industry study that was done by [Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development,” said Hollie Lee, the city’s economic development specialist. “Some of those industries are bio-sciences, [information] technology, defense and health services.”
City Councilor Dave Norris said he did not disagree with the industries selected in the study, but said the report did not do enough to promote workforce development.
“These industries provide opportunities for us that we should be pursuing but what the study missed out on was any real focus on the kind of jobs that are going to help low-income residents in our community climb the economic ladder through skilled trades.”
Lee said language about skilled trades would be added to the Comprehensive Plan.
“We know that there’s a gap in that area,” Lee said.
Lee said economic sustainability chapter’s section on tourism will have a special emphasis on arts and culture as well as ‘”heritage tourism.”
“I think that incorporates historic attractions of all types, specifically referencing maybe the Jefferson School and trying to leverage that as a new entity,” Engel said.
Commissioner Kurt Keesecker called for the potential building a pedestrian and pathway between downtown Charlottesville and Monticello.
“National and international visitors that go to Monticello will probably arrive by car, but it’s startling to me how many of us from the city drive our cars out there and park so we can walk on the [Saunders-Monticello] trail,” Keesecker said.
Norris said he has met with officials at Monticello about the possibility of recreating the pathway that Thomas Jefferson would have taken to travel into Charlottesville.
“They had some concern about people coming up the back way up to the house, and they would rather have people come around to the front,” Norris said.
Commissioner Natasha Sienitsky, who is also associate director of planning and facilities for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, said she has been speaking with the city’s trail planner about the possibility of using an old alignment for Route 53.
“He seems to think that plan would work,” Sienitsky said. “Monticello would have to probably deed some land to the city.”
The Commission could finish its discussion of the Comprehensive Plan as early as April and then it will move on to City Council.
“Council could choose to look at the plan as a whole…or focus on certain areas for review,” said Creasy in an email.